Mutants and Mystics

Mutants and Mystics November 16, 2011

(Jeffrey J. Kripal, Mutants and Mystics: Science Fiction, Superhero Comics, and the Paranormal, The University of Chicago Press, 2011, 353 pages.)

Have you ever been a comic book lover?

Have you ever had a paranormal experience?

If so, the author reports that his ideal reader is “Someone who (a) has undergone a profound paranormal event and (b) is obsessed with science fiction or superhero comics and does not know why.”

As a lover of comic books in my teenage years and as a certified religion nerd fascinated by all things paranormal, I am perhaps dead center of Kripal’s target audience. His book, while not an easy read is, nevertheless, a stunning and important book. I frankly am shocked and impressed not only that this book exists, but that it is published in a beautiful edition by the University of Chicago Press.

For those not in the know, the University of Chicago does not suffer fools gladly, which should be a would-be reader’s first clue that, although this book treads on comic ground, it is both deeply serious and profoundly personal. Kripal has said the following in response to the question, “Why on earth are you writing about the paranormal?”

Because (a) I had one major, mind-blowing paranormal experience that changed my life and has since inspired all of my books (in Calcutta in the fall of 1989: see the “Secret Talk” sections of Roads of Excess, where I describe and analyze this event in detail); (b) after such an experience, I know that paranormal phenomena are real in the simplest sense that people really and truly experience such things (that is, they are not always fraudulent, mistaken perceptions, and so on), and (c) I think the ways such phenomena offend or subvert our usual dualistic epistemologies (subjective/objective, mind/matter, meaning/causality, and so on) represent one possible future of critical theory.”

Basically, I have come to see that the deep resonances, even identities, between eroticism and mysticism that I tracked in my early work are refigured in the deep resonances, even identities, between matter and mind that I am now tracking in the history and study of the paranormal. It’s all the same social binary system (which is very useful but finally illusory) and the same basic metaphysical nonduality (which is seldom experienced but very real) playing themselves out in different historical contexts and cultures. It’s all one reality, which is fundamentally nondual.”

The author is no slouch: he’s the chair of the religion department at Rice University and the author of five other well-documented scholarly tomes.

I read and review many books, but Kripal’s Mutants and Mystics is one of the rare books that forces me to slow down and reconsider not only the text in front of me, but also my conception of reality. He also challenges me both to take my personal religious experience more seriously as well as to get back in touch with my inner comic book geek, perhaps, in particular, through Grant Morrison’s Invisibles and Alan Moore’s Promethea. If there is any part of your experience that intersects with the world of comic books or the paranormal, I highly recommend Jeffrey Kirpal’s latest book.

This book review is a part of the Roundtable at the Patheos Book Club. Visit the Book Club for more free resources related to this book.

For Further Study

The Rev. Carl Gregg is a trained spiritual director, a D.Min. candidate, and the pastor of Broadview Church in Chesapeake Beach, Maryland. Follow him on Facebook ( and Twitter (@carlgregg).

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