Eaton Examines the Supernatural in Research and Presentation

Dr. Marc Eaton, assistant professor of Sociology, will be presenting a paper entitled, “’Give Us a Sign of Your Presence’: Ghost Hunting as a Spiritual Practice” at the Association for the Sociology of Religion conference in San Francisco, CA on August 15. The conference will feature leading scholars in sociology of religion.

Eaton says ghost hunting seeks answers to important questions about the human experience, “the search for ghosts addresses our existential angst about death and what, if anything, comes after.”

Eaton’s paper was inspired by the Syfy reality series Ghost Hunters and the limited academic research in paranormal investigating. His research expands current study that typically focuses on believers’ personal experiences, such as seeing a UFO, and the desire to be seen as a legitimate scientific endeavor.

Within the paper, Eaton argues that such investigations act as a spiritual practice for its members. To Eaton, spiritual practice means that, “investigators feel that they are getting in touch with – finding evidence for – some realm beyond our world, and therefore are having spiritual experiences in the process of investigating,” he says. “Many investigators say they have become more spiritual as a result of participating, while others say it has strengthened their existing religious beliefs.”

Eaton participated in fifteen investigations, attended three paranormal conferences and held thirty interviews with investigators. Eaton observed how the participants investigated and participated, as well. He then participated himself, “[I asked] the spirits to move things or touch me to prove they exist.” He’s currently conducting more research.

When Eaton first started studying these social interactions in February 2012, he was filled with questions. “Admittedly, I came into this research with some stereotypical notion of what a ‘ghost hunter’ would look and act like: wearing black all the time, hanging out in ceremonies, perhaps a bit gullible.”

His research contradicts that notion. “The people who are part of the paranormal investigating community are perfectly normal, rational, stable, nice people. I’m happy that my stereotype has been proven false.”

Eaton plans to expand the paper into a book. “I already have ideas for each chapter and envision this current paper as a first attempt at the overall conclusion of my book,” he says.  “I will also focus on the significance of race, class and gender in terms of how they affect investigators’ abilities to make legitimate claims within the paranormal field. Other chapters will look at how people investigate and how they negotiate being marginalized by both science and religion.”

Students in Sociology 300, “Sociology of Religion”, will examine the paranormal, and Eaton is currently planning a special topics course entitled, “Sociology of the Paranormal.”

-Kaylie Longley ’15
Saint Francis, Wisconsin

For more details about the Association for the Sociology of Religion, click here.


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