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The Supernatural in Society, Culture, and HistoryThe Supernatural in Society, Culture, and History

Dennis Waskul

Narrated by Colin McLain

Available from Audible

Book published by Temple University Press

In the twenty-first century, as in centuries past, stories of the supernatural thrill and terrify us. But despite their popularity, scholars often dismiss such beliefs in the uncanny as inconsequential, or even embarrassing. The editors and contributors to 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.

Contributors include: Janet Baldwin, I'Nasah Crockett, William Ryan Force, Rachael Ironside, Tea Krulos, Joseph Laycock, Stephen L. Muzzatti, Scott Scribner, Emma Smith, Jeannie Banks Thomas, and the editor.

Dennis Waskul is a Professor of Sociology and Distinguished Faculty Scholar at Minnesota State University Mankato, and has served as president of the Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction. He has authored or co-authored several books including Body/Embodiment: Symbolic Interaction and the Sociology of the Body (with Phillip Vannini), The Senses in Self, Culture, and Society (with Phillip Vannini and Simon Gottschalk), and Popular Culture as Everyday Life (with Phillip Vannini).


“This is a very valuable contribution to the scholarly literature on the supernatural regarded as a social and cultural phenomenon.... It is one of the book’s major strengths that it is not concerned with either ontology or epistemology regarding alleged supernatural and paranormal phenomena as such.... The Supernatural is best appreciated as an excellent introduction to a field of study that has regrettably been regarded as unscientific, or simply not really worthy of scholarly study.”

—Society for Psychical Research

“This is a study that all forteans and anomaly researchers should read, as it presents a serious recognition of the work – and subject matter – of our best writers and researchers.”

Fortean Times

“This kind of project offers important contributions to several subfields of U.S. urban historical scholarship. At one level, Souther’s book provides a rich survey of local economic and policy history, including a source-intensive demonstration of the fractured rather than monolithic nature of postwar metropolitan growth coalitions. At another and perhaps more innovative level, it adds marvelously to the growing scholarly turn toward issues of urban representation and narrative. Indeed, Believing in Cleveland is, in large measure, a sustained close reading of a particular cluster of representational texts (growth coalition revitalization narratives) and the conflicted ways in which various interpretive communities—among others, business tycoons, white suburbanites, downtown theatergoers, and African American neighborhood activists—responded to them.”

American Historical Review

“In their edited volume, Dennis Waskul and Marc Eaton collect efforts to understand the social and cultural implications of supernatural beliefs and experiences.... Most of the essayists profess an agnostic view of belief in the supernatural, which gives their findings more authoritative heft as none of the authors come off as proponents or detractors. Nor does the text demand the reader’s belief or disbelief in the supernatural—again, this is not the aim—asking instead that the reader consider the social and cultural implications for believers and communities. Each author’s writing is clear and engaging, and the chapters are often very enjoyable.”

Teaching Sociology

“(A)n energizing interpretation of supernatural phenomena in contemporary cultures.... (T)he editors do not set out to prove or disprove the supernatural. Rather, their goal is to immerse the reader in a world of beliefs beyond science that shape human cultures around the world.... (T)his book offers a robust interdisciplinary approach to researching the supernatural.... It shows the true nature of the social sciences as a scientific endeavor. Waskul and Eaton demonstrate how the supernatural shapes the social world, and why it is important to understand the social and cultural effects of supernatural phenomena on society.”

Symbolic Interaction

“Far too much of the discussion about supernatural beliefs and experiences focuses upon the credibility of the claims and the quality of the evidence. It is high time that social scientists drew our attention to the social reality of the supernatural, something that The Supernatural in Society, Culture, and History accomplishes with authority. Across its chapters, readers will discover how beliefs about ghosts, UFOs, mysterious creatures and the like impact tourism, popular culture and self-identity, how the ongoing tension between science and spirituality manifests itself in paranormal subcultures and ways to categorize such seemingly incomprehensible experiences as ghost encounters and alien abductions.”

—Christopher Bader, Professor of Sociology, Chapman University

“At last! This collection lays the long-needed foundation for academic study of belief in the supernatural. Waskul and Eaton make a logical and well-researched argument for the social importance of paranormal phenomena and dark tourism. The Supernatural in Society, Culture, and History is essential for anyone planning work in this previously ‘damned’ area of study.”

—Bill Ellis, Professor Emeritus of English and American Studies, Penn State University

The Supernatural in Society, Culture, and History is an important, provocative, and hugely enjoyable collection of essays. Few who have studied modern culture would question that it is haunted by a fascination with the anomalous, the paranormal, and the supernatural (beyond the regulated confines of institutional religion). As such, there is a need for an interdisciplinary, scholarly analysis of the social and cultural functions of such beliefs. The thoughtful and engaging studies in this timely volume meet that need superbly. It is a difficult book to put down.”

—Christopher Partridge, Professor of Religious Studies, Lancaster University

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University Press Audiobooks