Thursday, March 23, 2006

Attitudes Toward Occult-- One Study 1979

I love the bargain bins at Barnes and Noble, Borders and other bookstores. Love the sales at libraries. Love the walls of old books at estate sales. I'm not the only one. A friend of mine who has been publishing historical novels for years, recently told a group of writers about her early 1900s Encyclopedia Britannica find. The woman selling them didn't think anyone could possibly want them and asked for a couple of dollars. For the whole set.

The writer's group sighed in understanding and yes, envy. The world views, the personal beliefs... the scientific discoveries... so much has changed since these books were printed. For my friend, these books gave her the perfect insight to the minds of her characters.

One never knows what odd, quirky book will pop up in those bins. I found one called Paranormal Borderlands of Science. In fact, I found this one in a box of old books for sale at my sister's college library. Published in 1981, there are still copies available at Amazon. Amazon.com: Paranormal Borderlands of Science: Books: Kendrick Frazier . I paid 50 cents.

Yes, 1981 isn't that long ago. To some of us. But with the up and down sways of public opinion in the years since, these essays are priceless. And it's a thick gathering of them on subjects such as ESP, astrology, psychics and other paranormal subjects. I thought I'd share an interesting table from a chapter called Superstitions: Old and New. It was written by William Sims Bainbridge and Rodney Stark-- both professors of sociology at the University of Washington in Seattle at the time -- both multi-published authors.

This was a study given to students. They had a one in four response choice. Strongly agree, agree, disagree, strongly disagree. There weren't any choices for "not sure" or "undecided." Keep in mind, some who picked "agree" might have been giving the subject the benefit of the doubt. So, no exact measurement, but a good comparison for 1979.

Attitudes Toward the Occult in the 1979 Survey of University of Washington Undergraduates.

241 With No Religion (WNR)
251 Ordinary Catholics (OC)
319 Christian Protestants (CP)
245 Born Again Christians (BAC)

The numbers after the question are the percent giving the indicated response. So 73 percent of 241 students agreed that Zen was probably of great value and so forth.

Questionnaire Items:

1.Agrees: "Some Eastern
practices, such as Yoga, Zen
and Transcendental Meditation
are probably of "great value"

73 WNR 66 OCs 60 CPs 28 BACs

2.Agrees: "UFOs are probably
real spaceships from other

67 WNR 66 OCs 60 CPs 43 BACs

3.Agrees: "Some occult practices
such as Tarot reading, seances
and psychic healing, are
probably of great value"

16 WNR 22 OCs 12CPs 6 BACs

4.Agrees: "I myself have had an
experience that I thought might
be an example of extra sensory

59 WNR 57 OCs 55 CPs 44 BACs

5.Respondent thinks that ESP
"definitely exists"

26 WNR 29 OCs 17CPs 17BACs

6. Respondent very strongly
dislikes "occult literature"

38 WNR 34 OCs 36 CPs 65 BACs

7. Respondent very strongly
dislikes "Your Horoscope"

29 WNR 24 OCs 23 CPs 53 BACs

Unfortunately, the table would not publish as typed, so it's a bit jumbled, but hopefully still legible. I find the fourth and fifth question responses amusing.

Also, they bring up the high number of responses to the UFO question from the born again students. It was high because of the "non" religious aspect of UFOs. One would think the arrival of aliens would turn the current system of beliefs upside down, but we all know what's said about assumptions.

This was done in 1979. I'd love to see updated versions from let's say... 1999 and then again today. Can you imagine the difference?


Blogger Betty S said...

A don't imagine it would have changed all that much, except that the BAC responses might be larger in number. They are multiplying like the Borg.

I think it would be very difficult for a logical mind not to be open to, at least to the consideration of, any possibility.

Love those old books.

7:31 PM  
Blogger Betty S said...

"I" don't imagine...

7:32 PM  
Blogger X. Dell said...

(1) I love library sales too. I don't know how it is in the rest of the country, but the NYC area still has a lot of used and rare book stores that offer lots of great stuff for a pittance. Slowly, they're giving ways to the Barnes & Nobles of the world, sadly.

(2) "Paranormal Borderlands of Science" is indeed a great find, and I'm adding it to my reading list. (If I can get it for fifty cents or under, I'll make sure to mention it in the blog).

I've always believed that scholarship (not just science, but humanities too) really should become more involved in "paranormal" research. But the way grant money is parcelled out these days, I doubt if shedding critical thought on such things as UFOs is much of a priority--especially nowadays when popular culture is gravitating more towards magical thinking. (How else could Jonathan Edwards get a TV show?)

I've begun to appreciate scholars who do look into aspects of the strange, no matter what side they come down on. The late Dr. John Mack (Harvard) and Dr. Kenneth Ring (U Conn) really opened up the discussion on the question of alien abduction, and both saw validity in the notion. Dr. Michio Kaku (CUNY Grad Center, my fair school) is the only good UFO debunker that I have ever found.

(3) Betty's right. The BACs are going to be telling us pretty soon that resistance to their brand of religion is futile.

The BACs have always had a problem with the UFO issue. A study done on the public response to Orson Welles' 1938 "War of the World" broadcast, for example, indicated that the biggest abreaction came from this group.

(4) I find questions four and five interesting because of the apparently contradictory responses of the BACs. Because of the wording of the question, I don't see an immediate conflict. Nevertheless, the questions imply that if a BAC had an inkling that something paranormal had occurred, indoctrination would override their initial reaction. For example, they might say, "I thought I might have had ESP. But that probably doesn't exist, so I was just imagining things. Either that, or the devil's tricking me."

My recently deceased grandmother was both a clairvoyant and a BAC. She explained her abilities as a gift of God, saying, "I pray to the Lord, and He shows me the way."

10:00 AM  
Blogger Rinda Elliott said...

My grandfather is a famous Pentecostal missionary and faith healer. There are places he used to travel where people would line up for a mile to see him.

He's extreme BAC-- women shouldn't wear makeup, cut hair... it goes much further... and it's harsh. A very harsh, unforgiving religion.

But he's also psychic. When he used to tell me everything I had done on my date the night before, he said God told him. People are afraid to touch him because he's real quick to point out your "sins." I used to watch him use this gift in tent revivals and oh, it was something to watch. Made believers out of many. He's also a fun, engaging character.

He sincerely believes what he preaches. He sincerely believes God is showing him. But then, he'll take that, turn around and horribly humiliate a heavyset woman by grabbing her in front of a room full of people and demanding that the "fat demon" leave her at once.

There's a lot of harsh contradiction in that religion.

And yes, that's why I found four and five amusing as well. They think they had an ESP encounter but they don't believe in it. Love it.

10:42 AM  
Blogger Rinda Elliott said...

And the shutting down of small bookstores breaks my heart. We have very few left here.

10:42 AM  
Blogger Suki said...

Wow! I haven't heard about ESP in a while. I think we have such a strong belief in disbelief in our society that we can experience ESP (a very ethereal experience), and then, in remembering it, decide it was something else altogether.

My father always said ESP was hogwash, but his mother told me that was because he once dreamt his good friend was trapped in a fire. He hopped in his car and drove out to his friend's house, but his friend was already dead.

Someone else told me that he felt that having one's third eye completely open made one more spiritual. But I do not think that's the case.

11:04 AM  
Blogger X. Dell said...

Suki wrote, "I think we have such a strong belief in disbelief in our society that we can experience ESP (a very ethereal experience), and then, in remembering it, decide it was something else altogether."

When you think of it, we're a generation that's fed hype on a daily basis. Once we see that very few things in life are as good as billed, maybe we get a little jaded.

11:43 AM  

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