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Religion Scholar Talks Angels, Aliens and Apparitions on the Campus of ASU Feb. 29 and March 1

Feb. 23, 2012. BOONE — Noted religious studies scholar Dr. Ann Taves will present two talks at Appalachian State University on Feb. 29 and March 1. 

On Wednesday, Feb. 29, Taves will present “Angels, Aliens, and Apparitions of the Dead: Revelation, Science, and the Academic Study of Religion” beginning at 7 p.m. in the Bryce and Izoria Gordon Gathering Hall in the Reich College of Education on College Street. 

Taves will be part of a panel discussion, “Understanding Religious Experience,” on Thursday, March 1, from 3:30-5:30 p.m. in Room 224 I.G. Greer Hall.

Both presentations are free and open to the public.

Taves’ visit is sponsored by ASU’s College of Arts and Sciences and the Department of Philosophy and Religion.

Taves is a professor of religious studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara. She holds the Virgil Cordano OFM Endowed Chair in Catholic Studies. She is the author of “Religious Experience Reconsidered: A Building Block Approach to the Study of Religion and Other Special Things,” “Fits, Trances and Visions: Experiencing Religion and Explaining Experience from Wesley to James” and “The Household of Faith: Roman Catholic Devotions in Mid-Nineteenth Century America.”

“If we look at the way that traditions depict their beginnings, we find that angels, appearances of supposedly dead people, and, more recently, aliens play a critical role in supporting the claim that a person is a prophet or a messiah or, more generally, the bearer of new revelation from an otherworldly source,” Taves said.

“The presence of these non-ordinary entities is in turn premised on some sort of perceptual claim to have seen, heard, touched, or otherwise sensed them. In the absence of scientifically verifiable evidence for such claims, skeptics often refer to them as dreams or hallucinations and contrast them with normal perception,” she said. “Psychologists, however, would suggest that we might better think of perception as falling along a spectrum that involves more or less external input.” Stimuli that only some people perceive fall at one end of a continuum and are fundamentally more ambiguous, she added. “We can detect traces of this uncertainty in the stories of revelatory events that have come down to us,” Taves said. 

Historians can tease apart the stories of angels and apparitions to try to understand the process that people went through as they struggled to understand what was happening and consider how groups, including those that eventually become new religions, stabilize interpretations of these ambiguous events, she said.