NEW BOOK: Paranormal America: Ghost Encounters, UFO Sightings, Bigfoot Hunts, and Other Curiosities in Religion and Culture.

About 68 percent of Americans believe in the possibility of the paranormal, according to the authors of the newly published book "Paranormal America: Ghost Encounters, UFO Sightings, Bigfoot Hunts, and Other Curiosities in Religion and Culture."

Baylor associate professors of sociology Dr. Carson Mencken and Dr. Christopher Bader, along with Joseph Baker, co-authored the book about paranormal beliefs in the U.S. The book is geared toward a general audience.

"Anyone can read it and everyone should read it," Mencken said.

The book examines who tends to believe in the paranormal and how pervasive paranormal beliefs are in society. The book also researches paranormal theories but does not confirm or deny their validity.

"The book is about the believers of the paranormal, not whether or not it is real," Bader said.

Mencken and Bader began their work on this book in response to the realization that by looking at existing research, no one knew who paranormal believers were.

"Research was a mess," Bader said. "It was old and no one had done a random sample. There were good studies done about whether Methodists or Presbyterians believe, but not about the average American."

Mencken said a lot of media stereotype paranormal believers as uneducated, unemployed alcoholics.

"We were surprised to find in our research that the people who believe in the paranormal fit none of those stereotypes," Mencken said. "We discovered that those that held unconventional beliefs were of a respected position."

Mencken and Bader hope that readers will walk away from their book with an understanding of what sociologists do, and how pervasive the paranormal is in society.

"Roughly two-thirds of people believe in the possibility of one paranormal item, which includes astrology, UFOs, psychic abilities, Atlantis, Bigfoot, ghosts and haunted houses," Bader said.

People from more conservative religious traditions tend to be less willing to believe in the paranormal than those from more moderate traditions, Mencken said.

"People who are more moderately religious tend to believe in the paranormal," Bader said. "If you are not at all religious, or highly religious, it is not likely that you will believe. Someone who attends church once a month is much more likely to believe in the paranormal than someone who attends church on a weekly basis."

While researching, the authors found that it was not difficult to find paranormal believers due to the large number of organizations devoted to the unconventional beliefs.

"Something that has changed in the paranormal over the decades is the level of organization," Bader said. "Texas has several Bigfoot organizations and Waco has a ghost hunting club."

The two professors went on a ghost hunt in the fall of 2007 and brought along a few graduate students of sociology, including Andrew Whitehead.

Whitehead said spending time with the ghost hunters and learning about their experiences and how they hunt ghosts was an interesting experience when he was new to learning how to study society.

"I didn't see or feel anything so I can't speak to whether or not ghosts were there," Whitehead said. "But I was surprised to remember how it felt when I was a kid and I was discovering my grandparents' attic and it's all new and exciting. Going into the haunted house with the ghost hunters, I had the same exciting rush."

Whitehead said he can't recommend going ghost hunting, because he wasn't actually hunting ghosts but watching the hunters. He said that spending time with ghost hunters is always exciting.

Bader said there are fliers at Ninfa's in downtown Waco about weekly ghost tours that are offered if anyone is interested in experiencing the paranormal this Halloween season.

The book is now available in bookstores and online.


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Out of the Dark: The Ghost Hunting Chronicles is a blog providing detailed investigations of the Out of the Dark team, paranormal news and editorial.

It will also feature the past investigations of paranormal investigator and author John Savoie.