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Brenda Denzler

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The Lure of the Edge: Scientific Passions, Religious Beleifs, and the Pursuit of UFOs
by Brenda Denzler   

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Publisher:  University of California Press Type: 


Copyright:  Oct 1 2001

Barnes &

UFO phenomena entered American consciousness at the beginning of the Cold War. But when UFOs appeared not to be hostile, and when some scientists pronounced the sightings to be of natural meteorological phenomena misidentified due to "Cold War jitters," military interest declined sharply and, with it, further overt scientific interest.

Demonstrating the unique place ufology occupies in the twentieth-century nexus between science and religion, Denzler surveys the sociological contours of its community, assesses its persistent attempt to achieve scientific legitimacy, and concludes with an examination of the movement's metaphysical or spiritual outlook.

In 1968 Kevin Waters (a pseudonym) tore an article on UFOs out of Playboy and gave it to his son Michael to use for a school project. The article was by Northwestern University astronomy professor J. Allen Hynek, the scientific expert on UFOs during the air force's investigation into the phenomenon. Hynek had spent many hours in fieldwork and analysis of reports of strange aerial phenomena, and this was one of six pieces that he published on the subject. Five of those six appeared between 1966 and 1969.1 Only two were in scholarly or professional journals; the rest were published in the popular press. During the symposium on UFOs held by the American Association for the Advancement of Science in December 1969, UFO skeptic Donald H. Menzel, an astronomer at Harvard, suggested that Hynek's professional position on the subject of UFOs was difficult to ascertain because he had only published in the popular press.2 The comment was a barb, since presenting a scientific case before the public instead of to one's peers via refereed journals is commonly viewed as a hallmark of pseudoscience.3 The reason that Hynek chose Playboy as publisher is revealed in a letter he wrote to Waters's son: "I am glad that your father removed my article from Playboy to show it to you. It is unfortunate that Playboy was willing to publish this article but Scientific American was not. This is a sad commentary on the closed-mindedness of many scientists."4 Like other scientists with an interest in UFOs, Hynek was denied a voice in most of his profession's publications yet ridiculed for presenting his work outside of them.

Professional Reviews

Publisher's Weekly
Sociologist Denzler presents a deeply researched history of "ufology" (the study and interpretation of UFO phenomena), illuminating what has become a significant American subculture. From the flying saucer sightings of the postwar years to the alien abduction boom of the 1990s, interest in UFOs has persisted despite official discouragement from government, scientific and religious authorities. Denzler takes a special interest in ufology's uneasy relationship with both science and religion, noting that although UFO phenomena seem to invite scientific and/or religious explanation, their anomalous and sometimes bizarre nature has excluded them from the mainstream. In the meantime, communities of ufologists and experiencers have gone their own way, some pursuing scientific rigor despite being dismissed as pseudoscientists, others promoting their own religious interpretations reflecting both Christian and New Age themes. Drawing on her experiences as a participant-observer in ufological groups and conventions, Denzler renders a sympathetic portrait of the UFO subculture without directly identifying with it, and reveals intramural tensions that other commentators have missed. Because Denzler focuses on the UFO community, broader social attitudes about UFOs are only a secondary interest: ufological subject matter in pop culture is virtually ignored. The book's academic style and copious citations make for a dense read at times, and the professionally impartial tone may not appeal to committed UFO believers or debunkers. But readers looking for skillful reportage and deft theorizing about "the UFO myth" (a term Denzler uses non-pejoratively), or a starting point for further academic research, should find it worthwhile. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc. Publishers Weekly

David Bromley, Ph.D.
In The Lure of the Edge, Brenda Denzler provides a fascinating and insightful guided tour through the complex maze that is the UFO subculture. She is an expert tour guide who enhances our perspective without imposing her own viewpoint. The result is a fine book and a valuable addition to the literature on UFOs. --David Bromley, Professor of Sociology and Religious Studies,Virginia Commonwealth University, and editor of The Future of New Religious Movements and The Politics of Religious Apostasy

Al Harrison, Ph.D.
This is the kind of book that comes out once every ten years or so....Fabulous organization and scholarship and lots of exciting material that despite having read maybe 200 related books, I had not run into before. --Al Harrison, Professor of Psychology, University of California at Davis

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