Ambitious “Archives of the Impossible” Conference Brings Together an International Audience | Rice News | News and Media Relations

Over the course of nearly four days, Rice’s Department of Religion organized an international conference that Dean of Humanities Kathleen Canning called in her welcome address “the most important, ambitious and transgressive in its engagement with these authors and Archives of the Impossible that our school has probably never welcomed.

“It exceeded and exceeded the usual dimensions of academic conferences,” Canning said. “And it’s a tribute to the power of the humanities to address issues far beyond the traditional boundaries of the humanities.”

Jeffrey Kripal, J. Newton Rayzor Professor of Philosophy and Religious Thought, led the conference and archives.

Open the archives of the impossibletook place March 3-6 at the Hudspeth Auditorium at Rice’s Glasscock School for Continuing Studies, where scholars and researchers from around the world gathered for panel discussions, plenary sessions and a tour of the archives themselves: a treasure trove of documents located in the Woodson Research Center of the Fondren Library that have been donated by the world’s most well-known paranormal researchers.

These same researchers also presented at the conference, including French-American ufologist Jacques Vallée, bestselling author Whitley Strieber, remote viewing specialist Edwin May and Leslie Kean, the investigative journalist known for her breaking coverage of the Pentagon’s UFO unit in The New York Times.

“We’re here for one little thing: to change reality itself,” said Jeffrey Kripal, J. Newton Rayzor Professor of Philosophy and Religious Thought in the Department of Religion, which organized the conference.

Audience members in the auditorium during the Opening the Archives of the Impossible conference at Rice March 3-6, 2022.
Photos by Jeff Fitlow

“It is normal to mourn the loss of certainty or the end of a worldview; it is also okay to laugh at the same,” Kripal said during his keynote address to panelists and attendees. “It’s also okay to be provoked, puzzled, or just plain confused. Indeed, if you’re not confused over the next few days, you’re probably not listening.

Between plenary sessions, conference attendees connected with each other during lunch and dinner breaks in Glasscock School’s Dean’s Commons and attended panels on the intersection of the paranormal or “impossible” with the science, academia and the public sphere.

A panel on “experiencing the impossible” even featured speakers sharing their own first-hand experiences with “impossible” phenomena such as near-death encounters, precognition, and US government-sponsored programs. remote viewing programs.

Each panel drew dozens of different questions from the large in-person crowd, while more than 1,500 viewers around the world tuned into the conference sessions online.

Investigative journalist Leslie Kean Audience speaks at the Opening the Archives of the Impossible conference at Rice March 3-6, 2022.
Investigative journalist Leslie Kean spoke about her experiences with physical mediumship.

Friday night, “Communion: a true story” author Strieber took the stage for a plenary session. The 1987 bestseller recounted Strieber’s encounter with “grey aliens”. The cover of the book, rendered in exquisite detail by a police cartoonist, is now one of the most iconic images of extraterrestrials in modern culture: a large, hairless head with huge black eyes that slant in a small split nose.

After the book’s publication, Strieber was inundated with handwritten letters from readers who shared similar encounters with beings with similar strange features. He and his wife Anne spent years reading and cataloging these thousands of letters.

“What happened very early on was that we realized that the narrative emerging from the letters went beyond the apparent rapture that I had experienced; it was actually particularly strange and totally unfamiliar,” Strieber said.

“It wasn’t in the UFO literature at all for the most part. It didn’t follow the narrative that was published at all. And those letters, one of the things that makes them so valuable is that they’re from before the internet, when people had a lot less input to rely on – and you can read them one after the other. I’ve read about 200 of them this week,” he said. .

Ufologist Jacques Vallée speaks at the Opening the Archives of the Impossible conference at Rice March 3-6, 2022.
Jacques Vallée talked about defining “truth” and constructing new interpretations of reality.

These letters now reside among the many other captivating materials of the Archives of the impossible at Rice, a tangible product of the years that Kripal, his graduate students from the Department of Religion and archivists at the Woodson Research Center have spent to protect and promote this research. Consolidated in one place, the archives also represent the untold connections and revelations that can now be made.

“I remember when Jeff called me and asked for the letters, because I was like, ‘God, that’s impossible,'” Strieber said. “I couldn’t believe someone wanted these…they sat in storage for nearly 25 years.”

“When I walked in (the Woodson) a few days ago and saw what they had done with those letters, my heart opened with gratitude,” he said. “It meant so much to me. Thank you Rice University for opening their minds and hearts to the impossible.

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