Hi, Reddit! I hold a PhD in history from Georgetown and am a professor of religion and history at Claremont Graduate University, where I hold a chair in Mormon studies. My book, The Abduction of Betty and Barney Hill, was just published by Yale University Press. It's the first full-length, peer-reviewed book on the most famous alien abduction case in American history.

Betty and Barney Hill were an interracial couple living in New Hampshire in 1961. Late the night of September 19, they saw a strange light in the sky and had a distressing interaction with it. After two plus years of nightmares and anxiety, they consulted a psychiatrist, and early in 1964 they began a series of hypnotic therapy sessions. By the end of that process, both had memories of that light on the road in front of them, being taken aboard by small beings, and subjected to medical examination.

By the 1970s, they were famous. A journalist wrote a bestselling book based on interviews with the Hills, James Earl Jones produced and starred in a film about the case, and the famous astronomer Carl Sagan argued their story could not be true on his wildly popular PBS series Cosmos.

While there's a lot in the book about the case, the book also explains that we can learn a lot about Betty and Barney Hill's experiences about the last fifty or sixty years in American history. Their story intersects with the civil rights movement, the collapse of trust in government, the rise of conspiracy theory, and many other trends that have produced the world we live in today.

Ask me anything on 8-29-23, my book release date. I'll be answering through the afternoon.

Proof: https://imgur.com/a/hHkALMj

Thanks, folks! I'm wrapping up active participation here at 4:30 PM California time. But I'll be dropping back in periodically over the next few days - if you leave a question, I'll try to get to it.

Comments: 421 • Responses: 51  • Date: 

ceciltech97 karma

Do you believe aliens have actually visited earth?

nopantsirl-11 karma

This author is financially disincentivized from answering that question.

They want to sell the spectacle to the gawking normies as well as the mentally ill who want validation. Both those audiences would prefer an author who believes what they already do, but appears to approach things objectively.

MatthewBBowmann141 karma

I actually don't think extraterrestrials have visited earth; I think the extraterrestrial hypothesis is riddled with logical difficulties.

panburger_partner50 karma

I don't think you understand what this book is about.

MatthewBBowmann37 karma

Thanks for this!

listerine41160 karma

My biggest concern with the Betty and Barney Hill case is her credibility afterwards.

My understanding is Betty Hill claimed to then have HUNDREDs of sighting and close encounters after the events she described. She was then seeing something like one a day, decades later.

Do you have anything to say in regards to that? It just seems to point to something like mental illness.

I read an interesting case study on it by Karl Pflock.

MatthewBBowmann112 karma

This is correct. It particularly escalated after Barney's death in 1969. I think that her ideas about what UFOs were evolved after their initial encounter in 1961. Increasingly, through the late 1960s and 1970s, she began connecting UFOs to all manner of other "high strangeness" - psychic powers, reincarnation, ghosts and life after death and so on.

The early UFO people she came in contact with - Donald Keyhoe and the like - thought of UFOs as not much more than nuts-and-bolts craft built on other planets and flown here. By the 1970s, though, she was interacting with people who connected UFOs to a vast network of cosmic conspiracies, psychic energies, and so on, and began to see them all around her.

In a nutshell, I think her journey is an interesting illustration of the rise of the New Age movement in America, growing suspicion of mainline science, and general distrust of government. Lots on this in the book.

Raoul_Duke943 karma

Can I ask what you think the best evidence is that Betty and Barry are telling the truth? And what is the best evidence you have they may not be?

MatthewBBowmann107 karma

I think they were telling the truth about what they remembered as they remembered it. I think it shouldn't be terribly controversial that they saw something strange in the sky. About the abduction - well - those memories emerged under hypnosis and as recovered memory, and that's a lot trickier. There's good reason to think that recovered memory needs to be treated carefully.

baineschile33 karma

What makes you a scholar on these subjects?

MatthewBBowmann27 karma

I've got a PhD in the history of American religion from Georgetown and have published four books on various aspects of religion in America.

There's also a wide range of scholarship on various aspects of UFOs in modern American culture - I feel lucky to have learned from a lot of scholars, from Carl Jung on!

SpaceElevatorMusic27 karma

Hello, and thanks for the AMA.

