Concordia's Thursday Report

Vol. 29, No.7

December 2, 2004

 

RaŽlian movement gets book treatment

By Barbara Black

Susan J. Palmer is probably the world expert on the Raëlians, that fun-loving, alien-worshipping sect that is based in Quebec.

Palmer, who is an adjunct professor of religion at Concordia and a teacher at Dawson College, is bringing out a book called Aliens Adored: Raël’s UFO Religion. Her research and the book that resulted were supported by a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).

Aliens Adored is the first full-length, in-depth look at the Raëlian movement, founded in the 1970s by a charismatic prophet called Raël. Born in France as Claude Vorilhon, the former racecar driver founded the religion after he experienced a visitation from the aliens (elohim) who, in his cosmology, created humans by cloning themselves.

In 1976, he established his millenarian movement in Quebec and now claims about 80,000 adherents worldwide. The movement awaits the return of the alien creators, and in the meantime seeks to develop the potential of its adherents through free love, sexual experimentation, opposition to nuclear proliferation and war, and the development of cloning.

Claims by the movement that they had succeeded in cloning children created international headlines in 2001, and the ensuing controversy forms the final, dramatic chapter to the book.

She says she fell out of favour with the movement in 2000 as the result of an unflattering article in the Los Angeles Times that quoted her to the Raëlians’ disadvantage.

However, with the cloning controversy, she got back into their good books by being careful what she said, and writing an article that was based on work her students had done. She once again has a good relationship with the movement, which is not averse to publicity, or even, she says, to self-parody.

“They have a lot of values that I like,” she admitted. “They’re fun-loving. They’re in favour of peace and sexual liberty, and against racism, and quite feminist. But I’m not a Raëlian.”

Palmer has studied the movement for more than a decade, observing meetings and rituals and enjoying unprecedented access. In her book, she focuses on issues of sexuality, millenarianism, and the impact of the scientific worldview on religion and the environment.