About this Event
Herklotz Room, DML G28, Music Library in Doheny Library
Confronting the Second Space Age: From Cosmic Speculation to Astro-Capitalism Working Group
and the Department of Anthropology
Avoiding Annihilation: Human Salvation through Planet B and Other Spiritual Missions of the Private Space Industry
Deana L. Weibel, Grand Valley State University
Centuries of Christian dominance in the West, including the United States, have created a secular culture where Christian themes such as sin, redemption, and salvation continue to resonate beyond explicitly religious contexts, extending to domains as diverse as science, technology, and space exploration. NASA and private space companies alike experience the subtle and overt impact of Christianity on their culture and worldview. This talk presents ethnographic research done with engineers and pilots affiliated with the commercial space sector, focusing on these space professionals’ religious ideas as well as how their spiritual perspectives and knowledge of space intersect. The research reveals a dominant narrative among these professionals that is informed by Christianity: humanity is living in a lost Eden, having sinned and fallen from grace, and our future on this planet is doomed. However, certain messianic figures and their space-focused endeavors, such as the relocation of humans to Mars or another habitable planet ("Planet B"), promise salvation and transcendence. This talk highlights the Christian influences on the narratives and aspirations of space professionals and underscores the continuing significance of religious themes in contemporary culture.
Deana L. Weibel is a cultural anthropologist whose work focuses primarily on religion, especially the topics of pilgrimage, sacred space, the mutual influence of scientific and religious ideas on each other, and religion and space exploration. Her early fieldwork took place in France at pilgrimage sites (sometimes understood by pilgrims as “energy” sites) like Rocamadour and Montségur. She has also conducted research at the pilgrimage center of Chimayó, New Mexico. More recent work focuses on religion as a motivation for and influence on space travel and outer space-based sciences. She has also studied the history of anthropology, particularly the overlap of her own family’s role and the role of anthropology in the exhibition of Philippine Igorot people in fairs and expositions during the early 1900s. She is the co-founder and co-organizer of Roger That! A Celebration of Space Exploration in Honor of Roger B. Chaffee, a two-day conference that has been an annual Grand Rapids, Michigan event since 2017.