Justifying Beliefs About Seance Phenomena in 19th Century Britain
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This study aims to discover how people in 19th century Britain justified their beliefs about séance phenomena, with a view to understanding how expressions of belief about the paranormal are constructed. Paranormal beliefs have been studied for centuries by many influential psychologists. Recently parapsychology has moved toward a more scientific methodology (Wooffitt, 1992), using questionnaires to study beliefs in the paranormal. However, these methods are problematic, as they oversimplify the subject of belief. Researchers (such as Lamont, 2007b; Potter and Wetherell, 1987) have argued that a discursive approach to the study of paranormal belief would be much more beneficial as this would allow us to examine the ways in which peoples’ expressions of belief are constructed, and what rhetorical functions these constructions serve. This analysis shows that expressions of belief about séance phenomena are constructed in a variety of different ways in order to perform the particular rhetorical function of justifying the position of belief. It also shows that questionnaires are inadequate for studying beliefs as they are too reductive as an approach.