Inevitability, Adaptablity, Destiny: Religious and Non-Religious Arguments for a Human Future in Outer Space

Author: Deana Weibel, Ph.D., Professor of Anthropology and Religious Studies, Grand Valley State University

Abstract Background: As an anthropologist of religion I have been studying sacred places and religious travel for more than two decades. Recent work has explored the religious aspects of space exploration. Here I consider space exploration as having religious elements for some, but not all, individuals doing “space work”. My research combines elements of the anthropology of pilgrimage with the anthropology of space exploration.

Abstract Objectives: My objective is to understand the place of religion as humans move forward in their understanding and exploration of space. My premise is that religion is a universal in nearly all studied societies, and that the ubiquity of religion means that religion will likely be a part of humanity’s future in space. Therefore, it is important to understand how religious and scientific ideas about “the heavens” impact each other in individuals. Understanding how humanity’s “destiny” is conceived, both religiously and non-religiously, among contemporary “space workers” will clarify how the concept of destiny may motivate future space travelers.

Abstract Methods: As a cultural anthropologist, my methods are qualitative and ethnographic, based on participant-observation (essentially “embedding” myself) and conducting interviews with people whose work is connected to space, such as astronomers, engineers, astronauts, practitioners of space medicine, etc. Ethnographic research sites include NASA workshops, space centers, public presentations, laboratories, universities, the Mojave Space Port and the Vatican Observatory.

Abstract Results: Preliminary results indicate that people involved in space exploration often draw on ideas of an inescapable “destiny” when discussing the future of humans in space. Many of these ideas draw from religious scripture (including the Bible, the Qur’an and the Vedas), but even in the non-religious, a sense of an “inevitable” human destiny in space prevails. A high level of scientific knowledge seems to make participants more confident in humanity’s ability to adapt to life in space.

Abstract Conclusions: I conclude that a belief that humans are destined to have a future living in outer space is a powerful motivator for both the religious and non-religious alike. This belief encourages problem-solving in many fields, giving “space workers” confidence that any difficulties will be overcome, a belief that may be of great benefit in human space exploration.