The University of Wisconsin Press

Literature & Criticism


Science in the New Age
The Paranormal, Its Defenders and Debunkers, and American Culture
David J. Hess

In Science in the New Age, David Hess explores ideologies of the paranormal in the United States. He offers a map of the labyrinth of views put forward by parapsychologists and skeptical debunkers, spirit channelers and crystal healers, Hollywood poltergeist scripts, and prophets of the New Age. Adopting a cultural perspective, Hess moves beyond the question of who is right or wrong to the cultural politics of how each group constructs its own boundaries of true and false knowledge.

Hess begins by looking at each group’s unique version of knowledge, science, and religion and at its story about the other groups. Comparing the various discourses, texts, writers, and groups as cultures, he shows how skeptics, parapsychologists, and New Agers may disagree vehemently with each other, but end up sharing many rhetorical strategies, metaphors, models, values, and cultural categories. Furthermore, he argues, their shared “paraculture” has a great deal in common with the larger culture of the United States. The dialogue on the paranormal, Hess concludes, has as much to do with gender, power, and cultural values as it does with spirits, extrasensory perception, and crystal healing.

“Hess’s book on the seemingly peripheral phenomenon of science in the New Age is a central accomplishment, not a peripheral one. It makes a major contribution to the newly evolving anthropology of science. Hess helps us realize that, by reconstructing scientific knowledge in new contexts, we all do science. From this perspective, a book on New Age science is no longer a book about pseudoscience or the peripheries of the scientific community. It is a book about how people construct discourses about science to make it meaningful in their lives.”—Gary Downey, Virginia Tech

Science in the New Age is engaging, concise, and entertaining. It is fascinating to watch parapsychologists play ‘more-scientific-than-thou’ when dealing with New Agers, and then to watch the skeptics play the same game with parapsychologists. To see these tactics emerge from Prometheus Books on one hand, and Shirley MacLaine on the other, is startling at first, but, with the many well-chosen illustrations, Hess is convincing.”—Thomas Gieryn, Indiana University

David J. Hess is associate professor of cultural anthropology in the Department of Science and Technology Studies at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He is the author of Spiritists and Scientists and coeditor of Knowledge and Society Vol. 9: The Anthropology of Science and Technology.

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Science in the New Age cover with nautical compass

June 1993

LC: 93-018890 BP
256 pp. 6 x 9

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Paper $19.95 x
ISBN 978-0-299-13824-0
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