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Xenology is the scientific study of extraterrestrial life. Derived from the Greek xenos, which as a substantive has the meaning "stranger, wanderer, refugee" and as an adjective "foreign, alien, strange, unusual."[1]


In science fiction[edit]

It is used to denote a hypothetical science whose object of study would be extraterrestrial societies developed by alien lifeforms. In science fiction criticism and studies the term has been advocated by writers such as David Brin ("Xenology: The New Science of Asking 'Who's Out There?'" Analog, 26 April 1983)[2] as an analogue of (terrestrial) ethnology. By extension the term may also refer to the fictional creation of "alternative humankinds".[3]

Instances in which Xenology was referred to in a work of Science Fiction include the Brothers Strugatsky's 1972 novel Roadside Picnic. In section three of which one of the character's, a Nobel laureate by the name of Valentine Pillman, explains Xenology as "an unnatural mixture of science fiction and formal logic. At its core is a flawed assumption—that an alien race would be psychologically human."[4]

In cultural studies[edit]

The term xenology was employed by German Indologist Wilhelm Halbfass in his Indien und Europa, Perspektiven ihrer geistigen Begegnung (India and Europe: Perspectives on Their Spiritual Encounter) (1981)[5] to denote the study of the ethnocentric views held by societies with regard to different classes of foreigner, in other words the positive or negative ways in which a given culture defines those outside or alien to it.[6] Xenology is thus the study of the various modalities whereby self and otherness are defined "within a historically complex collision of cultures".[7]

In science[edit]

As yest, no extraterrestrial life has been identified. Robert A. Freitas Jr. self-published a book on the subject, Xenology: An Introduction to the Scientific Study of Extraterrestrial Life, Intelligence, and Civilization (XRI, 1979). Freitas argued for the primacy of the term in the context of extraterrestrial life in a 1983 letter to the journal Nature.[8][9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, new (ninth) edition, with a supplement, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1968.
  2. ^ Brian M. Stableford, Science Fact and Science Fiction: An Encyclopedia, Routledge, 2006, p. 571.
  3. ^ Science Fact and Science Fiction: An Encyclopedia, p. 571.
  4. ^ Arkady Strugatsky; Boris Strugatsky (16 September 2016). Roadside Picnic. Lulu.com. pp. 92–. ISBN 978-1-365-40085-8.
  5. ^ Wilhelm Halbfass, Indien und Europa, Perspektiven ihrer geistigen Begegnung, Schwabe Verlag, Basel and Stuttgart, 1981.
  6. ^ Dermot Killingley, "Mlecchas, Yavanas and Heathens: Interacting Xenologies in Early Nineteenth-Century Calcutta," in Beyond Orientalism: The Work of Wilhelm Halbfass and its Impact on Indian and Cross-cultural Studies, ed. Eli Franco, Karin Preisendanz, Editions Rodopi, Amsterdam, 2007.
  7. ^ Harvey P. Alper, review of Indien und Europa, Perspektiven ihrer geistigen Begegnung, in Philosophy East and West, Vol. 33, No. 2 (April, 1983), pp. 189-196
  8. ^ "Naming extraterrestrial life," Nature 301(13 January 1983):106 http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v301/n5896/full/301106a0.html
  9. ^ "Naming extraterrestrial life," Correspondence to Nature Vol. 301(13), 13 January 1983, p 106. http://www.rfreitas.com/Astro/NamingETL.htm