My questions are if you watched the recent US congressional hearings on UFO activity, and, if so, what your take on them was?

MatthewBBowmann57 karma

I did! Frankly, we didn't learn much from the hearings that those following the news didn't already know. Grusch and Fravor and Graves for the most part simply repeated the things they'd already told the press. The most notable thing here, I think, is that there were hearings at all. After several decades of disinterest, members of Congress seem to think that there's something worth talking about going on here.

shakeyjake25 karma

I've noticed quite a bit of crossover among Mormons who are active believers in UFOs. Warren Aston is a good example of someone writing about proof for the Book of Mormon and also UFOs. Do you have any theories why it seems being a believing Mormon also seems to indicate a much higher belief in UFOs?

MatthewBBowmann48 karma

Also Jim Thompson.

I mention this somewhere else, but I think it's two things. 1 - Mormon theology has a strong strain of naturalism in it, which is to say that God is not a 'supernatural' being but rather has total mastery of the existing laws of the universe. Thus, 'religion' and 'science' aren't really different things; thus, the notion of beings traveling across the universe with science is not too far fetched in Mormon theology.

2 - There are scattered passages in Mormon scripture about God ruling multiple planets and having created worlds without end.

_whydah_6 karma

As a practicing member of the Church, I think it has a lot more to do with the heavy intersection of members of our Church matching the demographic of typical UFO believers. I've met many country folks in protestant religions who also intersect and match this.

I feel like involving our theology is trying to find a pattern that may not actually exist.

MatthewBBowmann12 karma

That may be a good point! I'm thinking mostly of the writings of LDS folk who invoke theology to defend belief in UFOs - Warren Aston, Jim Thompson; even a lot of the prominent near-death-experience people like Betty Eadie and John Pontius. All of them state 1) the Pearl of Great Price describes many worlds, and 2) many of them will be far more advanced on the path of eternal progression than we are and thus capable of technological feats like UFOs.

thegreatvortigaunt-6 karma

Thus, 'religion' and 'science' aren't really different things

They are objectively polar opposites.

MatthewBBowmann8 karma

Not really, no. They are two ways of organizing knowledge that are meaningful only in the Western world. "Religion" as a conceptual way of organizing certain parts of our lives is largely a production of Christianity; it's not very meaningful outside the West. Similarly, "science" as a way of organizing and gaining knowledge is the product of the Western academy. It's not as though these two concepts exist Platonically outside our brains.

This is a good basic introduction to the problem.


omniuni22 karma

Have you ever had sleep paralysis? The experience is very similar to what a lot of people describe as abduction. I can attest to that from experience.

I know there are several theories that this is the largest contributor to UFO stories, and having experienced it frequently, I think that's likely.

(Ironically, I do tend to believe that there have been visitors or crafts from other worlds that have visited Earth, I also personally believe they were probably survey type visits and unlikely to have abducted anyone, at least not per how we imagine it. I mean, you have faster than light travel, you'd better be able to knock out a primitive monkey from another world who can't reliably land on their own moon.)

MatthewBBowmann32 karma

There's a book by Susan Clancy, a psychiatrist at Harvard University, that argues for just this point. It's called "Abducted."

It particularly seems relevant for the sorts of abduction narratives we get in the 1980s and 1990s, which tend to happen in bed. The sort that Budd Hopkins studied in his books.

The Hills, though, were driving down a road in their car.

everything_is_free18 karma

I'm really exited to read your book. It just arrived about an hour ago.

Why do you think the default explanation for UAPs and UFOs is so frequently extra terrestrials. Even if we were to somehow put naturalistic explanations aside and concede that some of these events are only explainable by the supernatural, why does contemporary American culture seem to settle on aliens over a host of other supernatural explanations, like angels, demons, ghosts, Norse gods, etc.?

MatthewBBowmann36 karma

Because twentieth century American culture, particularly mid-twentieth century American culture, the forties and fifties, was marked by a deep fascination with science and had just concluded World War II, complete with its rockets and missile launches. It was entirely natural for those Americans to see something strange in the sky and assume it was a) a built craft, and b) piloted by somebody.

The military thought so too, which is why the Air Force stepped in to investigate quite quickly.

CadmusTurme14 karma

Hi, I was just wondering how Carl Jung is related to the UFO or cases like this?

