The supernatural has been a topic of sociological study for over a century, and belief in the existence of paranormal phenomena is permeating into various aspects of the media. Although publicly labeled as a deviant group, paranormal believers comprise a majority in the United States. When different supernatural belief systems are combined under an umbrella of paranormal beliefs, most Americans surveyed share a common belief in the unexplained. Research shows that there is a relationship between the paranormal, religious denomination, and religiosity. The types of supernatural phenomena believed by different religions varies. By using data from the Baylor Religion Survey Wave II (2007), I predict that religious denomination plays a significant role in determining supernatural beliefs.
Religious Differences in Supernatural Beliefs
We use prayers for protection, you don’t want bad or evil entities and you can actually build protection for yourself and a lot of it is done through quasi-religious prayer. Whether you believe in one God, multi-gods or whatever, you’re basically praying to whatever higher being you believe in and asking him to help you out, to protect you.
Long held traditions in America are being challenged. Mainstream religious beliefs are on the decline, but people are turning to the supernatural rather than to science. Research clearly shows that paranormal beliefs are increasing as adherence to organized religion is decreasing. Robertson (1970) posited that there will be some form of religion so long as there are societies. It seems that so long as there are societies, there will also be supernatural beliefs. If religion is the worship of the collective (Durkheim 1915) and the collective ties that bind society become frayed and weak, many will turn to whatever familiar belief can be easily grasped. Therefore, we need to better understand the link between belief in the supernatural and its relationship with religion, and the best way to do that is through sociological study.
In the 1970s, the Central Intelligence Agency further legitimized belief in the supernatural by employing self-described psychics in an effort to test the limits of paranormal psychic powers. This program became declassified in 1995, and the government admitted to using “remote viewing” as a means of tapping into paranormal human consciousness for the purpose of spying on American enemies (Puthoff 1996).
Paranormal or Supernatural?
Some researchers use the terms of paranormal and supernatural as two distinct terms. Beck and Miller (2001) used “paranormal” to describe psychic (psi) phenomena like telekinesis and ESP. However, Rice (2003) used “supernatural” to refer to the same phenomena. Therefore, I believe that the two terms, both referring to something otherworldly and unexplained, can be used interchangeably when discussing mysterious phenomena.
Spirits, ghosts, angels, demons, and UFOs have been a represented part of human history going back to the Paleolithic Era (Michel 1969). Tales of gods and the afterlife were passed from generation to generation through oral traditions, religious texts, classical literature, and through modern media. Thus, the concepts of unknowable phenomena being attributed to beings or entities outside of the measure of natural occurrences can be traced back through centuries and across many cultures (Baker and Bader 2014).
The Enlightenment Era marked the shift from religion to science as a basis for understanding mysterious events previously attributed to phenomena outside of nature (Durkheim 1915). Smith, Emerson, Gallagher, Kennedy, and Sikkink (1998) discussed the damage done to religion through the various twentieth century legal trials like the “Scopes Monkey Trial” in 1925. The political and moral power of Protestantism throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth century in America was challenged by other up-and-coming denominations as well. The house of cards that the White Anglo-Saxon Protestants had constructed came tumbling down as religious separatism became the predominant mantra of American fundamentalist Christians (Smith et al. 1998). Though there were other attempts to resurrect the great evangelical movements that followed, the general trend in America was to move away from Christianity (Emilsen 2012).
Regardless of the increase in scientific understanding and a decrease of participation in organized religions (Baker and Bader 2014), paranormal belief is increasing in America (Kwilecki 2009). Advances in technology have provided a means for everyday people to acquire tools—such as electro-magnetic field detectors, high definition cameras, and digital audio recorders—for paranormal investigation.
The economic recession of 2008, high employment uncertainty, and the postmodern economic shift from industry to technology (Jorgenson 2001) places the contemporary era in a decline of confidence in institutions or leadership resulting in a “legitimation crisis” (Habermas 1975). There is a rise in anti-Capitalist sentiment (Zizek 2012), an increase in atheism (Emilsen 2012), and a general sense that the American traditions of the past are fading away. The sense of anomic normlessness that Durkheim (1897) wrote about is shaking the foundation of society to its core. Social bonds are fragmenting, so a return to beliefs that seem to have been in decline provide a handle to be grasped by the hands of those seeking to find respite in tradition; including a return to supernatural beliefs.
The teaser that was created was one to show people what we’re doing, and to shop it. One to shop it, to see if we can get out there in a sense so we can do our thing the way we do it. Cuz Ghost Adventures does their way. Ghost Hunters does their way. We’re trying to do things our way.
