11 August 2013


Timothy Jenkins. Of Flying Saucers and Social Scientists: A Re-reading of 'When Prophecy Fails'. Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.

This book is a re-examination of When Prophecy Fails, setting in the background of theosophical and Adventist religion. The study concerns a group set up in Chicago in 1954 by ‘Marion Keech’ (Dorothy Martin, 1900-1992), who relayed messages from Sananda, a space brother who later revealed he was the then current identity of Jesus Christ. 🔻
The group recruited from, among other sources, a college metaphysical group set up by ‘Dr Armstrong’ (Charles Laugheed), a former medical missionary then on the staff of Michigan State College at Lansing. LINK

Jenkins argues that it was Laughead who introduced an Adventist, millennialist theme to the basic metaphysical and spiritualist dynamic of the group.

Of particular interest is Jenkins’ argument that the presence of a significant number of ‘participant observers’ (up to five at one time) in a group with only about a dozen core members significantly affected the group dynamics, and also suggests that Laughead’s dismissal from his college post may have been a key event in the radicalisation of the group. Jenkins also analyses the role of language within the three main participants, the group, the investigators and the press, and suggests that the language of science itself may be influenced by a Christian, and in particular, evangelical world view.

This, to be honest, is a very academic and specialist work, and is clearly aimed at students, in particular those undertaking a third year course in religious studies at Cambridge (p.viii).
The story of When Prophecy Fails is part of a much wider story of American metaphysical movements, and their involvement with a whole range of figures from the radical right, and it is to be hoped that someone will undertake a much more detailed and wide ranging study of those involved. – Peter Rogerson.

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