Super(natural) titles for Halloween

This week in North Philly Notes, we celebrate Halloween with a focus on our supernatural books.

Supernatural in Society_smThe Supernatural in Society, Culture, and History, edited by Dennis Waskul and Marc Eaton, demonstrates the value of serious academic inquiry into supernatural beliefs and practices—from ghosts, vampirism, cryptozoology, and dark tourism to tarot cards, fortunetelling, voodoo, and alien abduction.

The Supernatural in Society, Culture, and History have made a concerted effort to understand encounters with ghosts and the supernatural that have persisted and flourished. Featuring folkloric researchers examining the cultural value of such beliefs and practices, sociologists who acknowledge the social and historical value of the supernatural, and enthusiasts of the mystical and uncanny, this volume includes a variety of experts and interested observers using first-hand ethnographic experiences and historical records.

The Supernatural in Society, Culture, and History seeks to understand the socio-cultural and socio-historical contexts of the supernatural. This volume takes the supernatural as real because belief in it has fundamentally shaped human history. It continues to inform people’s interpretations, actions, and identities on a daily basis. The supernatural is an indelible part of our social world that deserves sincere scholarly attention.

Ghostly Encounters_smGhostly Encounters: The Hauntings of Everyday Life by Dennis Waskul with Michele Waskul, considers how people experience ghosts and hauntings, the ways they make sense of uncanny experiences, and the consequences thereof

Dennis Waskul writes these lines—about his first-hand experience with the supernatural—in the introduction to his beguiling book Ghostly Encounters. Based on two years of fieldwork and interviews with 71 midwestern Americans, the Waskuls’ book is a reflexive ethnography that examines how people experience ghosts and hauntings in everyday life. The authors explore how uncanny happenings become ghosts, and the reasons people struggle with or against a will to believe. They present the variety and character of hauntings and ghostly encounters, outcomes of people telling haunted legends, and the nested consequences of ghostly experiences.

Through these stories, Ghostly Encounters seeks to understand the persistence of uncanny experiences and beliefs in ghosts in an age of reason, science, education, and technology—as well as how those beliefs and experiences both reflect and serve important social and cultural functions.

Uncanny experiences explained

This week in North Philly Notes, Dennis Waskul, author of Ghostly Encounters,  writes about what prompted him to write about his uncanny experience. 

Whether you are a believer or a skeptic one fact is undeniable: people continue to report uncanny experiences with something that they believe is, or might be, a ghost. Those experiences people have, how they interpret them, and the reasons people believe (or disbelieve) are undeniably real regardless of whether one has faith in the existence of ghosts or, equally, faith in contending that ghosts are a fanciful fiction. In short, ghosts exist as a social and cultural phenomenon, the focus of our research, and the socio-cultural reality of ghosts is entirely independent of the ontology of them. Thus, in Ghostly Encounters, Michele and I have maintained an agnostic perspective on those fundamentally unanswerable questions as we spoke to people who believe they have experienced a ghostly presence and visited places alleged to be haunted. Our focus throughout this book is on the experiences people report, how people arrive at the conclusion that they have encountered a ghostly presence, what those ghosts do to and for people, and the consequences thereof.

Ghostly Encounters_smA wise sociologist, Gary Marx, once taught me to know the difference between a scholar and a fundamentalist. As Gary phrased it so succinctly, “the scholar starts with questions, not with answers.” Seen in this light, fundamentalists come in many guises, and only some of them are religious. Hence, as scholars, Michele and I sought to start with questions about the ghosts that people allegedly encounter, the unique ways that people interpret them, how those ghosts function in the lives of people, what those ghosts do to and for people. Starting with questions, instead of answers, is always at least a bit risky, and mainly because one does not know where those questions will lead, nor what experiences they might facilitate. Indeed, from beginning to end Ghostly Encounters was an incredible adventure for both Michele and I as it led us to people and places we never expected, in addition to understandings and surprising experiences that we did not anticipate. In the end, we sought to replicate that unforeseen experience for our readers with intimate and accessible forms of ethnographic writing that bring our readers inside of these lived experiences of ghostly encounters, within a highly unique organizational structure that assures unexpected surprises. While we hope our readers find the book both informative and enjoyable, above all we urge anyone interested to equally know the difference between a scholar and a fundamentalist—and to start with questions, not answers.

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