MatthewBBowmann33 karma

Jung wrote a book called "Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Sky." He argued, essentially, that whatever these odd things in the sky are is less important than how we interpret them, and the meanings we place upon them reveal often our own anxieties and longings for peace. A lot of more recent interpreters of UFOs follow his lead on this.

moonjams13 karma

Hey there! Thanks so much for doing this AMA. My master's thesis last year (in data science) utilized social media data of users engaged with the Secret Space Program/Super Soldier conspiracy theory online. I recall coming across your name last Summer while I was in the thick of it! :)

So, my question(s):

It appeared to me that individuals identifying as starseeds, indigo children, etc. could gain quite a bit of clout and influence within their communities.

Any insight from your work on how such individuals rise to prominence? Is this similar to how other religious figures (such as prophets) have formed historically? Any notion as to why certain ideas gain traction (e.g., arcturians, blue avians) vs others?

Aside from your new book, are there any other works/scholars you'd recommend for those interested in learning more about this area?

MatthewBBowmann25 karma

To the last question first - Diana Pasulka's work, Bridget Brown's book on abductions, and Brenda Denzler's The Lure of the Edge.

To the previous question - I think this is essential. It's important to realize that like any narratives, UFO stories emerge from communities. Without a communal narrative, all we have are strange lights in the sky, weird sounds, etc.

Max Weber, one of the founders of religious studies, argued that religions emerge like this. First, there is a charismatic leader. By virtue of that person's ideas, charisma, and talent, that person attracts people and gradually forms a set of ideas and order about how society works.

Then, after that person vanishes or dies or what not, institutionalization sets in. Other people recapitulate that story and draw upon that person's rhetoric and organization to gain influence.

So: what you see in a lot of communities today is this: some people trying to assert charismatic authority, creating new movements. Other people seeking institutional authority, recapitulating established patterns. The first is harder.

Hug_A_Ginger12 karma

What made you want to study religion and how did it lead you to alien abductions?

MatthewBBowmann51 karma

I'm particularly interested in twentieth century religion. Back in the 1950s and 1960s there were a lot of people repeating what was called the "secularization" hypothesis - the idea that as societies grew increasingly scientific and technological and rational, religion would fade.

It turns out that this isn't true. Traditional denominations are waning in membership, but other ways of enacting the things that religion has often done (seeking for meaning, invoking power beyond one's self, that sort of thing) has migrated to new forms - astrology and energy work and all sorts of things you can find on TikTok.

One of those forms, it turns out, is UFOs, which seem to blend ideas about science and technology with traditional religious impulses. There are a lot of what scholars call 'UFO religions' at work in America today. One of the reasons the Hills interested me is that they began the 1960s as fairly traditional Unitarians. By the end of the decade they're interested in psychic power and reincarnation and all sorts of new religious movements.

smarmageddon10 karma

What do you think is the primary driver behind the desire to believe that UFOs are actually spaceships with alien beings at the controls? It doesn't make practical or scientific sense for that to be the case (though robotic ships are certainly not out of the question), but people seem to love that idea.

MatthewBBowmann21 karma

This is called the 'extraterrestrial' hypothesis - and I agree that it's got a lot of logistical issues. Also popular is the "interdimensional" hypothesis, which posits that these things are not necessarily from another planet, but perhaps from other folds in reality.

The psychologist Carl Jung suggested that these stories are popular because they 'click' with our current time - an age of widespread reverence for science but still great awareness about the unknown and a deep desire to find meaning in the universe. There's quite possibly something to that.

PatersBier8 karma

I am skeptical because hypnotism was involved. What is the likelihood the therapist suggested the things the couple claim to have seen?

MatthewBBowmann12 karma

We actually have recordings and transcripts of the hypnosis sessions. I discuss them at great length in the book.

The psychiatrist himself did not believe in the abduction. He suggested that it was a 'confabulated' memory, by which he meant it was a memory that expressed the Hills' emotional truth of their anxieties and worries, rather than a literal memory. His discussions with them in the transcripts shows him following that belief.

dhottawa8 karma

How does religion acknowledge the possibility of other beings? Are there any religions that are actually open to the idea?

