Critical Approaches to Exceptional Experiences

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Jacob W. Glazier 
University of West Georgia
, Carrollton, GA, USA 

Introduction: What do critical approaches have to offer parapsychology? In this brief video presentation, I detail the recent shift in parapsychology toward more inclusive perspectives and standards. As an important case in point, the Journal of Anomalistics has a forthcoming issue building on the initial insights of the Women in Parapsychology conference of the Parapsychology Foundation that took place in 1991 (Coly & White, 1994). There have also been efforts by the PA to promote membership diversity and raise awareness around inclusivity (Ventola et al., 2021). I have argued, in various ways, that parapsychology would benefit from decolonizing its scientific practice (Glazier, 2021b) and adopting an approach more in line with critical theory (Glazier, 2021a). 

Critical analyses of exceptional experiences lay-bare the various power effects at work in subjugating the field’s scholastic reputability, trace the textual effect of paranormal tropes, and work toward envisioning a more ethical scientific practice – how the scientific tradition has failed to take into account subjective values in the scientific process, values that, in their worst form, appear as misogyny, white supremacy, and human exceptionalism. 

Objectivity, just like psi, is not a stand-alone variable or term – something that should be sought after, procedurally secured, and achieved. Rather, both are through and through implicated in the very research process itself. In qualitative research, we understand this through the concept of reflexivity (Finlay, 1998) and in parapsychological research through its close kin, the experimenter effect (see the classic text in parapsychology that grounds the field in a natural scientific approach, Rhine & Pratt, 1974). When compared to the experimental literature in parapsychology, qualitative research occupies but a small allotment (Murray & Wooffitt, 2010). While this advance is certainly to the field’s credit, nonetheless, there has been virtually no scholarship, apart from feminism, aimed at applying critical analysis and theory toward researching exceptional experiences (see Williams, 1996, as a stand-out exception). I hope to not only begin to explore this foreign and exciting terrain, but also to encourage others in the discipline to follow suit – to see the value in, for instance, using the tropes found in the ‘text’ of paranormal studies to challenge legendary or physicalist models of reality. 

Coly, L., & White, R. (Eds.) (1994). Women and parapsychology: Proceedings of an international conference held in Dublin, Ireland, September 21-22, 1991. Parapsychology Foundation. 

Finlay, L. (1998). Reflexivity: An essential component for all research? British Journal of Occupational Therapy, 61(10), 453-456. 

Glazier, J. W. (2021a). Deconstructing the paranormal: Toward a critical parapsychology. Mindfield: The Bulletin of the Parapsychological Association, 13(2), 12-17. 

Glazier, J. W. (2021b). Trickster theory: Feminism, animism, and post-colonialism. Mindfield: The Bulletin of the Parapsychological Association, 13(1), 22-27. 

Murray, C. D., & Wooffitt, R. (2010). Anomalous experience and qualitative research: An introduction to the special issue. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 7(1), 1-4. 

Rhine, J. B., & Pratt, J. G. (1974). Parapsychology: Frontier science of the mind, a survey of the field, the methods, and the facts of ESP and PK research (5th ed.). Charles C. Thomas, Bannerstone House. 

Ventola, A., Evrard, R., Koumartzis, N., & Glazier, J. W. (2021). Editorial. Mindfield: The Bulletin of the Parapsychological Association, 13(1), 4-5.  

Wiliams, C. (1996). Metaphor, parapsychology and psi: An examination of metaphors related to paranormal experience and parapsychological research. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 90, 174-201. 

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Jacob Glazier
Jacob Glazier Author

Jacob W. Glazier, PhD, LPC, NCC holds an Assistant Professor of Psychology appointment in the Department of Anthropology, Sociology, and Psychology at the University of West Georgia. His research program explores the problematics of exceptional experience, psi as a critique of physicalist science, and the deconstruction of skeptical explanations of the paranormal: How can researchers use the knowledge and tropes from parapsychology to challenge the hegemony of orthodox science?

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