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National Inquirers

Oct. 6, 2010

Besides tagging along with Sasquatch seekers in Sam Houston National Forest near Conroe, Texas, in 2006, Baylor University sociologists Dr. Carson Mencken and Dr. Christopher Bader have spent the night in reputedly haunted houses, interviewed people who say they have seen UFOs and joined folks who visit palm readers to learn whether romance is in their future.

Mencken and Bader, along with co-researcher Dr. Joseph Baker, assistant professor of sociology at East Tennessee State University, tell about their findings in the book Paranormal America: Ghost Encounters, UFO Sightings, Bigfoot Hunts, and Other Curiosities in Religion and Culture. It chronicles the types of paranormal experiences, beliefs and activities claimed by some Americans; whether those who hold unusual beliefs are unconventional in other ways; and how/whether those beliefs tie in with religion.

"For us, it doesn't matter if Bigfoot exists," said Bader. "That might be kind of cool, but that's not our purpose. What we want to know is how does this affect these people's lives?"

The 272-page book, which NYU Press slated for release on October 12, is meant for a wide range of audiences.

"We didn't want to do something only 30 academics would read," said Bader. "We're extremely confident about the weighted statistical analysis, but we hide the ugly tables in the back."

"The book is very user-friendly," said Mencken. "People who believe in the paranormal can read it and not be offended. A preacher could use it, and a hard-core atheist would be interested." Along with conducting thousands of interviews, the trio drew from findings of the Baylor Religion Survey -- a multi-year national random sample delving into religious values, practices and behavior.

"One general finding is that there is no general finding," said Baden. "There's the idea that people who believe in the paranormal are unconventional, that you'd know if you saw one, that there's the guy that has the tinfoil on his head or mental illness.

"But the paranormal is becoming more and more normal. We contrast normal guys like Bigfoot hunters with people who have experienced everything, who wear flowing robes and talk about Chakra. More and more people who seem conventional are spending their lives exploring it. The more things they believe in, the less conventional they are."

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