Tuesday, September 12, 2023

An Australian academic with an interest in UAP from the perspective of Religious studies

"American Cosmic"

In a recent article I lamented the fact that few Australian academics had written about, or spoken out about, UAP. As chance would have it, shortly after writing this article, I happened to be re-reading Diana Pasulka's book "American Cosmic: UFOs, Religion, Technology" 2019. Oxford University Press. New York. On page 4 of her book, I noticed a list of academics who had written on the topic of UAP. One of the names listed was Carole Cusack.

Professor Carole Cusack (sydney.edu.au)

Professor Carole M. Cusack is a Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Sydney, in New South Wales, Australia. According to the University website: 

"Carole M. Cusack received her Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Religious Studies and English Literature from the University of Sydney in 1986. She later graduated PhD in Studies in Religion in 1996 and Master of Education (Educational Psychology) in 2001. She has taught in Studies in Religions since 1989, first as a casual tutor and lecturer, and from 1996 as a full-time staff member."

"Her research interests include medieval European religion, religious conversion, medieval and modern Paganism, contemporary religious trends, alternative spiritualities and new religious movements."

Here is a link to her CV.  

Carole Cusack

Using Google Scholar, I reviewed the extensive number of articles which Carole Cusack has published, and selected a few which mentioned the keyword "UFO." I thought that this would provide a representative sampling of her UFO related works.


"Individual Suicide and the End of the World: Destruction and Transformation in UFO and Alien-Based Religions." In James R. Lewis and Carole M. Cusack (Eds.) Sacred Suicide (pp91-108). Farnham, United Kingdom, Ashgate Publications appeared in 2014. In the introduction, Cusack stated:

"UFO and alien-based religions emerged in the wake of World War II, drawing upon both the ‘materialist’ sightings of flying saucers by Kenneth Arnold and the Roswell Incident, both in 1947 (Partridge 2005, 170-171), and the ‘spiritual’ concept of the Ascended Masters from the Theosophical Society (founded 1875) tradition, which was extended to include extra-terrestrials, in addition to the dead, Tibetan lamas, and other posited sources of wisdom that transcended the knowledge base of living humans (Chryssides 2011, 7-8). This syncretistic blend of conspiracist, political, and religious beliefs permeated mainstream society via the popular cultural narratives of science fiction, both in novel and filmic forms."

Cusack mentions that the most relevant group was Heaven's Gate:

"From the vantage point of the twenty-first century, the most notorious movement is Heaven’s Gate (formerly Human Individual Metamorphosis), a religious group led by Marshall Herff Applewhite (1931-1997) and Bonnie Lu Nettles (nee Trusdale, 1927- 1985) from the mid-1970s. It attracted media attention when thirty-nine members committed suicide in March 1997 in Rancho Santa Fe, an affluent neighbourhood in San Diego County."

She describes in some detail, the backgrounds of the Church Universal and Triumphant; Heaven's gate and the Aetherius Society, and their belief systems, which make riveting reading.


In 2015 Cusack wrote a chapter titled "Apocalypse in Early UFO and Alien-Based Religions: Christian and Theosophical Themes." In Erik Tonning, Matthew Feldman, David Addyman (Eds.) "Modernism, Christianity and Apocalypse." pp339-353. Leiden. Brill. As to what it was about, Cusack wrote:

"This chapter examined the apocalyptic expectations of several UFO and alien-based religions and identifies both their sources and the religious currents of the early twentieth century, and their imbrication with post-war political discourses."

In this work, Cusack states that:

"UFO and alien-based religions crystallised as contemporary Western spiritual phenomena in the post-World-War-II era, and reflected both historico-political and moral anxieties about the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, and the atmosphere of paranoia and expectation of the “end of the world” that emerged as a result of the arms race between the United States of America and the Soviet Union."

The groups she refers to include the Church Universal and Triumphant; the Aetherius Society; the Raelians; and Heaven's gate.

As to her thoughts on the subject of UAP Cusack notes:

There is as yet no scientifically valid evidence for the existence of alien life, and speculation about UFO visits to Earth is dependent on unscholarly interpretations of archaeological sites, esoteric phenomena, religious texts, and a range of other “evidence.” It is thus necessary to analyse the appeal of UFOlogical narratives in the modern West."


"Virtual Religions and Real Lives." In Michael Bess and Diana Walsh Pasulka (Eds.) Posthumanism: The Future of Homo Sapiens. pp167-177. Farmington Hills, MI. Mcmillan Reference USA.