The supernatural is “mysterious” and “unknowable” (Durkheim 1915). As scientific authority, a social construct in itself (Brewer 2012), allows us to better comprehend mysterious phenomena, we are able to categorize previously unexplained supernatural events into the explained realm of the natural. The increase in available technology allows for paranormal investigators to use the combination of scientific claims and “democratization” to claim authority while being accessible to the public (Molle and Bader 2014). Yet, paranormal beliefs are becoming so prevalent in America that an emerging theory states that these beliefs have become a kind of alternative to mainstream religion (Orenstein 2002).
In an effort to capitalize on the increasing interests of the majority of Americans who share beliefs in unexplained phenomena (Aarnio and Lindeman 2005; Braswell, Rosengren, and Berenbaum 2012; Hillstrom and Strachan 2000; Mencken, Bader, and Kim 2009; Orenstein 2002; Rice 2003), the American media is increasing the production of paranormal commodities (Brewer 2012; Molle and Bader 2014) For instance, late 20th century authors R.L. Stine, Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, and Dean Koontz have sold a combined 1.5 billion books and have placed these four supernatural writers in the top twenty bestselling fiction authors of all time.
Durkheim began a sociological study into the supernatural about a century ago as the industrial economy overtook agriculture as the dominant economic force in America. Similarly, the post-industrial, technological economy is currently poised to overtake the industrial. Many studies on paranormal beliefs have emerged over the past twenty years. The topic of the supernatural has maintained relevance to sociologists for a century, and the increase in popularity and mainstreaming of paranormal/ghost/UFO investigation in the media during a time of social distress in the early 21st century shows that study of the supernatural is possibly even more relevant today.
Cognitive Psychology and Durkheim
Cognition can be as social as it is psychological (Zerubavel 1996). As science begins to allow us to better comprehend previously mysterious concepts, we can categorically move the supernatural into the realm of the natural. Durkheim (1915) posited that supernatural belief is not only “rational” but “logically related.” As DiMaggio (1997) wrote, sociology and psychology do share “points of convergence” that most certainly apply to a Durkheimian study of the supernatural. Thus, in order to better understand the reasons for paranormal belief that extend beyond demographic factors, we must bring elements of cognition studies into our sociological “toolkit” (Swidler 1986).
This relationship between religion, the supernatural, and cognition is rooted in processes that “violate the boundaries between ontological domains” (Wuthnow 2007). This ability to attribute mental states — beliefs, intents, desires, pretending, knowledge, etc. — to oneself and others and to understand that others have beliefs, desires, and intentions that are different from one’s own is known as Theory of Mind (ToM).
Biological variables could influence religious paranormal beliefs through genetic differences in personality, diet, drug abuse, and sex. Women, for example, are more capable of exhibiting ToM capabilities than men are and are more likely to be affected by the paranormal phenomenon of possession. Spirit possession is an example of a challenge to ToM capacities because at least two mental identities coexist within one person at the same time. Possession usually occurs in group settings, thus the observers must follow their own mental capacities as well as the multiple entities of the host, stretching ToM capacities to immeasurable limits (Whitehouse 2008).
Many theorists have argued that human beings, as we are now coming to understand, are “multiphrenic”. This means that we are able to hold beliefs that seem to contradict one another simultaneously, such as believing in both God and science. Furthermore, suprahuman agents act in a way that can cross schematic boundaries. Gods or angels can resemble human beings in some ways, but be completely different in others.
Durkheim (1915) wrote of a similar concept:
There, we are continually coming upon beings which have the most contradictory attributes simultaneously, who are at the same time one and many, material and spiritual, who can divide themselves up indefinitely without losing anything of their constitution. (emphasis added)
Therefore, we can begin to understand the ways in which religious individuals view the relationships between these supernatural entities and human beings (Wuthnow 2007) as a rational, although not particularly scientific, line of reasoning (Durkheim 1915).
Religion and the Afterlife
Although many religions share the same sacred texts, not all of them share the same beliefs in different paranormal types. Christianity, Islam, and Jewish religions cross paths in their adherence to the Old Testament portion of The Bible. However, only Christians claim the New Testament. This affects the religious supernatural views of the rapture, prophecies of the battle of Armageddon, and views of the afterlife.
Rather than a concept of Purgatory put forth by the Catholics (Bader et al. 2010), Jewish people believe that we all visit Sheol when we die (Emerton 1987). Furthermore, a physical, yet to be identified, valley in Jerusalem is thought to be the actual location of what Christians refer to as Hell, but Muslims and Jews call it “Jahannam” and “Gehenna” respectively (Montgomery 1908). Jewish practitioners often put little focus on the afterlife (Cohen, Pierce Jr., Chambers, Meade, Gorvine, & Koenig 2005; Klenow & Bolin 1990), but those who do believe that they will reach Paradise, rather than Heaven, if they fulfill the duties that their religion requires (Montgomery 1908).