MatthewBBowmann11 karma

More on this below - but the short answer is yes. A lot of modern religious leaders have thought about it, and I think that if we got incontrovertible proof of the reality of alien intelligence, most religious traditions would adapt.

Here's the Pope, for instance.


sweetnourishinggruel7 karma

Going back before the 20th century, do you see anything unique to, or characteristic of, American 19th century religious movements that manifests in today’s UFO culture? I’m thinking along the lines of millenarianism, revelations to modern prophets, rejection of established authorities, etc.

MatthewBBowmann18 karma

Oh, absolutely. A number of things:

1) A deeply Enlightenment culture. This means, essentially, individual confidence in their own capacity to determine truth separate from authorities. You see this all the way from 19th century lay religious leaders reading the Bible for themselves to contemporary UFO experiencers.

2) Utopianism about our national project. The infusion of American politics with a cosmic sense of the struggle between good and evil; the sense that all debates in our public square are meaningful on a moral rather than simply technocratic level.

3) A conspiratorial orientation - going back to the Revolutionaries' confidence that the British parliament was plotting to destroy American freedom. Americans have long tended to be certain that there are plots going on behind the scenes.

The real connection between 19th century religiosity and contemporary UFO culture is the Theosophy movement.

Writer105 karma

John Mack started off as a skeptic and became a believer in the abduction phenomenon. What do you think of his work, and have you come across any cases in your own research that left you scratching your head?

MatthewBBowmann16 karma

Mack is fascinating. What I like about him is not necessarily that he became a believer, but that he started by taking the people he was talking to seriously.

I think a lot about an essay by Jonathan Z. Smith, one of the deans of religious studies in America, about Jim Jones and Jonestown. He states there that it's easy to use words like 'insane' to describe what happened at Jonestown - but in a sense that's abdicating the basic premise of the humanities as a discipline, which is to understand.

PitchforkJoe4 karma

Of the leading lights of the UFO movement - I'm talking the likes of Frevor, Grusch, Graves et al - are there any you consider as particularly more or less convincing then the others?

MatthewBBowmann5 karma

Today? Pasulka. I also very much like Jeff Kripal.

EatsTheCheeseRind4 karma

I remember seeing a map once and reading something to the effect that UFO sightings are disproportionally more common in the US with a little in Western Europe. There’s lots of different way to interpret this, but to me it seems this “phenomenon” is closely tied to US (if not Western) culture. Any thoughts on that?

MatthewBBowmann14 karma

This is a great question. First - the Hills' story is sometimes called the first modern abduction story. This isn't actually true: Antonio Vilas-Boas, a Brazilian farmer, reported a similar experience several years earlier.

There are in fact sightings of strange things in the sky all around the world.

However, it's also true that the rhetoric of interpretation of those sightings - as "aliens," or craft from another world, and the abduction narrative that the Hills helped to generate (missing time, medical examination, etc etc) - was produced in the Cold War West, and thus are marked by that culture. Our interpretation of these things, then, is very parochial, even if the baseline phenomena is not.

Thomas Bullard has written about this.

andydude444 karma

What do you think of Chuck Schumer’s bipartisan UAP Disclosure Amendment that came about due to the David Grusch congressional testimony under oath that the US has a secret and possibly illegal crash retrieval program that has allegedly obtained non-human intelligence technology and has been allegedly hidden from the house oversight committee?

Link to amendment: https://www.congress.gov/amendment/118th-congress/senate-amendment/797/cosponsors

MatthewBBowmann23 karma

There are two things going on here.

The first is the question of disclosure - and as I wrote elsewhere in the thread, I think that Congress is now more interested in the topic than it has been for fifty years, since the Ford hearings in the late 1960s.

The second point is that - whether or not one thinks that there are craft built by nonhuman intelligence in the possession of the government or military contractors - one of the primary things Grusch pointed to in the hearings was that there appears to be a lot going on in the military-industrial complex that Congress is only vaguely aware of. Whether or not Schumer believes in aliens, I think he believes in that.

jumpedoutoftheboat4 karma

I was just showing my 9th grade geography students a video showing the amount of ufo sitings in the world over time starting in 1906 to 2014.

I want to ask them how they think geography has influenced the amount of sightings or claims of abduction through the years. How would you answer that question?

