Raëlism,[a] also known as Raëlianism, is a UFO religion that was founded in 1970s France by Claude Vorilhon, now known as Raël.[b] Scholars of religion classify Raëlism as a new religion. The group is formalised as the International Raëlian Movement (IRM) or Raëlian Church, a hierarchical organisation under Raël's leadership.
Raëlism teaches that an extraterrestrial species known as the Elohim created humanity using their advanced technology. An atheistic religion, it believes that the Elohim have historically been mistaken for gods. It also claims that throughout history the Elohim have created forty Elohim/human hybrids who have served as prophets preparing humanity for news about their ultimate origins. Among those listed as prophets are The Buddha, Jesus of Nazareth, and Muhammad, with Raël himself being the fortieth and final prophet. Raëlists believe that since the Hiroshima bomb of 1945, humanity has begun an Age of Apocalypse in which it is threatening itself with nuclear annihilation. It argues that humanity must find a way of harnessing new scientific and technological development for peaceful purposes, and that once this has been achieved the Elohim shall return to Earth to share their technology with humanity and begin a utopia. To this end, the Raëlians have been committed to building an embassy for the Elohim, incorporating a landing pad for the latter's spaceship. Raëlians promote a liberal ethical system with a strong emphasis on sexual experimentation, engage in daily meditation, and hope for physical immortality by human cloning.
Raël first published his claims to have been contacted by the Elohim in his 1974 book Le Livre Qui Dit La Verité. He subsequently established an organisation devoted to promoting his ideas, MADECH, which in 1976 disbanded and was replaced by the Raëlian Church. Raël headed the new organisation, which was structured around a hierarchy of seven levels. Attracting more followers, the group obtained a country estate in France before relocating its operations to Quebec. During 1998 Raël established the Order of Angels, an internal all-female group whose members are largely sequestered from wider society and tasked with training themselves to become the consorts of the Elohim. In 1997 Raël initiated Clonaid, an organisation engaged in research in human cloning that was directed by senior Raëlian Brigitte Boisselier. In 2002 the company alleged that it had successfully produced a human clone, a baby named Eve, bringing much critical scrutiny and media attention to the group. The Movement has attracted further attention through its public protests endorsing causes such as women's and gay rights and against nuclear testing.
The International Raëlian Movement claims tens of thousands of members, the majority based in Francophone areas of Western Europe and North America as well as in parts of East Asia. Criticism of the philosophy has come from journalists, ex-Raëlians, and anti-cultists, while it has also been studied by scholars of religion.
Raëlism presents a form of the ancient astronauts theory which was well known at the time that the religion was formed. Several French authors, such as Jean Sendy, Serge Hutin, and Jacques Bergier, had already published books during the late 1960s and early 1970s stating that Earth was the outpost of an ancient extraterrestrial society. The Swiss writer Erich von Däniken had also famously presented the same idea during the 1960s; his book Chariots of the Gods had been published in German in 1968, after which it was published in French and English in 1970. Similar ideas had also been put forward in science-fiction, such as the U.S. television series Star Trek. Raëlians themselves often deny the effect of von Däniken on the philosophy, instead believing that it derives entirely from Raël's revelations.
Raëlism teaches that there exists an extraterrestrial species known as the Elohim. Raël stated that the word "Elohim", which is used for God in the Old Testament, is actually a plural term which he translates as meaning "those who came from the sky." Individual members of the Elohim are referred to as "Eloha" by Raël. He alleged that these aliens gave him the honorific name of "Raël", a term deriving from "Israel", and which he translates as meaning "the messenger of those who come from the sky."[
Raëlians believe that accounts of gods in various mythologies around the world are misinterpretations of memories about the Elohim. The philosophy states that the sacred scriptures of many other religions describe the ongoing activities of the Elohim on Earth. The tale of Adam and Eve's expulsion from the Garden of Eden, recounted in Genesis, is for instance interpreted as representing humanity's difficult transition from the Elohim's laboratories to life on Earth, where they had to become self-sufficient. The resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, as presented in the Gospels, is described as representing how the Elohim cloned Jesus to restore him to life after death. References to Satan are interpreted as referring to the chief of a group on the Elohim's planet who were opposed to genetic experiments on Earth and who argued that humanity should be destroyed as a potential threat. According to the Raëlians, the Great Floodnarrative recounts an attempt by the anti-human aliens to wipe out humanity, but that humanity was rescued by an alien spacecraft which provided the basis for the story of Noah's Ark.