Even among Christian denominations, religious supernatural beliefs vary. Different denominations find varying strength in their acknowledgement of paranormal claims (Mencken, Bader and Kim 2009; Orenstein 2002), and there is significant correlation between whether a person can be identified as a religious believer or “nominal” believer and their belief in paranormal activity (Hillstrom and Strachan 2000).
Rice (2003) splits paranormal beliefs into two categories. Religious paranormal beliefs include those typical to Christian doctrine, such as God, Satan, angels, demons, Heaven, Hell, and other beliefs associated with the teachings of The Bible. Classical beliefs, however, include telekinesis, telepathy, ESP, ghosts, UFOs, the occult, and general supernatural phenomena.
For the purposes of this study, I have re-categorized Rice’s paranormal framework in conjunction with Durkheim’s work on the supernatural. I have reclassified the various types of unexplained phenomena into three categories of paranormal belief systems. The first is cryptozoological beliefs that would include Bigfoot, ghosts, and UFOs/Aliens as well as other monsters. These beings are rarely ever seen, yet tales of their appearances can be traced around the globe and are shared by many cultures.
The second category would include religious phenomena such as demonic entities and angelic beings. These concepts also include ideas of the afterlife such as heaven, hell, or purgatory. Religious paranormal beliefs remain the most prominent among current believers in the unexplainable.
The third category refers to classical or Durkheimian supernatural beliefs. Rather than dealing with an entity of some kind, the supernatural includes ways in which energy is manipulated. This can be through moving objects with the mind, as in telekinesis, or using unexplainable means of mental communication like telepathy or extra-sensory perception. Others believe in the manipulation of existential energy that is shared by all people that can result in seeing auras, healing by way of stones or meditation, and the use of positive and negative energy as karma.
Are religious beliefs correlated with paranormal beliefs? Based on the previous discussion of theory, I have developed the following hypotheses: (H1) is that types of paranormal beliefs differ between religious and non-religious denominations. (H1a) Because of higher levels of believing that The Bible is true (Table 1), I expect that Baptists will have the strongest religious paranormal belief. (H1b) I expect that Non-Religious respondents will have the strongest classic paranormal belief. (H1c) I predict that Non-Religious respondents will have the strongest belief in cryptozoological paranormal belief. My second hypothesis (H2) is that religiosity is correlated with paranormal belief, so that (H2a) higher religiosity will correlate with higher religious paranormal belief, (H2b) higher religiosity will correlate with lower classic paranormal belief, and (H2c) higher religiosity will lead to lower cryptozoological paranormal belief. The null hypothesis () states that B (Catholic) = B (Baptist) = B (Protestant) = B (Pentecostal) = B (Non-Denominational) = B (Jewish) = B (Other Affiliation) = B (No Religion)
I used data from the Baylor Religion Survey (BRS), Wave II. In 2007, Baylor University, by way of the Gallup Organization, surveyed 1,648 respondents on 318 variables in order to measure religious and paranormal beliefs among Americans. This was a mixed-mode sampling design utilizing a 16-page self-administered survey and telephone survey from a sample of the general population of America adults aged 18 years or older.
The telephone sample was drawn using random digit dialing including listed and unlisted numbers. At each randomly sampled household, an interviewer from Gallup attempted to speak to an adult living in the home using a three-call design. Respondents were given selected questions from the self-administered survey and offered a $5 incentive if they would be willing to give their address to Gallup and fill out the self-administered survey. 456 respondents completed and returned the questionnaire (ARDA 2015).
In addition to the telephone recruitment, Gallup mailed 1836 self-administered surveys to households randomly sampled from Gallup’s RDD database (selected using random digit dialing sample design). 1,192 respondents completed and returned the questionnaire. In total, the combined sample was 1,648 respondents (ARDA 2015). The unit of analysis in this study is an individual who completed the BRS.
Using SPSS statistical software, I ran OLS regression models in order to measure the strength, direction, and significance of any relevant relationships, and eliminate as many potential errors as possible. I performed steps to clean the data including an “if, then” statement to ensure that respondents answered questions pertaining to every variable in my final data set. I imputed missing data when appropriate by calculating the series mean in SPSS as proposed by S.F. Buck (1960). I did this only for questions that shared common responses and there were fewer than 200 missing responses per question. If more than 200 data were missing, I removed the variable from the model.
