Extraordinary Beliefs: A Historical Approach to a Psychological Problem

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Cambridge University Press, Feb 7, 2013 - Body, Mind & Spirit - 321 pages
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Since the early nineteenth century, mesmerists, mediums and psychics have exhibited extraordinary phenomena. These have been demonstrated, reported and disputed by every modern generation. We continue to wonder why people believe in such things, while others wonder why they are dismissed so easily. Extraordinary Beliefs takes a historical approach to an ongoing psychological problem: why do people believe in extraordinary phenomena? It considers the phenomena that have been associated with mesmerism, spiritualism, psychical research and parapsychology. By drawing upon conjuring theory, frame analysis and discourse analysis, it examines how such phenomena have been made convincing in demonstration and report, and then disputed endlessly. It argues that we cannot understand extraordinary beliefs unless we properly consider the events in which people believe, and what people believe about them. And it shows how, in constructing and maintaining particular beliefs about particular phenomena, we have been in the business of constructing ourselves.
 

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Contents

The making of the extraordinary
34
Framing an extraordinary feat in performance and reception
49
The making of mesmeric phenomena
63
reporting
78
The construction of a new boundary between ordinary
92
The making of spiritualist phenomena 1 26
126
The making of psychic phenomena I 66
166
The making of paranormal phenomena I 98
198
The making of extraordinary beliefs
242
Notes
260
I
291
I 9
319
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About the author (2013)

Dr Peter Lamont is a Senior Lecturer at the School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences, University of Edinburgh. He is Programme Director of the MSc in History and Theory of Psychology, and Honorary Secretary of the British Psychological Society (History and Philosophy of Psychology Section). He is also a longstanding member of the Koestler Parapsychology Unit, a former professional magician, an Associate of the Inner Magic Circle and Past President of the Edinburgh Magic Circle. He has published extensively on the history and psychology of magic and the paranormal.

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