The term xenology derives from the Greek xenos, which as a substantive has the meaning "stranger, wanderer, refugee" and as an adjective "foreign, alien, strange, unusual."
The first full-length book on the subject was written in 1979 by Robert A. Freitas Jr., who argued for the primacy of the term in the context of extraterrestrial life in a 1983 letter to the journal Nature.
In science fiction
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) as an analogue of (terrestrial) ethnology. By extension the term may also refer to the fictional creation of "alternative humankinds", that is, human cultures and societies that have evolved on alien worlds. Science fiction writers who have created such xenological fictions include Poul Andersen, Jack Vance, Ursula Le Guin, Joanna Russ, and Donald Kingsbury. Writers who have explored alien rather than human xenologies include Orson Scott Card, Chad Oliver and C. J. Cherryh. Often, science fiction may combine human and alien xenologies, one good example being Jack Vance's Tschai series of novels, in which an interplanetary traveller from Earth is stranded on a planet dominated by four technically and culturally sophisticated alien species and a number of human societies, which, having been abducted and taken there during prehistory, have evolved in ways determined by the influence of their more powerful non-human masters.
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 noble 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."
In cultural studies
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) 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. Xenology is thus the study of the various modalities whereby self and otherness are defined "within a historically complex collision of cultures".
- Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, new (ninth) edition, with a supplement, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1968.
- Robert A. Freitas Jr., Xenology: An Introduction to the Scientific Study of Extraterrestrial Life, Intelligence, and Civilization, XRI, 1979 http://www.xenology.info/Xeno.htm.[permanent dead link]
- "Naming extraterrestrial life," Nature 301(13 January 1983):106 http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v301/n5896/full/301106a0.html
- "Naming extraterrestrial life," Correspondence to Nature Vol. 301(13), 13 January 1983, p 106. http://www.rfreitas.com/Astro/NamingETL.htm
- Brian M. Stableford, Science Fact and Science Fiction: An Encyclopedia, Routledge, 2006, p. 571.
- Science Fact and Science Fiction: An Encyclopedia, p. 571.
- Wilhelm Halbfass, Indien und Europa, Perspektiven ihrer geistigen Begegnung, Schwabe Verlag, Basel and Stuttgart, 1981.
- 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.
- 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