Not-Quite-Normal Religion

I’ve been thinking about categories quite a lot lately.  In a world connected by the internet, it seems that traditional categories don’t stretch far enough.  For example, I recently read The Paranormal and Popular Culture: A Postmodern Religious Landscape, edited by Darryl Caterine and John W. Morehead.  Published by Routledge, this is an academic study.  It contains some things, however, that many academics would find challenging.  I can’t summarize the entire book here since there are twenty very different essays included, but I can say this is a book that makes you think about categories.  Even the word “paranormal” means different things to different people.  To my way of thinking it has to tip the hat to Rod Serling and that place where fiction and fact begin to overlap.

That’s appropriate for this book: there are articles about what people perceive as factual encounters with all kinds of creatures and events, as well as studies of the decidedly fictional beings like Batman and zombies.  Our categories, in the modern world, tend to be inviolable.  Even scientists who handle Heisenberg know, however, that we are now in the postmodern world (as the subtitle indicates) and true objectivity is beyond the reach of all.  None of us stands outside the box looking in.  We’re all in the middle of it, and we look around ourselves trying to figure out what is real.  Another problematic category that, reality.  We don’t even understand what consciousness is yet, and how can we hope to know what is really real?  We all have dreams and some take them more seriously than others.

Reading books like this with an open mind is a truly po-mo experience.  After finishing more than one piece I found myself having to put the book down for a while at least so I’d have a hand free to scratch my head.  You see, we’ve been taught to laugh at those who believe in the paranormal.  It has been the only acceptable way that rationalists can deal with that which flies in the face of the system.  The internet, however, has put those isolated, ridiculed individuals into a community and the advent of reality TV (and what can be more real than what we see on the tube?) erodes the laughter factor little by little.  Plumbers can find ghosts but scientists can’t.  The average person relates more to the plumber, I think.  It all comes down to categories.  Making sense of them can, and will, impact our views of reality.

8 thoughts on “Not-Quite-Normal Religion

  1. In the volume, which contributions stood out to you? I haven’t had the chance to read all of it, and I probably will not. So, I’m interested in identifying a few chapters which you see as particularly notable.

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    • Thanks for asking! The contents are pretty diverse, so it depends on what about it interests you. I’ll be glad to recommend some, but is there an aspect of particular interest? Broadly speaking I would divide these into essays about “standard” paranormal phenomena such as cryptozoology, ufology, and ghosts, while other articles explore purely pop cultural elements that nobody really believes in: Batman, Ghostbusters, zombies, etc. Some of the essays are of sociological bent while others are more literary studies. Is there a specific angle you’d like to read about?

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      • Primarily, I’m interested in any contributions which primarily discuss how biblical texts have been exploited and employed in relation to paranormal phenomena. If not primarily, any article for which that is a main theme are also of interest to me.

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        • I haven’t forgotten your question! I’ve been traveling and then catching up from traveling. I’ll get a chance to make suggestions soon. Thanks for your patience!

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        • I’ve had a chance to go through this again and most of the articles aren’t directly related to the Bible. Probably the closest is Kelly Murphy’s article on Jesus and the undead. Most of the pieces explore the connections of the paranormal and religion rather than specifically the Bible.

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  2. You are quite right to ponder the issue of categories and classification. I raised the issue in my book, noting that the paranormal “does not merely violate categories; rather subversion of categories is its essence.” This is a major theme in my work.

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