Alien Worlds: Social and Religious Dimensions of Extraterrestrial Contact.
Edited by Diana G. Tumminia. Syracuse University Press, 2007. xlii + 364
pages. $34.95 paper.
The week I started reading Diana G. Tumminia’s anthology Alien
Worlds: Social and Religious Dimensions of Extraterrestrial Contact, the
Director of the Vatican Observatory declared that Catholic theology
permitted the possibility of the existence of extraterrestrial life. One
would be hard-pressed to find a better example of the mainstreaming of
the religious engagement with unidentified flying objects (UFOs) and
extraterrestrials (ETs) than the statement of the Jesuit priest in charge
of the Roman Catholic Church’s astronomy division. Tumminia, for her
part, has assembled eighteen essays that consider the much less main-
stream movements and individuals who claim not only the existence of,
but actual contact with, UFOs and ETs. The book draws from a variety
of social scientific perspectives, and includes contributors and groups
familiar to scholars of NRMs.
In her introduction, Tumminia indicates that the included essays sur-
vey “the societal discourse that ranges from obvious science fiction to the
social construction of scientific facts around aliens and UFOs” (p. xxxviii).
Readers of Nova Religio will be pleased to find that the book not only
accomplishes that goal, but includes noteworthy chapters on UFO-
related new religions. This includes the Aetherius Society, “the Seekers”
(the group led by Dorothy Martin, best known by the pseudonym used
in Festinger et al.’s seminal When Prophecy Fails), the Raelians, and
Unarius Academy of Science, but all of the essays touch on material rel-
evant to scholars of new religions. In each of the cases considered, indi-
viduals and groups construct religious worldviews, practices, and
communities centered around a (sincere or playful) belief in contact
with extraterrestrial intelligences. Some of these communi