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Dr. Christopher Laursen is a historian of religions and science, focusing on modern America and the world. He is based at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington (UNCW). Learn about his course offerings, projects, and talks, or contact him through this website.
Dr. Laursen is best known for his studies of how people experience and try to explain the supernatural in modern times. That is, the extraordinary, the fantastical, the anomalous, the preternatural – that which has yet to be effectively explained, but could be, one day. Documented supernatural experiences are very diverse. They are reported globally, across history. When you really look at these experiences, they cannot be easily defined or explained away.
The supernatural is such a great topic for scholarly study because it actively draws people in. The supernatural is inherently fascinating, popular, and, in fact, many individuals have experiences that they find very difficult to explain, and that perhaps even changed their lives. These experiences cross perceived boundaries of physical nature, mind, and religion.
Furthermore, studying and discussing the supernatural entices people to think, speak, and write critically and openly about religions, sciences, cultures, even self – and the boundaries that are made to define the world that we share. It creates thoughtful dialogues that are much needed on these bigger topics. The study of the supernatural reveals complex relationships between the natural world, the human imagination, psychology, and religion. The supernatural provides a gateway to better understanding our past and our present, our world and ourselves.
Christopher holds a PhD in History from the University of British Columbia (2016), and an MA in History from the University of Guelph (2009).
His work has appeared in Jeffrey J. Kripal’s Super Religion (2016), Jack Hunter’s Damned Facts (2016), and the magazine Fortean Times. He has a chapter forthcoming in Believing in Bits: Digital Technology and the Supernatural edited by D.W. Pasulka (American Cosmic, Heaven Can Wait) and Simone Natale (Supernatural Entertainments) to be published by Oxford University Press. His book project, Mischievous Forces, looks at how people experienced the poltergeist phenomenon and how researchers have reimagined it as psychophysical.
Sat., Oct. 28, 9:00 am: Wilmington, North Carolina
Christopher’s next scheduled public talk will be on “Frontier Sciences” on behalf of Graduate Liberal Studies, the College of Arts and Sciences, and the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute for College Day at the University of North Carolina Wilmington on October 28th. His talk is at 9-10 am. Register online by October 20th.
Description: Frontier sciences challenge and push the boundaries of conventional knowledge. They explore the outer perimeters of what is possible. This lecture will look at how some frontier sciences, like quantum physics and organ transplants, gained credibility and advanced scientific knowledge and technological capabilities. Others, like parapsychology, remain controversial and at the peripheries. What does it take to make a successful frontier science?
Location: University of North Carolina Wilmington (consult with your College Day program for room number). Cost: $35 OLLI members/$45 non-members for the whole day.
Wed., Nov. 8, 6:30 pm: Wilmington, North Carolina
Imagining Companions: Tulpas, between Religion and Psychology
Christopher will speak to the Philosophy and Religion Society at the University of North Carolina Wilmington on his most recent research, which will appear as a chapter in Believing in Bits: Digital Technology and the Supernatural edited by D.W. Pasulka and Simone Natale.
Description: In the early twentieth century, the French-Belgian explorer Alexandra David-Néel, who studied Mahāyāna Buddhism in Tibet, introduced the Buddhist concept of tulpas to European and American audiences. She described tulpas as visible apparitional forms that were consciously or unconsciously created from a person’s imagination. Nearly 100 years later, the concept has been reinvented through online communities whose members’ meditative and visualization practices bring about the tulpa as a companion created from the imagination. More than simply imaginary friends, practitioners perceive tulpas as independent, self-aware, sentient beings within their minds and bodies – beings that help transform their lives in positive ways. In this talk, Dr. Laursen historically contextualizes and outlines this practice.
Location: Bear Hall, Room 103. Free.
Christopher’s latest publication is “The Poltergeist at the Intersection of the Spirit and the Material: Some Historical and Contemporary Observations” in Jeffrey J. Kripal’s edited volume Super Religion. In it, he provides background on religious ideas about the poltergeist in relation to material and affective experiences.
Christopher’s other recently published works include “The Transmediumizers,” co-written with the speculative fiction writer Eden S. French. It appears in Damned Facts: Fortean Essays on Religion, Folklore, and the Paranormal, edited by the anthropologist Jack Hunter, founder of the journal Paranthropology, and featuring a preface by the historian of religions Jeffrey J. Kripal. The essay argues that we have clearly entered what the American writer Charles Fort referred to as “Intermediatism,” an era in which humans truly are able to become transhumans – beyond human.