Science in the New Age: The Paranormal, Its Defenders, and Debunkers, and American Culture / Edition 1

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In Science in the New Age, David Hess explores ideologies of the paranormal in the United States. He offers a map of the labyrinth of views put forward by parapsychologists and skeptical debunkers, spirit channelers and crystal healers, Hollywood poltergeist scripts, and prophets of the New Age. Adopting a cultural perspective, Hess moves beyond the question of who is right or wrong to the cultural politics of how each group constructs its own boundaries of true and false knowledge.

Hess begins by looking at each group’s unique version of knowledge, science, and religion and at its story about the other groups. Comparing the various discourses, texts, writers, and groups as cultures, he shows how skeptics, parapsychologists, and New Agers may disagree vehemently with each other, but end up sharing many rhetorical strategies, metaphors, models, values, and cultural categories. Furthermore, he argues, their shared “paraculture” has a great deal in common with the larger culture of the United States. The dialogue on the paranormal, Hess concludes, has as much to do with gender, power, and cultural values as it does with spirits, extrasensory perception, and crystal healing.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Hess’s book on the seemingly peripheral phenomenon of science in the New Age is a central accomplishment, not a peripheral one. It makes a major contribution to the newly evolving anthropology of science. Hess helps us realize that, by reconstructing scientific knowledge in new contexts, we all do science. From this perspective, a book on New Age science is no longer a book about pseudoscience or the peripheries of the scientific community. It is a book about how people construct discourses about science to make it meaningful in their lives.”—Gary Downey, Virginia Tech

Hess examines the arguments of people who accept the paranormal as part of a spiritual quest, parapsychologists who are seeking scientific explanations for a narrow range of paranormal phenomena, and skeptics who pooh-pooh the very notion. He finds that, despite their disagreements, they are forging a shared culture. Written for the nonspecialist. Paper edition (unseen), $17.95. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780299138240
  • Publisher: University of Wisconsin Press
  • Publication date: 1/28/1993
  • Series: Science and Literature Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

David J. Hess is associate professor of cultural anthropology in the Department of Science and Technology Studies at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He is the author of Spiritists and Scientists and coeditor of Knowledge and Society Vol. 9: The Anthropology of Science and Technology.

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Table of Contents

Pt. I Introduction
1 The Three Cultures: New Age, Parapsychology, Skepticism 3
2 The Historical Context 17
Pt. II The Cultural Construction of Skeptical and Paranormal Discourse
3 Self and Other 43
4 Heroes and Sermons 70
5 Gender and Hierarchy 94
6 Skepticism and the Paranormal in Hollywood 120
Pt. III Conclusions and Implications
7 Theoretical Conclusions 145
8 Practical Implications: Toward Dialogue 157
Appendix: Methodology 179
Notes 189
Bibliography 213
Index 239
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