Paranormal America

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A significant number of Americans spend their weekends at UFO conventions hearing whispers of government cover-ups, at New Age gatherings learning the keys to enlightenment, or ambling around historical downtowns learning about resident ghosts in tourist-targeted “ghost walks”. They have been fed a steady diet of fictional shows with paranormal themes such as The X-Files, Supernatural, and Medium, shows that may seek to simply entertain, but also serve to disseminate paranormal beliefs. The public hunger for the paranormal seems insatiable.

Paranormal America provides the definitive portrait of Americans who believe in or have experienced such phenomena as ghosts, Bigfoot, UFOs, psychic phenomena, astrology, and the power of mediums. However, unlike many books on the paranormal, this volume does not focus on proving or disproving the paranormal, but rather on understanding the people who believe and how those beliefs shape their lives.

Drawing on the Baylor Religion Survey—a multi-year national random sample of American religious values, practices, and behaviors—as well as extensive fieldwork including joining hunts for Bigfoot and spending the night in a haunted house, authors Christopher Bader, F. Carson Mencken, and Joseph Baker shed light on what the various types of paranormal experiences, beliefs, and activities claimed by Americans are; whether holding an unconventional belief, such as believing in Bigfoot, means that one is unconventional in other attitudes and behaviors; who has such experiences and beliefs and how they differ from other Americans; and if we can expect major religions to emerge from the paranormal.

Brimming with engaging personal stories and provocative findings, Paranormal America is an entertaining yet authoritative look at a growing segment of American religious culture.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Paranormal America is an authoritative but extremely readable analysis of an important but often ignored subculture. This fine book explains how many people seek personally-relevant meaning in a chaotic and often alienating world. In these pages we learn much not only about believers in ESP, Bigfoot, and astrology, but also about the general ways in which all human minds make sense of our perplexing position in the universe.”
-William Bainbridge,author of Across the Secular Abyss: From Faith to Wisdom

“The authors convincingly show that believing in flying saucers or some other paranormal subject—Bigfoot, ghosts, astrology, psychics—is not fringe at all. More than two-thirds of Americans accept the reality of at least one such phenomenon.”

-The Washington Post,

“What makes Paranormal America a fun read is that one would assume scientists would poke more fun at people who study paranormal activity. Instead, they blend skepticism with data and great details that leave readers with a sense of balance.”

-Austin American-Statesman Blog,

“This is an interesting study which is likely to be referred to by sociologists for some considerable time to come, and no doubt put to various, sometimes mutually contradictory, uses.”-The Magonia Review of Books,

“It is accessible to any reader with an interest in the convergence of paranormal beliefs and religion. The thought-provoking narrative will not disappoint experts on the topic. Highly recommended”

-Library Journal

Joshua Blu Buhs
…fascinating…The authors convincingly show that believing in flying saucers or some other paranormal subject—Bigfoot, ghosts, astrology, psychics—is not fringe at all. More than two-thirds of Americans accept the reality of at least one such phenomenon.
—The Washington Post
Library Journal
Bader (sociology, Baylor Univ.), F. Carson Mencken (sociology, Baylor Univ.), and Joseph Baker (sociology, East Tennessee State Univ.) joined forces to study what kinds of people believe in and experience the paranormal. Through the long-term national Baylor Religious Survey (BRS), as well as observational fieldwork, they examine America's belief in paranormal phenomena inside and outside of mainstream religion—from UFOs and Bigfoot to speaking in tongues and guardian angels. They look at how belief affects lives, examining common stereotypes faced by believers and considering whether belief in a mainstream religion makes one likely to ascribe to more otherworldly occurrences. Their aim is not to prove or disprove any belief system or sighting but rather to understand those who believe. They conclude by making predictions about the future of belief in the paranormal. VERDICT While this academic work showcases an astounding amount of research, the quick pacing and engaging language keep it from being a dry report of BRS findings. It is accessible to any reader with an interest in the convergence of paranormal beliefs and religion. The thought-provoking narrative will not disappoint experts on the topic. Highly recommended.—Crystal Goldman, San Jose State Univ. Lib., CA
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780814791349
  • Publisher: New York University Press
  • Publication date: 7/2/2012
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Christopher D. Bader is an associate professor of sociology at Baylor University. With F. Carson Mencken, he is Principal Investigator on the Baylor Religion Survey Project.

F. Carson Mencken is professor of sociology at Baylor University.

Joseph Baker is an assistant professor of sociology at East Tennessee State University.

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