Paranormal America

Paranormal America: Ghost Encounters, UFO Sightings, Bigfoot Hunts, and Other Curiosities in Religion and Culture

Christopher D. Bader
F. Carson Mencken
Joseph O. Baker
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 272
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Paranormal America
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-8982-7
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. 1 The House of 150 Ghosts
    (pp. 1-19)

    Situated on Big Cypress Bayou in the piney woods of northeast Texas lies the city of Jefferson, a haven for ghost hunters. Before the railroads moved into the northern part of the state, Texans were dependent upon boat traffic to receive goods and supplies. Jefferson was founded in 1840 at the perfect location for a port. Boats traveled up the Mississippi River to the Red River, which fed into nearby Caddo Lake. Even large stern wheelers could paddle through the lake to its eventual meet-up with Big Cypress Bayou.

    By default the town held a monopoly on shipping for hundreds...

  5. 2 The Truth Is Within
    (pp. 20-45)

    Sometimes it is easier to recognize a phenomenon than it is to define it. So it is with the loose association of beliefs, ideas, phenomena, and experiences variously labeled “new age,” “paranormal,” “the supernatural,” “occult,” “unexplained phenomena,” “metaphysics,” “pseudoscience,” “mysticism,” and a host of other terms. Depending upon one’s personal definition, crystal balls, Bigfoot, ghosts, and palm reading are similar things; by other definitions they are vastly different. Adding to the confusion, researchers and retailers often label the same phenomena using different terms than do the general public. For example, scholars of religion often use the term “New Age” to...

  6. 3 The Truth Is Out There: Paranormal Beliefs and Experiences
    (pp. 46-75)

    People have seen strange objects in the sky seemingly for as long as we have had records. The Old Testament prophet Ezekiel reported the sighting of a “whirlwind from the north.” UFO books and Web sites claim that Christopher Columbus reported a “light glimmering at a great distance” in his ship’s log two days before first landing in the New World.¹ In the 1800s the United States experienced a rash of sightings of flying, cigar-shaped objects somewhat similar to dirigibles, which sometimes disgorged humanlike pilots.² During World War II some Allied pilots reported sightings of small disks or globes of...

  7. 4 Round Trip to Hell in a Flying Saucer?
    (pp. 76-99)

    Americans are a remarkably religious people. More than 80 percent fall within the Judeo-Christian lineage, while just over 5 percent claim a faith outside this heritage. Half attend church or temple at least once a month. Nearly another third maintainsomecontact with a religious group by attending at least once a year.² Whether they attend church services or not the great majority of Americans (82%) identify as a Christian of some form or another,³ and most hold relatively traditional beliefs. Almost three-fourths of Americans (73%) believe that Jesus is the one and only son of God.⁴ Even more (81%)...

  8. 5 Paranormal Subcultures
    (pp. 100-128)

    In their pioneering research, the sociologists Charles Y. Glock and Rodney Stark noticed that two people can identify themselves as “very religious,” yet mean very different things by it.¹ There are five primary ways that people manifest their personal religiosity, they argue. For some, (1) being religious is most importantly aboutbelief; one must believe without doubt in the tenets of one’s faith. Or perhaps (2) being religious means that one has religiousexperiences, such as feeling born again or receiving answers to prayers. For others, (3) one’sknowledgeof the doctrines and documents of the faith are proof of...

  9. 6 Paranormal People
    (pp. 129-157)

    As we have discussed throughout this book, there are several popular and academic ideas regarding people who believe in the paranormal. Sociologists and social commentators such as Karl Marx have argued that religious and paranormal beliefs will be the province of the downtrodden, searching for supernatural solutions to earthly troubles. Other religion scholars have theorized that paranormal beliefs represent comparatively new and fringe elements of the American religious marketplace. New ideas tend to be adopted first by elites, and therefore, some argue, the paranormal will be the province of those with higher educations and incomes.

    Outside the halls of the...

  10. 7 Darkness and Light
    (pp. 158-188)

    As we have echoed, some might say bemoaned, throughout this book, the paranormal is a messy subject in many ways. The subjects themselves are elusive. Bigfoot is hard if not impossible to catch. Ghosts fade away, UFOs fly away before cameras are at the ready, and psychic powers rarely perform upon demand.

    If that was not a big enough problem, agreed-upon definitions of our objects of study are equally elusive. When is something paranormal? One person’s paranormal is another person’s normal. Should Bigfoot be labeled paranormal? Some of the Bigfoot hunters we have talked to are baffled that we lump...

  11. 8 Out on a Limb January 1989
    (pp. 189-202)

    More than twenty years ago Christopher found himself in the passenger seat of a decrepit, rusted van as it hurtled through the woods near the town of Carson in Washington State. The driver did his best to avoid trees, boulders, ditches, and other obstacles as he navigated toward a small hunting cabin deep in the woods. Wiping mud from my eyes, I looked down at my feet, only to realize that part of the rusted floorboard had given way. I spent the remainder of the terrifying ride balancing my feet on the rough edges. Each time the van sped through...

  12. Appendix Data, Methods and Findings
    (pp. 203-214)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 215-236)
  14. References
    (pp. 237-254)
  15. Index
    (pp. 255-263)
  16. About the Authors
    (pp. 264-264)