There are several parts of the question “in your opinion, does each of the following exist (see Table 1)?” on the BRS that measure belief in the paranormal. Each question is coded Absolutely Not (1), Probably Not (2), Probably (3), and Absolutely (4). There are eight questions that pertain to religious paranormal phenomena; angels, Armageddon, demons, the Devil/Satan, Heaven, Hell, Purgatory, and the Rapture. These eight phenomena can be coded as Religious Paranormal Belief. Additional parts of the aforementioned question include belief in the existence of ghosts, extraterrestrials, and Bigfoot; can be coded as Cryptozoological Paranormal Belief. The final part of the question pertains to “Psychic phenomena, such as ESP” and can be coded as Classic Paranormal Belief. I computed these variables into respective indexes in SPSS so that the higher the score, the more paranormal phenomena the respondent believes in.
The predictor variables are religious denomination and religiosity. Religious denominations are numerous (See Table 2). For this study, I coded denominations as dichotomous categories and divided them into eight groups based on the denominational framework of Steensland, Park, Regnerus, Robinson, Wilcox, and Woodberry (2000) so that Catholic/Roman Catholic (1), Baptist (2), Protestant (3), Pentecostal (4) Non-Denominational Christian (5), Jewish (6), Other Affiliations (7), and No Religion/Don’t Know (8).
Religiosity is a curious term with many definitions. Like Cohen et al. (2005), I measured the following categories using the operational definition of frequency of religious service attendance and prayer behavior. I coded religious service attendance Never (0), A few times a year (1), Several times a year (2), Once a month (3), About weekly (4), and Several times a week (5). I coded prayer or meditation as Never (0), Only on certain occasions (1), Once a week or less (2), Once a day (3), and Several times a day (4). I also included personal beliefs in God, which I coded I am an atheist/No opinion (0), I don’t know, and there is no way to know (1), I sometimes believe in God/God is a higher power or cosmic force (2), No doubt that God exists/Believe but with doubts (3).
Finally, I included a variable on personal views about The Bible. The responses were coded so that the higher the literal belief in The Bible, the higher the number. I don’t know (1), The Bible is an ancient book of history and legends (2), The Bible contains some human error (3), The Bible is perfectly true, but it should not be taken literally, word-for-word. We must interpret its meaning (4), and The Bible means exactly what it says. It should be taken literally, word-for-word, on all subjects (5).
Given that the variables being measured are non-demographic, I must control for race, gender, highest education level completed, age, income, and political affiliation. Each racial category on the BRS had its own question associated with it, and respondents could answer multiple questions. If the respondent only chose white, they were coded White (1), if a respondent chose only black, they were coded Black (2), and if a respondent chose multiple or other races, they were coded Other (3).
Gender is a nominal variable and is a binary category so that male was coded as (1), while female was coded as (2). Highest education level completed is an ordinal variable with categories of (1) Less than High School/G.E.D., (2) High School Diploma/G.E.D., (3) Some college, (4) Trade school/Undergraduate degree, and (5) Graduate/Professional degree. Income is also ordinal and is coded $20,000 or less (1), $20,001-$50,000 (2), $50,001-$100,000 (3), $100,001-$150,000 (4), and $150,001 or more (4). Political affiliation was coded conservative (1), moderate (2), and liberal (3). Age is an interval/ratio variable.
I included a measure of political affiliation because a conservative respondent may have more traditional religious and supernatural beliefs than someone who identifies as liberal. I coded this so that conservative (1), moderate (2), and liberal (3). For a complete list of descriptives, see Table 3.
I included my denomination variables (Catholic, Baptist, Pentecostal, Non-Denominational, Jewish, Other Affiliations, and No Religion) in my OLS regression. I used Protestant as my reference category in each model because it is the largest religious group in the survey.
My models included religious, classical, and cryptozoological beliefs as my DV, the eight religious denominations (with Protestant as the reference group) and religiosity measures as my IVs, and age, race, gender, income, political affiliation, and education as covariates. The Religious Supernatural Belief index ranged from 8-32. The mean was 23.1 with a standard deviation of 6.79. The Classical Supernatural Belief index ranges from 1 to 4 with a mean of 2.65 and a standard deviation of .92. The Cryptozoological Supernatural Belief index ranges from 3-12. The mean is 6.56 with a standard deviation of 2.13.
For model 1, I regress religious supernatural beliefs on religious denomination with Protestants serving as the reference category. The results show that most religious groups are significantly different from Protestants in their religious supernatural beliefs. Those identifying as Jewish are 10.19 less religiously supernatural than Protestants. Those identifying as “No Religion” are 7.93 less religiously supernatural than Protestants. On the contrary, Pentecostals are 5.68 more religiously supernatural than Protestants, followed by Baptists (4.38 more), Non-Denominational (2.66 more), and Catholics (0.85 more).
