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Practically anything goes at the American Academy of Religion’s annual conference, where scholars of dozens of religions convene annually to debate, relate and on occasion mate. Conversation ranges from the Talmud to tantra, from Platonism to Satanism. This year, from Oct. 30 to Nov. 1 in Atlanta, nearly 5,000 people attended panels including “Seeking New Meanings of God and Dao” and “Madness, Smallpox, and Death in Tibet.”

What was almost impossible to find, at this orgy of intellectual curiosities, was discussion of the paranormal: ESP, premonitions, psychic powers, alien abduction and the like. This is a conference concerned with all sorts of supernatural and metaphysical claims. In panels, over coffee and during cocktail-hour quarrels, they talk of Moses at the burning bush, the virgin birth, Muhammad’s journey on a winged horse. So why nothing about, say, mental telepathy?

That is the question posed by Jeffrey J. Kripal, a professor of religion at Rice University in Houston and a renegade advocate for including the paranormal in religious studies. In his new book, “Authors of the Impossible: The Paranormal and the Sacred” (University of Chicago Press), he tries to convince serious religion scholars that they ought to study, say, ESP or alien abduction.

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