Chris Bader on the Paranormal
Date: October 30th, 2016

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Who believes in the ghosts, UFOs, and Bigfoot?  And why?  This has been the topic of investigation of Prof. Christopher Bader, a professor of sociology at Chapman University, for over two decades.  As Chris was one of our very first guests on this podcast, we invite him back to discuss the second edition of  his book Paranormal America, co-written with Joseph Baker and Carson Mencken.  Few scholarly books receive such an honor as to be published in a second edition, but the popularity of this work combined with a great deal of new data and fieldwork made the decision easy for NYU Press.  Prof. Bader notes that nearly 75% of the content of this work is new and updated material.  Our discussion begins with one of Chris’s new tales — an account of a haunted classroom in Smith Hall on the campus of Chapman University.  Chris found it exciting to be at the “ground floor” of this “making of a ghostly legend,” and he details how the professor involved and his students investigated the strange footsteps that several people heard.  After another tale of a night spent at a haunted coffee house, Chris explains what falls under the scope of “paranormal” and provides some of the basic demographics for who is most likely to be attracted to beliefs in different phenomenon.  He emphasizes the point that his work is about how such beliefs affect the behavior of individuals holding these ideas, and that he is not out to prove whether such things as ghosts or UFOs exist.  We also discuss how beliefs in the paranormal relate to both religion and science, with Chris noting that paranormal beliefs fall between those two realms and are “doubly damned.”  Getting into the sociology of religion, Chris explains how religious organizations that are fairly strict will often see the paranormal as a main competitor to their faith tradition and spend a great deal of time denouncing such beliefs, whereas individuals who do not have strong attachments to strict religious traditions will often dabble in a portfolio of beliefs.  We further explore the reasons why many individuals are drawn to the paranormal, with Chris laying out two major reasons — a search for meaning in one’s life and/or a thrill of being in on a discovery of something new.  He peppers the discussion with examples of each, including his visit to various psychic fairs and a conversation with a women who claims to be abducted by extraterrestrials.  Over conversation also covers the extent to which such paranormal beliefs can find an organizational representation and what the future holds for such beliefs, particularly in an era when the religiously non-affiliated (or “nones”) appears to be increasing.  We finish off with a brief discussion on Chris’s new research on fear in society and what he has learned over the course of his two decades investigating these topics.  Recorded: October 3, 2016.



Prof. Chris Bader’s bio at IRES and Chapman University’s Sociology Department.

Paranormal America (2nd Edition), by Christopher Bader, Joseph O. Baker and F. Carson Menken.

America’s Four Gods, by Paul Froese and Christopher Bader.

The Association of Religion Data Archives (The ARDA).


Chris Bader on Ghosts, UFOs, and the Paranormal.

Scott Poole on Monsters.

Peter Leeson on Witch Trials and Human Sacrifice.

Chris White on Debunking Ancient Aliens.

Gary Laderman on Resting in Peace: The Death Industry in American History.

Joseph Baker on American Secularism.

Paul Froese on the Meaning of Life.

Paul Froese on America’s Four Gods.

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