From Angels to Aliens: Teenagers, the Media, and the Supernatural

From Angels to Aliens: Teenagers, the Media, and the Supernatural

From Angels to Aliens: Teenagers, the Media, and the Supernatural

From Angels to Aliens: Teenagers, the Media, and the Supernatural


Harry Potter, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and the Left Behind series are but the latest manifestations of American teenagers' longstanding fascination with the supernatural and the paranormal. In this groundbreaking book, Lynn Schofield Clark explores the implications of this fascination for contemporary religious and spiritual practices. Relying on stories gleaned from more than 250 in-depth interviews with teens and their families, Clark seeks to discover what today's teens really believe and why. She finds that as adherence to formal religious bodies declines, interest in alternative spiritualities as well as belief in "superstition" grow accordingly. Ironically, she argues, fundamentalist Christian alarmism about the forces of evil has also fed belief in a wider array of supernatural entities. Resisting the claim that the media "brainwash" teens, Clark argues that today's popular stories of demons, hell, and the afterlife actually have their roots in the U.S.'s religious heritage. She considers why some young people are nervous about supernatural stories in the media, while others comfortably and often unselfconsciously blur the boundaries between those stories of the realm beyond that belong to traditional religion and those offered by the entertainment media. At a time of increased religious pluralism and declining participation in formal religious institutions, Clark says, we must completely reexamine what young people mean--and what they may believe--when they identify themselves as "spiritual" or "religious." Offering provocative insights into how the entertainment media shape contemporary religious ideas and practices, From Angels to Aliens paints a surprising--and perhaps alarming--portrait of the spiritual state of America's youth.


When God made woman from man, he didn't want Adam to be lonely. He doesn't want us to be alone either. Now some of us are bored with what we've seen in our lives and want to see new things. Therefore, I think God will relieve our boredom with aliens. I don't think God would make them look like green, glowing blobs, because, like us, He would make them in His own image.

–Greg Norby, age eleven, Bloomington, Ind., home schooled

The only place I believe life exists other than on Earth is heaven. –Emily Nelson, Andover, Mass., McKinley School

A few years ago, in an effort to encourage young people to read their daily newspaper, the Star Tribune of Minneapolis began a write-in program called MindWorks. Each month, the newspaper posted a question and invited responses from young people aged six to eighteen. When they asked for a short statement in response to the question “What do aliens think of us?, ” nearly five thousand wrote in, including Greg and Emily, quoted above. By a ratio of two to one in this revealing yet unscientific exploration, young people said they believed in the possibility of extraterrestrial life. They cited a variety of evidence for their views, including television programs or films such as Unsolved Mysteries, Contact, Independence Day, and The X-Files. They mentioned docudramas on alien autopsies, alien abductions, and Area 51. They also reasoned that space . . .

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