In this revelatory episode of After Hours AM/America’s Most Haunted Radio — Thursdays 9-11pE with hosts Joel Sturgis and Eric Olsen — we speak with sociologist and author Dennis Waskul about the meaning and consequences of paranormal experiences as detailed in his fascinating new book, Ghostly Encounters. Dennis will join us in the 10pE hour – in the 9pE hour we will cover the week’s jaw-dropping paranormal news, and Sweetheart of the Great Northern Woods, Kirsten Klang, will read your true ghost stories.
Dennis Waskul, with able assistance from Michele Waskul, is author of Ghostly Encounters: The Hauntings of Everyday Life (Temple UniversityPress, 2016). Based on two years of fieldwork and interviews with 71 heartland Americans, the Waskuls’ book is a reflexive ethnography that examines how people experience ghosts and hauntings in everyday life. Through these stories, Ghostly Encounters seeks to understand the persistence of inexplicable experiences and beliefs in ghosts in an age of reason, science, and technology; and how those beliefs and experiences both reflect and serve important social and cultural functions.
In five compact, intellectually rigorous but eminently readable chapters, the Waskuls explore how uncanny happenings become interpreted as ghosts, and the reasons people struggle with or against a will to believe. They classify the variety and character of hauntings and ghostly encounters (apparitions, phantasms, wraiths, poltergeists, specters, and phantoms), outcomes of people telling haunted legends, and the personal and societal consequences of ghostly experiences.
Waskul writes in the intro to the book, “In the top corner of the window a pale, milky-white wisp is rising almost to the top of our ten-foot ceiling…. I am startled but not afraid…. Mostly, I am engrossed; I have never seen anything like this before (or since) and it fascinates me.”
Scholars speak and write a lot about why they study the things they do, how they conduct their research, what they found, and what it all means. Scholars sometimes report what their research does for them. But scholars seldom talk or write about what research does to them—a conversation that Waskul suggests that we need to initiate more frequently. Since a goal of ethnography is to engage in intense subjective submersion in order to obtain an insider’s understanding of the phenomenon the ethnographer is studying, Waskul reveals the ghosts that followed him home as well as the affect of his increasing inability to determine what is real.
Dennis Waskul is a Professor of Sociology and Distinguished Faculty Scholar at Minnesota State University Mankato. Dennis has authored or edited numerous books including Popular Culture as Everyday Life; The Senses in Self, Culture, and Society; Body/Embodiment; and Self-Games and Body-Play. He has published many empirical studies on a variety of topics including various investigations of the sexual use of new media technologies, sociology of the body, sensual sociology, and the intersections of fantasy and lived experience. Dennis Waskul has served as President of Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction.