Palmer, Susan Jean (Susan Palmer)
Palmer, Susan Jean
PERSONAL: Female. Education: Concordia University, Ph.D.
ADDRESSES: Home—Canada. Office—Dawson College, 3040 Sherbrooke St. West, Montreal, Quebec H3Z 1A4, Canada. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Dawson College, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, professor of religious studies; Concordia University, Montreal, adjunct professor.
(Editor, with Arvind Sharma) The Rajneesh Papers: Studies in a New Religious Movement, Motilal Banarsidass Publishers (Delhi, India), 1993.
(As Susan Jean Palmer) Moon Sisters, Krishna Mothers, Rajneesh Lovers: Women's Roles in New Religions, Syracuse University Press (Syracuse, NY), 1994.
(As Susan Palmer) AIDS as an Apocalyptic Metaphor in North America, University of Toronto Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1997.
(Editor, with Thomas Robbins) Millennium, Messiahs, and Mayhem: Contemporary Apocalyptic Movements, Routledge (New York, NY), 1997.
(Editor, with Charlotte E. Hardman) Children in New Religions, Rutgers University Press (New Brunswick, NJ), 1999.
Aliens Adored: Rael's UFO Religion, Rutgers University Press (New Brunswick, NJ), 2004.
Contributor of articles to journals, including SYZYGY: Journal of Alternative Religion and Culture.
WORK IN PROGRESS: A membership survey of Falun Gong.
SIDELIGHTS: A professor of religious studies at Montreal's Dawson College, Susan Jean Palmer is known for her writings on religious cults. As Palmer noted on the Apologetics Index Web site, while cults generally have a negative connotation for most, she views them as "beautiful life forms, mysterious and pulsating with charisma." A self-proclaimed "closet cultist," Palmer became interested in these new religious manifestations when she began to spend time at meditation centers as a spiritual seeker. In her editing and written work, she has explored cults from the Children of God to Rajneesh to Raelians.
Working with Arvind Sharma, Palmer helped edit The Rajneesh Papers: Studies in a New Religious Movement, incorporating papers delivered at a symposium on this Oregon-based commune that blended meditation and sexual freedom. Reviewing the collection in Sociology of Religion, Lewis F. Carter felt that its essays "are unusual in the bald juxtaposition of 'outsider' analyses and 'insider' testimonials." The symposium was made up of former cult members and academics, and Palmer and Sharma "allow academics and Sannyasins to speak in their own voices and to their own preoccupations," Carter noted. Palmer further explores the Rajneesh movement, as well as the Unification Church and the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, in Moon Sisters, Krishna Mothers, Rajneesh Lovers: Women's Roles in the New Religions. A Publishers Weekly contributor dubbed the book a "splendid investigation of the deep bonds between women's spiritual identity and women's sexual identity." Palmer used interviews of members of the three new religious or cult movements and explored how they were able to redefine themselves by such activities. The same critic felt Palmer's study was "groundbreaking."
In Millennium, Messiahs, and Mayhem: Contemporary Apocalyptic Movements Palmer joined fellow editor Thomas Robbins to investigate millennialism in North America. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly commented that the editors "have gathered a number of essays that take a sober look at the phenomenon of apocalypticism in the modern world." Essays deal with everything from religious groups such as the Branch Davidians to militant groups such as survivalists and militia. Library Journal critic Cynthia L. Peterson thought the "scholarly" work "should find a place on academic library shelves." Writing in the American Journal of Sociology, James T. Richardson similarly noted that the work is a "fine collection of high-quality papers concerning millenarianism in Western culture." Palmer took on further editing duties, along with Charlotte E. Hardman, in Children in the New Religions, a collection of essays examining the role of the second generation in cults and new religions. Lorne L. Dawson, writing in the Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology, found this an "enjoyable and useful read."
In Aliens Adored: Rael's UFO Religion Palmer presents the first full-length examination of this new religion, begun by former race-car driver Claude Vorilhon from France. Vorilhon claims to have been visited by "elohim," aliens from outer space who informed him that they had created humanity by cloning. Taking the name of Rael, Vorilhon began his Raelian movement by blending belief in UFOs, sexual experimentation, and cloning. In 2002, the movement claimed to have successfully cloned a human.
Having spent fifteen years studying the Raelian cult, in Aliens Adored Palmer presents a "balanced portrait of the history, organization and theology of the group," according to Jana Riess in Publishers Weekly. For Riess, Palmer is "sometimes admiring, sometimes critical, and always intrigued." Similarly, Booklist critic George Eberhart observed that "Palmer has her suspicions but offers a generally objective account of the Raelians." For Salem Alaton, writing in Toronto's Globe & Mail, the author sometimes steps over the line of objectivity; Palmer "declares her vantage is that of a sociologist, but plays that card selectively. While dutifully citing the negatives without assessment of their human cost, she is also a declared enthusiast, even happily pointing to parallels between Rael's religion and the Mormonism of her upbringing."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Journal of Sociology, November, 1998, James T. Richardson, review of Millennium, Messiahs, and Mayhem: Contemporary Apocalyptic Movements, p. 936.
Booklist, October 1, 2004, George Eberhart, review of Aliens Adored: Rael's UFO Religion, p. 305.
Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology, February, 2001, Lorne L. Dawson, review of Children in New Religions, p. 116.
Globe & Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), January 1, 2005, Salem Alaton, "It's the Rael Thing," review of Aliens Adored, p. D8.
Journal of Church and State, spring, 2000, Nikolas K. Gvosdev, review of Millennium, Messiahs, and Mayhem, p. 395.
Library Journal, September 1, 1997, Cynthia L. Peterson, review of Millennium, Messiahs, and Mayhem, p. 186.
Publishers Weekly, January 9, 1995, review of Moon Sisters, Krishna Mothers, Rajneesh Lovers: Women's Roles in the New Religions, p.39; July 28, 1997, review of Millennium, Messiahs, and Mayhem, p. 68; November 15, 2004, Jana Riess, review of Aliens Adored, p. S17.
Sociology of Religion, fall, 1994, Lewis F. Carter, review of The Rajneesh Papers: Studies in a New Religious Movement, p. 375.
Utopian Studies, winter, 1999, Timothy Miller, review or Millennium, Messiahs, and Mayhem, p. 270.
Apologetics Index Web site, http://www.apologetics index.org/p16.html/ (March 9, 2005), "Susan J. Palmer: Religious Cults, Sects, and Movements."
Dawson College Web site, http://www.dawsoncollege.qc.ca/ (February 24, 2005), "Susan Palmer."