Model 2 examines the relationships between religiosity and religious supernatural beliefs, regressing paranormal beliefs on religious service attendance, belief in the Bible, personal beliefs about God, and frequency of prayer or meditation. The results show that for each additional increase in the belief that God is a higher power, respondents increase their religious supernatural beliefs by 3.56. Those with greater personal beliefs in God share higher religious beliefs in the supernatural, a result not surprising given the relationship between God and the eight measures used in the religious supernatural index.
For each additional increase that The Bible is the literal word of God, respondents increase their religious supernatural beliefs by 1.598. Increases in religious service attendance and frequency of prayer or meditation also lead to increased religious supernatural beliefs (0.18 and 0.81 respectively).
Model 3 combines both religious denomination and religiosity variables in the same analytic model. Once controlling for religiosity measures, there is some change in the relationship between religious denomination and beliefs in the religious supernatural. For the most part, most of the power of religious denomination in explaining religious supernatural beliefs is reduced.
Those identifying as Jewish are 2.21 less religiously supernatural than Protestants. On the contrary, Baptists are 2.27 more religiously supernatural than Protestants, followed by Pentecostals (2.21 more), Non-Denominational (1.47 more), and Catholics (1.07).
The results show that for each additional increase in the belief that God is a higher power, respondents increase their religious supernatural beliefs by 3.38. For each additional increase that The Bible is the literal word of God, respondents increase their religious supernatural beliefs by 1.45. Increases in frequency of prayer or meditation also leads to increased religious supernatural beliefs by 0.72. Religious service attendance lost all statistical significance.
Once religiosity is included in the model, the significant difference between Protestants and those identifying with “No Religion” disappears. Similarly, the addition of religiosity reduces the significant differences between Protestants and Baptists, Pentecostals, Non-Denominational, and Jewish respondents.
Model 4 includes the demographic control variables to show how the relationship between religious denomination and religious paranormal beliefs responds when controlling for race, age, education, gender, political affiliation, and income. When the additional variables are accounted for, all but Baptist denominational differences with Protestants saw decreased statistical significance. For the most part, most of the power of religious denomination in explaining religious paranormal beliefs is reduced.
Those identifying as Jewish are 1.90 less religiously supernatural than Protestants. On the contrary, Baptists are 1.63 more religiously supernatural than Protestants, followed by Non-Denominational (0.92 more), and Catholics (0.90). Once the control measures were introduced, the difference between Pentecostal and Protestant became statistically insignificant.
The results show that for each additional increase in the belief that God is a higher power, respondents increase their religious paranormal beliefs by 3.20. For each additional increase that The Bible is the literal word of God, respondents increase their religious supernatural beliefs by 1.21. Increases in frequency of prayer or meditation also leads to increased religious supernatural beliefs by 0.71. Religious service attendance regains statistical significance, and each increase in attendance leads to a 0.17 increase in religious supernatural beliefs.
Many of the control variables are also significant. For each unit increase in race, religious supernatural beliefs increase by 0.54. Consistent with previous research, for each increase in age, education, income, and political affiliation, religious supernatural belief decreases by 0.04, 0.36, 0.43, and 1.08 respectively. Gender, however, is not statistically significant.
In the models predicting religious supernatural beliefs, the R-squared shows that the variables explain a large amount of variance in paranormal beliefs. In Model 4, the R-squared explains 67% of the variance.
For model 1, I regress classical supernatural beliefs on religious denomination with Protestants serving as the reference category. The results show that most religious groups are not significantly different from Protestants in their classical supernatural beliefs. Those identifying as Jewish (-0.32), Baptist (-0.27), and Non-Denominational (-0.22) are less classically supernatural than Protestants. On the contrary, Catholics are 0.15 more likely to believe in classical supernatural phenomena than Protestants. Pentecostals, Others, and No Religion have no statistically significant difference with Protestants.
Model 2 examines the relationships between religiosity and classical supernatural beliefs, regressing supernatural beliefs on religious service attendance, belief in The Bible, personal beliefs about God, and frequency of prayer or meditation. The results show that for each additional increase in the belief that God is a higher power (0.28) and increase in frequency of prayer or meditation (0.05), respondents increase their classical supernatural beliefs.
Conversely, for each additional increase that The Bible is the literal word of God, respondents decrease their religious supernatural beliefs by 0.15. Increases in religious service attendance also leads to decreased religious supernatural beliefs by 0.11.
Model 3 combines both religious denomination and religiosity variables in the same analytic model. Once controlling for religiosity measures, there is some change in the relationship between religious denomination and beliefs in the classical supernatural. For the most part, most of the power of religious denomination in explaining classical supernatural beliefs is reduced.