MatthewBBowmann14 karma

Quite a bit. I said somewhere else below that the "UFO" encounter as we understand it is really deeply marked by the culture of the United States and the West more broadly in the last seventy or eighty years. The US has developed a culture of "UFOs;" the X-Files, Spielberg movies, Jordan Peele. We have all seen the cover of Whitley Strieber's Communion, even if we haven't. That means then that Americans are primed to see a strange thing in the sky and think "UFO," and immediately make all of these associations. More so than other countries are.

This of course doesn't mean that they're not seeing strange things in the sky. Just that the don't bring the same cultural baggage Americans do. (They've got their own!)

jumpedoutoftheboat5 karma

Do you think with globalization happening even to the villages in the Amazon that there will be more sightings there as time goes on because they will also be steeped in the American psyche of Hollywood?

MatthewBBowmann6 karma

I would not at all be shocked.

sdemat4 karma

What’s your current take on the recent hearings and the speed at which the United States government is taking this seriously? Do you think actual disclosure is imminent?

MatthewBBowmann15 karma

Repeated from above:

Frankly, we didn't learn much from the hearings that those following the news didn't already know. Grusch and Fravor and Graves for the most part simply repeated the things they'd already told the press. The most notable thing here, I think, is that there were hearings at all. After several decades of disinterest, members of Congress seem to think that there's something worth talking about going on here.

As to disclosure: I'm somewhat skeptical. It seems like it's always just around the next corner, doesn't it?

nagumi4 karma

Will an audiobook be released?

MatthewBBowmann5 karma

Yes! On the way.

tino7683 karma

Alright! I usually never go in for AMAs (usually cause I'm late or uninterested in the asker, but I'll bite!

You share a surname with the protagonist of 2001: A Space Odyssey, coincidence?

MatthewBBowmann8 karma


skillmau53 karma

Do you have any thoughts on these religious influences on certain CIA programs? I know they took interest in remote viewing, the occult, gateway process, etc.

Just curious if you have any interesting thoughts on this or came across anything particularly interesting on this subject.

Also, you might get better responses on /r/UFOs. They’re a much more passionate bunch about this topic.

MatthewBBowmann3 karma


This is interesting stuff, and it raises a good question - what's 'religion'? That's particularly pressing in this period. We of course know some of the things you referenced that the CIA was interested in - are they 'religious'? Or are they 'scientific'? I think what they tell us is that the boundaries between 'religion' and 'science' are often moving back and forth.

butler18a3 karma

are you a fan of the X files? If so, what are some of your favorite episodes.

MatthewBBowmann14 karma

Oh, absolutely. I prefer the case of the week episodes. Jose Chung's From Outer Space is a razor sharp depiction of the US UFO community.

ThereAndSquare3 karma

Early Mormon history many instances of supernatural visitations and visions, like the First Vision, Angel Moroni, the priesthood restorations (and many others as you obviously know). How did you go from Mormon studies to Betty and Barney Hill and do you see any parallels or connections between those early Mormon experiences and these more modern UFO experiences?

MatthewBBowmann9 karma

The broad connection is this: I'm interested in new religious movements; how Americans in particular have created and interpreted new ways of thinking about what 'religion' is - and both Mormonism and UFOs are relevant there.

To your particular question - Mormon theology has a long tradition of 'naturalism' - that is, the belief that there is no 'supernatural,' but that God simply understands and has mastered the laws of the universe far better than we have. That's both a very modern way of being religious (that is, to argue that there's ultimately compatibility between 'religion' and 'science') but also lends itself to re-reading early Mormon visionary encounters through the language of UFOS.

businessjack3 karma

I have BA in religious studies and I want to pursue a Master's and eventually a PhD. I'd like to focus on the religions of the indigenous peoples of Polynesia, Micronesia, Maori and a Aborigines. I graduated about 10 years ago.

Do you have any suggestions on schools I should look into? Or any general advice on getting back into academia after such a long break?

MatthewBBowmann8 karma

Search for an advisor rather than a school. Your advisor will make or break your career. Also, it's wise to get an MA first - both to decide if you really want to get into this whole academic thing, but also because getting an MA and doing well can vault you into a very good PhD program. That's critical if you're returning after a while out of school - you'll have to prove your chops again.

