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Geek wisdom goes mainstream

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Grant Morrison's "Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God From Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human" is another volume in the nerd-wisdom genre published this year. Even Deepak Chopra has gone geek: His latest book, "The Seven Spiritual Laws of Superheroes: Harnessing Our Power to Change the World," shows how Batman's struggle with his dark side leads to self-help.

What's going on here? Why might geek wisdom be so appealing, especially to the jaded? Scott Paeth, associate professor of religious studies at DePaul University in Chicago, teaches a class called "Hobbits, Hippogriffs, and Heroes: Fantasy in Literature and Society." He argues that even without a single, unifying cultural myth like Christianity, we still crave to fit our lives into meaningful narrative structures.

"People seek out other stories, even ones they don't believe to be true in a literal sense," Professor Paeth says, "in order to provide a framework for their common cultural experience, and to put their actions, their morality, and their suffering into some form of context."

That's the struggle charted by Peter Bebergal in his memoir "Too Much to Dream: A Psychedelic American Boyhood." The political and spiritual ideals of the 1960s worked for the hippies, he says, but they didn't inspire the "next generation of freaks."

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