Those identifying as Baptists are 0.18 less classically supernatural than Protestants, followed by Non-Denominational (0.22 less). Catholic, Pentecostal, Jewish, Other Affiliation, and No Religion are not statistically significant in this model.
The results show that for each additional increase in the belief that God is a higher power, respondents increase their classical supernatural beliefs by 0.24. For each increase in frequency of prayer or meditation, classical supernatural beliefs increase by 0.05.
Conversely, for each additional increase that The Bible is the literal word of God, respondents decrease their classical supernatural beliefs by 0.12. Increases in religious service attendance also leads to decreased classical supernatural beliefs by 0.11.
Once religiosity is included in the model, the significant difference between Protestants and all denominations save for Baptist and Non-Denominational respondents disappears.
Model 4 includes the demographic control variables to show how the relationship between religious denomination and classical supernatural beliefs responds when controlling for race, age, education, gender, political affiliation, and income. For the most part, most of the power of religious denomination in explaining classical supernatural beliefs is reduced.
Those identifying as Baptists are 0.15 less classically supernatural than Protestants, followed by Non-Denominational (0.21 less). Catholic, Pentecostal, Jewish, Other Affiliation, and No Religion are not statistically significant in this model.
The results show that for each additional increase in the belief that God is a higher power, respondents increase their classical supernatural beliefs by 0.25.
However, for each additional increase that The Bible is the literal word of God, respondents decrease their classical supernatural beliefs by 0.11. Increases in religious service attendance also leads to decreased classical supernatural beliefs by 0.10. Frequency of prayer or meditation becomes not statistically significant.
Only two of the control variables are statistically significant. For each unit increase in gender, classical supernatural beliefs increase by 0.15. As respondents identify with being more politically liberal, their classical supernatural beliefs increase by 0.12. No other variables are statistically significant.
In the models predicting classical supernatural beliefs, the R-squared (from 2% to 10%) shows that the variables explain a small amount of variance in beliefs. In Model 4, the explains about 10% of the variance.
For model 1, I regress cryptozoological supernatural beliefs on religious denomination with Protestants serving as the reference category. The results show that most religious groups are significantly different from Protestants in their cryptozoological supernatural beliefs. Those identifying as Jewish are 0.78 less cryptozoologically supernatural than Protestants. Those identifying as Pentecostal are 0.58 less cryptozoologically supernatural than Protestants, followed by Baptist (0.38 less). On the contrary, Other Affiliation and Catholic are 0.81 and 0.34 more likely to believe in cryptozoological supernatural phenomena than Protestants. Non-Denominational and No Religion have no statistically significant difference with Protestants.
Model 2 examines the relationships between religiosity and cryptozoological supernatural beliefs, regressing supernatural beliefs on religious service attendance, belief in The Bible, personal beliefs about God, and frequency of prayer or meditation. The results show that for each additional increase in the belief that God is a higher power, respondents increase their cryptozoological supernatural beliefs by 0.58. For each increase in frequency of prayer or meditation, cryptozoological supernatural beliefs increase by 0.12.
Conversely, for each additional increase that The Bible is the literal word of God, respondents decrease their religious supernatural beliefs by 0.20. Increases in religious service attendance also leads to decreased religious supernatural beliefs by 0.32.
Model 3 combines both religious denomination and religiosity variables in the same analytic model. Once controlling for religiosity measures, there is some change in the relationship between religious denomination and beliefs in the cryptozoological supernatural. For the most part, most of the power of religious denomination in explaining cryptozoological supernatural beliefs as well as statistical significance is reduced. Those identifying as Other Affiliation are 0.78 more cryptozoologically supernatural than Protestants, however, no other denominations are statistically significant in this model.
The results show that for each additional increase in the belief that God is a higher power, respondents increase their cryptozoological supernatural beliefs by 0.53. For each increase in frequency of prayer or meditation, cryptozoological supernatural beliefs increase by 0.10. Conversely, for each additional increase that The Bible is the literal word of God, respondents decrease their cryptozoological supernatural beliefs by 0.15 and the statistical significance decreases. Increases in religious service attendance also leads to decreased cryptozoological supernatural beliefs by 0.32.
Once religiosity is included in the model, the significant difference between Protestants and all denominations save for Other Affiliation disappears.
Model 4 includes the demographic control variables to show how the relationship between religious denomination and cryptozoological supernatural beliefs responds when controlling for race, age, education, gender, political affiliation, and income. For the most part, most of the power of religious denomination in explaining cryptozoological supernatural beliefs actually increases from the previous model, but only one denomination has statistical significance. Those identifying as Other Affiliation are 0.66 less cryptozoologically supernatural than Protestants, but no other denominations are statistically significant in this model.
