Timothy Jenkins
University of Cambridge  


In Search of Unknown Intentional Life Forms 

Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) may be seen in two perspectives. On the one hand, it forms part of contemporary scientific research on the origins of life on this and other planets. On the other hand, it can be considered as part of a tradition of seeking communication with other minds. This proposal offers an anthropological account of the interactions between informal milieus concerned with extraterrestrial life forms and scientific, largely state-funded, research projects concerning formally the same kind of object but conceived in different terms. Through considering the effects of the collective imagination, the proposal gives a description of the forms of unorthodox religious categories in the present and some features of their realization in scientific and technical work. These cultural interests play a restricted but significant role in present research engagements with astrobiology: restricted, because the search for biological life beyond earth is unlikely to yield evidence for mental life of any kind, yet significant because the motivations for this research are bound up with such imaginative concerns as the hope for communication with unknown intentional life forms.

Timothy Jenkins is Reader in Anthropology and Religion in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies, University of Cambridge, and a Fellow of Jesus College. He has degrees in Zoology, Social Anthropology and Theology. Recent publications include Of Flying Saucers and Social Scientists (Palgrave Pivot, 2013), ‘Moral Employments of Scientific Thought’ (in Salazar & Bestard (eds), Religion and Science as Forms of Life: Anthropological Insights into Reason and Unreason, Berghahn, 2015), and ‘The Cognitive Science of Religion from an Anthropological Perpsective’ (in Watts & Turner (eds) Evolution, Religion, & Cognitive Science. Critical and Constructive Essays, OUP, 2014).