Saturday, October 16, 2010

Understanding Paranormal America

Gordon Melton, author of The Vampire Book: The Encyclopedia of the Undead, 3rd ed. (Visible Ink Press, 2010), made me aware of a new book that presents a sociological look at the paranormal and the cultures that surround it. The book is Paranormal America: Ghost Encounters, UFO Sightings, Bigfoot Hunts, and Other Curiosities in Religion and Culture, by Christopher Bader, F. Mencken, and Joseph Baker (NYU Press, 2010). The book's website includes the following description:
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.
And a couple of endorsement statements/reviews:

"An essential text for our ongoing consideration of the esoteric realm... This work assembles in a very accessible and readable form all the sociological data currently available on the public's acceptance of experiences of unusual psychic experiences, our growing toleration of some extraordinary claims about the existence of UFOs, mysterious animal species, and ghostly apparitions, and our quiet dabbling in things occult. This volume has created a foundation for all future inquires."

-- J. Gordon Melton, author of Melton's Encyclopedia Of American Religions

"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

This book can be purchased here.See the book's official website for further reviews and information.

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