So: if I were you I'd look for a respected academic at a good school that studies what you want to study. Then go there, get an MA with that person, knock it out of the park, and apply to a very good PhD program.

Start with the University of Hawai'i, but also look up the titles of books in the field that you respect. Who wrote them? Where do they teach?

FaustusC3 karma

Three questions:

1: Are you surprised at the lack of effect the disclosure has had on us?

2: If disclosure happens again, fully, do you think any nations will handle it worse than others?

3: Do you favor any of the theories about whether these things are friendly or hostile?

MatthewBBowmann14 karma

No opinion on the theories about what these things are, except to say that I think the extraterrestrial hypothesis is incorrect.

As to the lack of impact of all of this on American culture - two thoughts. The first is that I think that beyond the Tic-Tac videos (which are black and white and grainy) there's not really conclusive proof of much yet.

Second thought: A pretty large chunk of Americans believe in UFOs already. It turns out that we live in a society in which belief in high strangeness is widespread.

writesmusic2 karma

hi! Thanks for doing this. So, possibly slightly off topic, what are your thoughts on Bob Lazar?

MatthewBBowmann17 karma

Not off topic at all.

Lazar has fabricated enough about his past that he's shot his credibility in the foot repeatedly, I fear.

sufferingbastard2 karma

If the "OTHER" was interacting with us in the form of Fairies, Gods, Angels, and Monsters prior to the Industrial revolution, and now interact as Spaceships, Spacemen, and Lights that defy Physics...

What's next? Is it still 'real' Why hide the interactions?

MatthewBBowmann6 karma

Jacques Vallee has a lot to say about this! You probably know that.

sufferingbastard1 karma

Well, I guess but he says it extraterrestrial.

You say it's not.

Elucidate, please.

MatthewBBowmann6 karma

Vallee doesn't actually say it's extraterrestrial; he believes in the interdimensional hypothesis, in which these things are emerging from different layers of reality. He also believes they're a 'control system' - that is, there is something out there guiding human development by manifesting to us in different ways at different times.

Complete_Past_20292 karma

HI, Thanks for doing an AMA on these subjects.

My question is what impact do you believe full disclosure (if we ever get it) or even undeniable proof of Extraterrestrial life will have on the major religions.

MatthewBBowmann13 karma

There's a lot of interesting writing on this. CS Lewis, the famous Christian theologian and author of the Narnia books, wrote a lot about it. NASA has also commissioned studies on the question. The Pope has even weighed in.

My thought is that most world religions would actually roll with it. That's what the Pope implies - that God's creations are far bigger than humans can imagine. Lewis says the same thing. Many other religious leaders have said similar.

What I think might happen, and is perhaps as interesting, is the growth and flourishing of new religious traditions based on the experience. We've seen that already - look at the Raelians, for instance.

darkestsoul2 karma

What do you think of the idea that NHI has implemented or help create our religious ideologies?

Separate question, but do you think the government is really behind an 80 year conspiracy to conceal NHI and UAP from the public?

MatthewBBowmann15 karma

I'm suspicious of 'ancient alien' theories. Most seem to me to be based on deep misunderstandings of ancient cultures and a flattening of the complexity of different societies.

Second question: There are absolutely genuine conspiracies in the government (think Watergate, think CIA plots to assassinate foreign leaders); that's part of what makes the disclosure movement appealing. However, keeping conspiracies quiet is usually extremely, extremely difficult. Particularly over two or three generations.

Resident_Grapefruit2 karma

Other than their testimony, what can you tell us about the strength of the evidence that the couple provided?

MatthewBBowmann1 karma

There were marks on their car that they claimed threw off a compass. Betty's dress was torn and oddly stained. Barney's shoes were scuffed.

All a bit inconclusive, and some of the people sympathetic to them at the time noted this. They had differing opinions on what was persuasive and what not.

RoseyOneOne2 karma


MatthewBBowmann4 karma

Pasulka's excellent. You'll see a lot of Vallee in the book as well.

And to your question - that's of course Pasulka's argument, and I think there's a lot to it. The question, of course, is what 'religion' is. If we think of 'religion' as the same thing as 'denominations' (like Catholics or Baptists) then the connection is a bit unclear. But if we think of 'religion' as a mode of being in the world that facilitates our hunt for ultimate meanings and power, UFOs and religion are an obvious connection in the modern world.