The results show that for each additional increase in the belief that God is a higher power, respondents increase their cryptozoological supernatural beliefs by 0.52. Conversely, for each additional increase that The Bible is the literal word of God, respondents decrease their cryptozoological supernatural beliefs by 0.15. Increases in religious service attendance also leads to decreased cryptozoological supernatural beliefs by 0.29. Frequency of prayer or meditation becomes not statistically significant.
Most of the control variables are statistically significant. For each unit increase in age, cryptozoological supernatural beliefs decrease by 0.02, followed by education (0.10) and income (0.18). As respondents identify with being more politically liberal, their cryptozoological supernatural beliefs increase by 0.18. Race and gender are statistically significant.
In the models predicting cryptozoological supernatural beliefs, the R-squared (2% to 11%) shows that the variables explain a small amount of variance in beliefs. In Model 4, the explains only about 11% of the variance.
With a majority of respondents believing in multiple supernatural phenomena, the paranormal appears to continue its relevance to sociological study. Consistent with previous research, a majority of respondents believe in at least one type of supernatural phenomena (Aarnio and Lindeman 2005; Bader et al. 2010; Braswell et al. 2012; Hillstrom and Strachan 2000; Mencken et al. 2009; Orenstein 2002; Rice 2003) even though the types of religion in America have changed (Baker and Bader 2014; Emilsen 2012; Kwilecki 2009; Orenstein 2002; Smith et al. 1998). Over 80% believe that heaven and angels probably exist, and more than 63% believe in psi abilities. Almost half of respondents agree that ghosts and extraterrestrials probably or absolutely exist.
As predicted (H1), there are differences between religious denominations and supernatural belief types. When additional variables were added to religiosity, the effects on religiosity categories were only marginally affected. However, when controls for religiosity were entered with denomination categories, the effect on denominational differences in religious supernatural beliefs was significantly affected. Therefore, I can say that H2 is supported in that there is a relationship between religiosity and supernatural belief.
In the strongest models, the R-squared for religious supernatural beliefs (.631) was much higher than for classical (.102) and cryptozoological (.107). I believe the reason for such a discrepancy is due to the fewer number of questions in non-religious supernatural categories and the religious nature of the predictor variables. It makes sense that non-religious supernatural models would have significantly less correlation between religious variables.
As predicted (H1a), Baptists have the highest level of religious paranormal beliefs when compared to Protestants. When considering only religiosity, Pentecostals have the highest levels of religious supernatural beliefs. However, the addition of control variables lowers the statistical significance between Pentecostal and Protestant to non-significance. Increases in religiosity measures correlate with higher religious supernatural beliefs. Thus, H2a is also supported.
The disappearance of Pentecostal differences with Protestants is worth noting. Pentecostal denominations typically engage in practices that would appear extra-supernatural, even within a Christian religion that clearly believes in many supernatural phenomena. One would think that a group that participates in faith healing, speaking in tongues, and “laying in the spirit”—a practice where individuals will fall into the arms of church leaders after being prayed over—would be more supernatural than other denominations. It is this adherence to “spiritual gifts” that I believe made it worth teasing out as a denominational category all its own, although Cohen et al. (2005) included them with Protestants.
Previous research using the BRS found that religious service attendance was the strongest predictor of paranormal beliefs (Bader et al. 2010). However, the strongest predictor variable in this study when determining religious supernatural beliefs is personal belief in God. One reason for this difference is that Bader et al. did not use personal belief in God as one of their primary religiosity measures. Furthermore, contrary to their study, when belief in The Bible, personal beliefs in God, and frequency of prayer are included, my results show that religious service attendance is not only the weakest predictor, but has the lowest statistical significance with regard to religious supernatural belief.
Furthermore, the variable “personal belief in God” should be the most significant predictor in a religious supernatural model. Religious services, Biblical literalness, and prayer frequency are all important to religious individuals, but the belief that God is a higher power directly reflects the strength of the religious practices that the respondent would engage in.
My study also shows that political affiliation is the strongest predictor of religious supernatural beliefs, and that the more liberal the respondent, the less likely they are to believe in religious supernatural phenomena. Bader et al. (2010) found that liberals (Democrats) were more likely to believe in at least one paranormal topic than Republicans, my study goes into further detail about this relationship. Liberals may, in fact, believe in more paranormal subjects overall, but they believe in significantly less religious supernatural phenomena. This is consistent with the knowledge that liberals are typically more educated and have a higher income, both of which are significant factors in inversely predicting the respondents’ views of the paranormal.
