American Studies ETDs

Publication Date



The purpose of this dissertation is to critically examine the emergence, maintenance, evolution, and dissemination of belief traditions in New Mexico and the United States that are most commonly associated with the UFO phenomenon. This critical analysis incorporates theoretical frameworks from a multitude of interrelated disciplines, including folklore, history, anthropology, popular culture studies, sociology, and psychology. The primary goal of this dissertation involves the attempt to formulate a typology of UFO accounts in American culture, and how said accounts are interpreted, communicated, and publicly evaluated. To achieve this end, a database of UFO-related experiences was compiled in New Mexico and accompanied with a sample of extensive firsthand interviews from New Mexico and other parts of the United States, collected from 2007 to 2009. These data were analyzed for both their correlation to socio-demographic variables, and for patterns and variations in narrative form and content. The findings of this dissertation suggest that personal experience narratives--or memorates--containing UFO-related content remain relatively common among a sample New Mexican population. Utilizing an interdisciplinary approach, the overarching explanation for this commonality involves the complex interplay of a variety of social factors, including: the continued presence of Cold War-related anxieties and cultural paranoia; the ubiquitous presence of UFO and alien imagery in American popular culture; broad-based public mistrust in the scientific establishment; the usefulness of the phenomenon in modern "technospiritual" reconciliations; the occasional presence of a seemingly core experience comprised of near universal characteristics, and the influence of UFO-centric cognitive models in the perceptions, interpretations, and reconsiderations of said experiences. These findings further suggest that many proponents of UFO-based belief traditions publicly position their opinions against a hostile skeptical community. To gain further insight into this competing perspective, a sampling of self-professed skeptics were interviewed in 2008. Their attitudes about the UFO phenomenon and other anomalous belief systems generally supported the idea of a broad competition in which proponents and skeptics grapple over cultural authority regarding public consensus on normative belief and experience in American life. The UFO phenomenon remains a key component in this public struggle, while continuing to symbolize deeper social anxieties involving issues of scientific ethics, governmental secrecy, racial disharmony, and spiritual hybridity.




UFO, Folklore, Anomalous, Memorate, Paranormal, Anthropology

Document Type


Degree Name

American Studies

Level of Degree


Department Name

American Studies

First Committee Member (Chair)

Rebecca Schreiber

Second Committee Member

M. Jane Young

Third Committee Member

Alyosha Goldstein

Fourth Committee Member

Holly Mathews