Marc Eaton shares expertise on examination of paranormal investigations

Because of the heightened interest in ghosts and spirits around the Halloween season, Associate Professor of Sociology Marc Eaton recently was interviewed twice in relation to his research on paranormal investigators (aka ghost hunters).

“What our fascination with paranormal activity teaches us about ourselves and our culture” aired Oct. 25 on Wisconsin Public Radio and can be heard here.

On Oct. 17, Atlas Obscura published an article about paranormal experiences. Eaton is quoted in that article, which can be read here.

Eaton’s research examines ghosts as a social phenomenon, the motives and methods of paranormal investigators, and the meanings that they derive from their participation.

“I originally got interested in paranormal investigation as a research topic through watching TV shows like ‘Ghost Hunters,’” Eaton says. “I was fascinated by how these investigators used technological tools in an effort to prove what are essentially spiritual questions about the possibility of some form of life after death.”

To study how the investigators got involved in this practice, how they collect evidence and try to communicate with ghosts, and what they ultimately get out of it, Eaton has joined paranormal investigation teams and worked alongside investigators as they tried to interact with spirits and document their presence using technological devices and, in some cases, purported mediumistic abilities.

“I found that for many participants, paranormal investigation functions as a spiritual practice. It enables investigators to have experiences and collect data that they feel definitively proves the existence of some spiritual realm beyond our physical world — in other words, many investigators feel that the practice allows them to root their spiritual beliefs in evidence, not just in faith. Investigators also commonly shared their excitement at being part of what they perceived to be a pioneering scientific field that could once and for all prove that ghosts are real and are a manifestation of some as-yet unidentified force in our world.”

As an ethnographer, Eaton feels his work in this field is important. “Paranormal investigation gives us a glimpse into how people still seek answers to spiritual questions even as organized religion wanes in its cultural influence, and they do so by leveraging the legitimacy of science to ‘prove’ the existence of ghosts.”

Eaton previously published two book on the topic: “The Supernatural in Society, Culture, and History” and “Sensing Spirits: Paranormal Investigation and the Social Construction of Ghosts”?, as well as two academic articles.

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