Paranormal Experience

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Linna building, Väinö Linna auditorium, address: Kalevantie 5

Jeena Rancken

Doctoral defence of M.Soc.Sc. Jeena Rancken

Paranormal Experience : Interpretation, Meaning and Effect

The field of science of the dissertation is Social psychology.

The opponent is docent Kari Vesala (University of Helsinki). Professor Eero Suoninen acts as the custos.

The language of the dissertation defence is Finnish.

Paranormal Experience : Interpretation, Meaning and Effect

At all times and places people have been telling about experiences they have interpreted as paranormal and research shows that even nowadays still 10–18 % of various populations report having had paranormal experiences. It has been also noticed in many studies that these experiences are often described to have influence on the narrators’ lives.

Even though paranormal experiences are considered quite common, they are regarded marginal and even taboo experiences. In fear of social sanctions such as losing reputation people tend to keep quiet about the experiences in public and official situations.

Interest towards paranormal phenomena and related experiences seems to have grown especially since 1990’s. This interest correlates with the wider change of spirituality in society, in which the role of traditional religion has faded and a phenomenon called “new spirituality” has grown beside it. It often also includes an interest in personal religious, spiritual or paranormal experiences instead of practicing spirituality in the institutional way.

Because paranormal experiences are not reachable in a way that satisfies the demands of natural science, their nature as a research object is strongly linguistic; they stay alive and are transmitted to the other people by stories and narratives.

The study consists of two parts. First it conducts a wide-ranging survey of previous research on paranormal experiences. The second part is an empirical narrative research of how people nowadays describe the effects of the paranormal experiences in their lives. The research data comprised 84 interviews of the people who told they had experienced a paranormal experience.

The study indicates that people still talk about the paranormal experiences like omens, out of body experiences, ufos and humanoids, about different kinds of spirits and forces; even about curses and demons.

The results show that the paranormal experiences are perceived to have influenced narrators’ lives in many ways. The outcome could be positive, neutral or negative. In some cases the paranormal experience started a prominent life change. Out of these stories is constructed five different story types, which also have links to the more widely known cultural model stories. The paranormal explanations are especially offered by socially maintained meaning constructions like religion, folklore or new age spirituality.

Considering the formation of these effects the most important factor did not seem to be the content of the experience itself, but above all the interpretations and meanings constructed around it. Basically quite similar experience could cause different consequences in the life courses of different narrators. It is assumable that the interpretation leads the hero of a story to a different behavior and action, depending on how the exceptional experience is interpreted in social context; for example whether the context of the exceptional experience is determined to be godly apparition or a cracking of mental health.

The subject matter of the research handles also the deeper social psychological questions about how people in general interpret life incidents and can construct meanings on their bases that can change the course of their lives. The elements adopted from the culture, for example religious or spiritual ideological elements, can become an essential part of people’s conception of reality and their autobiographical life stories. In that case they could function as means of explaining the everyday life and as an inspiration for action.

What seemed to be important for the consequences depended on what kind of an interpretation the storyteller found or adopted, and how the experience was discussed in the context of social relations or groups. The realization of the positive life change required also the social support of the others sharing or at least accepting the similar paranormal interpretation.


The dissertation is published by Vastapaino, ISBN 978-951-768-582-5, Tampere 2017.

The dissertation can be ordered at:, tel. 03 3141 3501

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