Anonymousanime71 karma

When did you first take an interest in aliens?

MatthewBBowmann3 karma

Found my way to aliens because I was interested in how religion in the United States changed as we became an increasingly scientific and technological society in the mid-twentieth century. UFOs seemed to me a really interesting vector for exploring that.

Then I found that Betty and Barney Hill's papers were donated to the University of New Hampshire about ten years ago, and I couldn't resist.

Smokey_Katt1 karma

Are Betty and Barney Hill real names actually Betty and Barney Rubble?

MatthewBBowmann8 karma

A reporter asked me if the Rubbles were named after the Hills, in fact. I wish I could prove it.

WhichHazel1 karma

As a historian and writer, I have always been fascinated by fringe topics like myths, folklore, conspiracy archeology, cryptids, and UFOs. I have shied away from studying or writing about these topics for fear of not being taken seriously in academic circles. As a professional historian yourself, how valuable do you find the study of these “out-there” topics to the overall study of history?

MatthewBBowmann10 karma

Yup - you can see some of that in this thread!

I think that it's getting easier, because there's more and more respect in academia for the study of popular culture. The real key, I think, is to link your work to an undeniably important academic topic and to put that link front and center.

Thus, my subtitle.

I think the study of popular ideas like UFOs is very important; not a lot of Americans read scholarship on Watergate, but a _whole_ lot watch the X-Files and absorb ideas about conspiracy and government. Historians need to understand that.

bender281 karma

What drew you to Mormon studies as a field and how would you describe the academic community around it? Any advice for someone interested in pursuing it?

MatthewBBowmann11 karma

I'm really interested in the scholarship around New Religious Movements in the United States, and questions like "How do new religious movements start?" "Why do some succeed and some fail?" And so on. Mormonism is of course the example par excellence of that.

In some ways it's a mirror to what Americans think "religion" should be - by looking at Mormonism and how it portrays itself and how it's critiqued, you can unpack the assumptions undergirding the American idea of 'religion' and where it comes from.

The field of Mormon studies is fascinating; it's coming into its own. For a really long time most scholarship on Mormonism was done by people who wanted to either justify the respectability of the LDS church (which of course is only one of the various Mormon churches in America) or debunk it. I think now a lot of scholarship is being done by people who are less interested in that fight than in what Mormonism can tell us about the history of religion in the United States and the world, and that's a sign of academic maturity.

So my advice is to read scholarship like that first. Jan Shipps's book _Mormonism_ is the entry point there.

More-Ad-9061 karma

What do you think of the 1561 celestial phenomenon over Nuremberg?

MatthewBBowmann6 karma

Fascinating image! I have no idea what it's representing. But it's the sort of thing that might then have been identified as divine and today technological.

[deleted]-2 karma


MatthewBBowmann4 karma

I'm not! Can't speak to what you're doing, though.

huh_phd-2 karma

How do you get a phd in history? Like, did you physically discover something new? I got my phd in molecular biology and I had to discover something totally novel to science

MatthewBBowmann11 karma

What's called "an original contribution based on primary research." You have to get into the archives and either 1) tell a story that's not been told before, and/or 2) tell an old story in a different way. Either way, it's about looking at original materials from the time period you're writing about and coming up with a new interpretation.

This book is based on original research into the Hills' own papers - letters, memoirs, and the like.

[deleted]-3 karma


MatthewBBowmann20 karma

Do you think that academics who write books about Greek mythology believe in Zeus?

JosephFinn-7 karma

OK. Why are you making stuff up?

MatthewBBowmann9 karma

Betty and Barney Hill were very real people, and they definitely told this story. What I'm interested in is why their story became a bestselling book and a movie, and what happened to them over time. Do you also think that academics who write about Mark Twain think that Huck Finn is a real person?

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MatthewBBowmann12 karma

Does Christianity not allow for the existence of ghosts? I think that depends on what brand of Christianity you're talking about. Here, for, instance, is the editor of the Christian Parapsychologist Journal arguing that Christianity in fact supports the existence of ghosts.


Christians believe in a lot of things! And a lot of what Christians do is argue about what "Christianity" really is.