Department of Religious Studies

"Channeled Entities and Revealed Texts: A Group Psychology of Revelation"

A Lecture by Ann Taves (University of California, Santa Barbara)

Mon, April 6, 2009 | BUR 436a

12:00 PM

The major western religious traditions make dramatic claims regarding revelation – the oral and written Torah were revealed to Moses by God on Mount Sinai (rabbinic Judaism); Jesus was the Messiah, the Christ, the incarnation of God (orthodox Christianity); and the angel Gabriel revealed God’s Word (the Qur’an) to the prophet Muhammad (Islam). These traditions view these revelations as incomparable (Torah), singular (Jesus), or final (Qur’an), thus, precluding or limiting comparisons with other revelatory claims. But claims of revelation continue nonetheless. Many traditions around the world assume that deities and departed ancestors routinely reveal themselves through human mediums. Spiritualists in Europe and the Americas regularly embodied spirits of the dead. The angel Moroni revealed the Book of Mormon, another testament of Jesus Christ, to the prophet Joseph Smith. The voice of Jesus dictated A Course in Miracles to his scribe Helen Schucman. Reiki Master Robert Baker is currently channeling the Archangel Gabriel (the one that spoke to the Virgin Mary and Muhammad) in his apartment in New York City.

If we don’t simply write off these claims as kooky, fraudulent, or deceptive or identify one as authentic and reject all the others as false, then what can we learn by comparing them with each other and with other, more mundane phenomena? Given the historical distance and layers of interpretation standing between us and the more venerable claims of revelation, the research presented here compares several of the best-documented recent cases (Jane Roberts’s channeling of Seth, JZ Knight’s channeling of Ramtha, and Helen Schucman’s scribing of A Course in Miracles) with Joseph Smith’s translation of the Book of Mormon, a classic case of multiple personality studied by the neurologist Morton Prince, and the imaginary creations of novelists, children, and computer gamers. In setting up this comparison, this talk seeks a better understanding of how people produce these complex things – books and/or personalities– that seem to come from a source other than themselves.

Ann Taves is Professor of Religious Studies and holder of the Virgil Cordano OFM Endowed Chair in Catholic Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and this year is a fellow at the Center for the Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University. She is the author of, among other works, Fits, Trances and Visions: Experiencing Religion and Explaining Experience from Wesley to James (Princeton, 1999), and the forthcoming, Religious Experience Reconsidered: A Building Block Approach to the Study of Religion and Other Special Things (Princeton), and is President-elect of the American Academy of Religion. She has been at the forefront in exploring the intersections between cognitive science and the study of religion.

Sponsored by: Department of Religious Studies

Bookmark and Share