Future research should use more inclusive terms for religious phenomena. Rather than “heaven”, future studies should ask about heaven/paradise which is more inclusive for Jewish respondents. Future research should also include Gehenna, Sheol, Paradise, Nirvana, and other religiously diverse terms regarding the afterlife. Furthermore, the concept of jinn in Islam is similar to demons in Judeo-Christian religions and should be included.
My prediction (H1b) that Non-Religious respondents would have the highest classical beliefs failed to be supported as there was no statistical significance for No Religion in my models. Instead, Baptist and Non-Denominational were the only two significant denominations for classical beliefs. H2b is partially supported, as increases in belief in the Bible and religious service attendance do correlate with lower classical supernatural belief. However, higher belief in God actually led to higher classical supernatural belief.
I predicted that No Religion would have the highest classical supernatural beliefs because they tend to adopt a more humanistic approach to the paranormal. I believed that religious respondents would have lower belief in psychic abilities, but I underestimated the significant differences between No Religion and Protestants with regard to classical paranormal beliefs. Bader et al. (2010) found no significance between Protestant and No Religion as well, but I thought the inclusion of personal belief in God and political party affiliation would account for increased significance. Even without religiosity or control variables, No Religion had no statistical significant difference with Protestants.
Again, I believed that the “spiritual gifts”, which include prophecy, would have made Pentecostals significantly different from Protestants with regard to classical psi phenomena. Once again, I was incorrect in this assumption. Even without any religiosity or control variables, Pentecostals exhibit no statistically significant difference with Protestants.
Rice (2003) and Bader et al. (2010) found education to be a statistically significant predictor of classical paranormal belief. However, when I controlled for political party affiliation, the statistical significance of education disappeared completely. I believe this to be that liberals are often more educated, so the two variables conflicted. Party affiliation was statistically significant regardless of supernatural type, denoting that it may be a more valid predictor than education.
The classical category should have been based on more than just one question of “psychic” phenomena, especially when religious paranormal beliefs had eight questions. Future research should have included individual questions about healing stones, telekinesis, telepathy/ESP, karma, the power of meditation, remote viewing, and other psi abilities.
Non-Religious respondents also showed no statistical significance for cryptozoological beliefs, therefore H1c is not supported. Other Affiliation was the only significant denomination for cryptozoological supernatural beliefs. Religiosity measures, however, partially support H2c as higher belief in The Bible and religious service attendance have lower cryptozoological beliefs. On the contrary, higher belief in God has higher cryptozoological supernatural belief.
Similar to classical beliefs, I believed that my models would show significant differences between No Religion and Protestant that was lacking in the Bader et al. (2010) models. I thought that the addition of ghosts—which were found to be statistically significant for No Religion in Bader et al.’s study—in my model of cryptozoological beliefs may have made a difference in significance, but ultimately did not.
Ghosts are actually mentioned in The Bible when King Saul went to the “witch of Endor” and spoke with the ghost of Samuel the prophet in the book of 1 Samuel. Rice (2003) presents an interesting argument as to why it is possible that the differences between Christian denominations are statistically insignificant. He writes that people may simply put some of this phenomena into a Christian context. Extraterrestrials, for instance, may be thought of as demonic or angelic beings, rather than visitors from another planet.
The relationship between UFOs and religion has a sordid history, for sure. The Urantia Book (1955) attempted to blend religion, history, and Ufology. Various UFO cults have come to prominence over the past 40 years, including the infamous Heaven’s Gate cult led by Marshall Applewhite—who, with Bonnie Nettles, were also known as “Bo and Peep” in Balch and Taylor’s (1977) study of UFO cults—that led to the mass suicide of 39 followers.
Thus, while I am surprised that No Religion did not possess the most significant cryptozoological belief, I am not surprised to see the lack of significant difference between Christian denominations. I believe that Other Affiliation may have been the only statistically significant group because of the wide range of religions included in the category. There is also no clear definition within “other”, so it would be hard to narrow any potential belief in UFOs, bigfoot, or ghosts as “other” may even include those interested in Scientology or UFO cults, who would have greater belief in extraterrestrials.
Furthermore, the cryptozoological category was also underrepresented, with only three questions. Ghosts, bigfoot, and extraterrestrials are very far-reaching, so I understand why the BRS included them. However, future research should also include other pop-culture creatures like The Mothman, Loch Ness Monster, Chupacabra, The New Jersey Devil, vampires, and werewolves.
A significant limitation of this project is the limited number of questions and measures on paranormal beliefs in the BRS. Scholars should work to improve the depth and range of paranormal activity questions to existing data. Likewise, future research might benefit from a more extensive religious and paranormal data file that can include qualitative data from interviews and focus groups.
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