What are virtual religions? Cusack writes:

"There is a palpable tension evident in the juxtaposition of “virtual religions” with “real lives.” What might a virtual religion look like? In the twenty-first century the phrase “virtual reality” is understood to refer to simulated environments created by software in which people using special equipment interact with other people and computer-generated entities, both in game situations and in more open-ended “virtual worlds.” It is undeniable that there are religions operating in cyberspace, examples of which are the Amaterasu Omikami Grand Shinto Shrine and the Mormon Meeting Hall found in the online virtual world Second Life (Stagg and Farley 2011)." 

Virtual religions are contrasted to "real lives" and in this chapter we find there are references to the Raelians; Heaven's Gate, and other groups. Here is noted that the Raelians:

"...founded in France by Claude Vorilhon (1946–) in 1973, posit aliens who visit Earth regularly and assert that great religious leaders such as Moses, Jesus, Buddha, Muhammad, Confucius, and Rael (as Vorilhon is known) are alien-human hybrids, born of human mothers and extraterrestrial fathers. Rael interprets the Bible as chronicling the visits of the aliens to Earth; ignorant humans thought these were divine interventions (Cusack 2015a). In these new religions the preeminent value accorded to the human in Enlightenment thought is rejected; Heaven’s Gate and the Raelians view humanity as limited and inferior to the aliens, as humanity is inferior to God in Christianity."


"Celebrating with the Church of the Sub Genius: X-Day rituals of Bad Taste, Burning 'Bob', and the End of the World (Not.)" In Frans Jespers. Karin Van Nieuwkerk and Paul van der Velde (Eds.) Enjoying Religion: Pleasure and Fun in Established and New Religious Movements. pp147-164. Rowman and Littlefield, is summed up by Cusack:

"The festival of X-Day was first celebrated on 5 July 1998, when members of the Church of the SubGenius (COSG) gathered to witness the appearance of the aliens from Planet X, as predicted by Reverend Ivan Stang, one of the founders of the COSG. This event, the “Rupture” (a pun on the Christian Rapture), was supposed to be the rescue of the part-Yeti SubGenii by the Xists, before the destruction of Earth and the “Pinks” or “Normals” (ordinary human beings). No aliens arrived,..." 


In her complete list of her publications, it is noted that Cusack often wrote book reviews. One of these in 2019 was about Pasulka's "American Cosmic." This review appeared in Alternative Spirituality and Religion Review, 10(2):258-259.  In his review was:

"This book comes highly recommended and delivers an unconventional 'take' on the relationship between religious studies, religion, UFOs and UFOlogy."


"Norman Paulsen and the Brotherhood of the Sun/Sunburst." In Benjamin E. Zeller. (Ed.) Handbook of UFO Religions." pp 354-368. Leiden. Brill.  

Norman Paulsen in 1969 founded the Brotherhood of the Sun in California, and "...taught a melange of alternative spiritual beliefs drawing upon ufology."

Noting that there is limited academic work on Paulsen, Cusack writes:

As has been noted, there is limited academic work on Paulsen and the Brotherhood of the Sun. The limited academic publications on the Brotherhood of the Sun can be supplemented by various media articles, websites, and some anti-cult literature. None of this material is well-researched or particularly accurate. For example, Steve Omar and Cecelia Frances Page’s The Future Age Beyond the New Age Movement is a gazetteer of communities and groups, and the listing for the Brotherhood of the Sun, though it contains several inaccuracies, such as claiming that Paulsen first organised communal living in Lompoc (where he grew up), is broadly positive (Omar and Page 2009: n.p.). This favourable popular account is counter-balanced by Geoffrey D. Falk’s Stripping the Gurus: Sex, Violence, Abuse and Enlightenment, in which Norman Paulsen is situated in the lineage of Yogananda and ridiculed for his claim “to have been abducted by a UFO piloted by Builders from Jupiter” (Falk 2009: 262). Interestingly Falk claims that UFOs were a preoccupation of Yogananda’s and quotes an alleged saying of the yogi reported to him by a “respected and loyal” disciple: “if America were ever at war and losing, space aliens from UFOs would intervene” (Falk 2009: 263).

End notes

As can be seen from the sample above, there are areas of the UAP topic which are little explored by UAP researchers. Here lies the value of academics such as Cusack, Pasulka and others. 

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