Anthropology Arts and Culture

An Introduction to Paranormal Anthropology

This is a brief lecture I put together in 2016 while I was assisting with a course on the Anthropology of Religion. This post is my outline for the lecture.

What is Paranormal Anthropology?

Paranormal Anthropology- -An interdisciplinary branch of anthropology with close ties to concepts from the anthropology of religion and consciousness, as well as sociology. Closely related to parapsychology, which lab tests experience of anomalous phenomena.

It is a specified version of what the anthropologist Charles Laughlin describes as ‘transpersonal anthropology’, explicitly looking at events and experiences that fall under the purview of what is commonly called paranormal (Metcalfe, 2011)

Personally love this field, because it places the researcher in an interesting oscillation between perspectives of science, magic, and religion, seeking objectivity in subjectivity. It really is a wild ride for the mind.

(As anthropologist Edith Turner puts it, there is a ‘cringe factor’ for anthropologists when it comes to talking or writing about religion. It is easier to bracket it out, to ignore people’s actual experience, including our own, for fear of ridicule, or in order to appear objective or scientific. In fact there is nothing scientific about ignoring what matters to people, in failing to take seriously explanations given for phenomena, or in dismissing our own intuitions and perspectives. We need to have the courage, in Turner’s words, to treat religious experience as ethnographic fact.)

Anomalous Phenomena

Topics which are typically considered to be outside of norm, or on the fringe. They are usually designated to be outside the scope of normal science, due to the difficulty in empirical measuring)


  • Telepathy
  • Precognition
  • Near Death Experiences
  • Reincarnation
  • Apparitional Experiences

Afterlife Research Centre

The Afterlife Research Centre (ARC) is an international network of researchers exploring anthropological and ethnographic approaches to the study of the afterlife, the spirit world, mediumship, trance, possession, shamanism, healing, and religious experience. Founded in 2007 by Dr Fiona Bowie (the author of our textbook for this course) and a group of research students working in the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Bristol, the ARC became a growing independent network of researchers from the UK and elsewhere in the world.

Cognitive Empathetic Engagement

The methodology used by the ARC is referred to as Cognitive Empathetic Engagement. According to the ARC, this methodology requires the researcher make an imaginative leap in order to see and interpret the world through the eyes of those they are studying.

CEE does not aim to expose phenomena as untrue, but to explore them as an integral part of everyday human life.

Cognitive: no valid constraints to normality, must be viewed from cognitive perspective of source.

Empathy: Do not have to agree, but attempt to understand form their pov

Engaging: Get the insider perspective whenever possible!

One important thing I do want to point out is that Some already existing work of anthropologists falls under the concept of paranormal anthropology, specifically the experiences of E.B. Tylor and Evans-Pritchard, and is also reminiscent of Durkheim claims to all religions being true.

Why Study Anomalous Experiences Using Anthropology?

According to David Metcalf, writing for Reality Sandwich, “Anthropology has long been the home of fringe experience,” and we are often left with more questions than answers. Normality is a matter of perspective.

Jeffrey Kripal, J. Newton Rayzor Professor of Religious Studies and Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at Rice University, takes in his recent work Authors of the Impossible. As he says on the website for the documentary based on the book:

“The paranormal, it turns out, is as much about meaning as matter. And we — not as surface egos, but as some still mysterious force of consciousness — are its final authors. If the paranormal, though, is as much about meaning as matter, as much about the subject as the object, then science can never truly grasp it, for science must turn everything into an object and cannot treat questions of meaning. We thus need a new way of knowing, a way that can embrace both the sciences and a new art of reading ourselves writing ourselves.”

Jeffrey Kripal
Archaeology Arts and Culture News

The Sound of Silence: Suggesting an Evolutionary Perspective in Archaeoacoustics

Presenting at the 2014 Anthropology Research Symposium, Humboldt State University


Humans have a common practice of altering auditory perception, with the ability to extend their sound experience through creating instruments, building acoustic amphitheater spaces, and producing rhythm and music with the body as with clapping, chanting, and singing. The field of archaeoacoustics offers insight into the use of sound in ancient societies. Previous research in this field has fixated on the auditory properties surrounding architectural spaces, for example, echo and amplification. These properties are often studied in relation to sound-producing artifacts. Archaeoacoustic scholars consider altering sound experience a product of human intention–as a deliberate investment of meaning rather than an epiphenomenal environmental coincidence. This has left a void of literature for the auditory architecture of religious, political and social spaces. This research will describe the issues and implications surrounding the interpretation of acoustic data in archaeology, focusing on the relation to spiritual and symbolic social practices. Theoretical perspectives will be drawn from previous archaeoacoustic research, as well as human evolutionary biology, as the evolution of auditory perception is likely to correlate with the development of art, language, and other symbolic social systems. This combination of ideas proposes a deeper understanding of the role of sound that has been essential to the human experience.

Anthropology Archaeology Arts and Culture News

Modeling Consciousness in Archaeology: A Non-Invasive Approach


Modeling the thoughts and beliefs of ancient persons is an arduous calling for archaeologists, as this data falls into the intangible realm. Often the most direct material link to the ancient mind is found in rock art. With resilience to the elements and time, rock surfaces presented an ideal canvas for the lasting expressions of past cultures. Many of these sites, however, have been damaged or compromised due to invasive recording practices. Researchers and tourists continue to utilize outdated methods, as a result of misinformation or naivety on the subject. A non-invasive, conservation-based approach to rock art recording is presented, with the intention of diminishing unintentional site vandalism. Symbols of headdresses, messengers, and lobed circles appear across differing chronological and regional rock art style categories. These elements are often interpreted in relation to altered states of consciousness and ceremony. The petroglyph panel at the Spirit Bird Cave site in southeastern Utah provides evidence of all three of these elements, and is thus well suited for this project. This poster presents the current status of the project, with a discussion of methods and preliminary field results. This project combines standard and innovative methods of field mapping, lighting and close-range photogrammetry to produce visual models which can be analyzed in a laboratory setting without concern for panel damage. These visual models can expand access to immovable data such as rock art, allowing researchers a truly non-invasive approach.

This poster was selected for the People’s Choice Award for Best Student Poster Presentation in the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, at Humboldt State University IdeaFest, 2014

Anthropology Arts and Culture News

Meme and My Friends: The Dynamics of Merry-making

“Meme and My Friends: The Dynamics of Merry-making,” November 29, 2012 

Collaborative poster presented at the 2012 Anthropology Undergraduate Research Symposium, Humboldt State University. Presented by Casey Dobbins, Jaqueline Farrington, Racheal Marte-Taylor, Cherilyn Neider and Nikki Martensen