Science in the New Age

Hess, David. Science in the New Age: The Paranormal, Its Defenders and Debunkers and American Culture. University Of Wisconsin Press, 1993.
This sociological analysis of three groups of paranormalists - the New Agers, the parapsychologists and the sceptics shows how similar the three groups are in constructing heroic thinking, images of themselves, in apocalyptic terms and in constructing images of the ‘other' from which they differentiate themselves. They each see themselves as defenders of society against the destructiveness of the others.

For Rhine, the 'other' was scientific materialism at home and dialectical materialism in the Communist states. For the sceptics there is the defence of reason against the chaotic wilderness of the occult, whilst New Agers fight against the backwardness of greed and materialism. Each group sees itself as uniquely open minded, as against the dogmatic 'others'.

Hess also examines the role of gender, claiming that the sceptics 'paranormal other’ is often female and that traditional sex stereotyping often abounds in sceptical literature. New Age literature may also equally stereotype science as a masculine activity. In this context Hess refers to his own anthropological studies in Brazil where be found that poltergeist victims were able to use their experiences to restructure domestic power relations, and as a cry for help. Hess also notes that the New Agers are more willing to treat mind and body as a whole, and to move away from the puritanical, body-repressive dualism of Platonic /Cartesian parapsychologists. Though not an easy read, I would certainly recommend that Magonia readers try at least to obtain a copy of this book from their library.-- Peter Rogerson, Magonia 52, August 1995.

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