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We outline a theory of bounded affinity between religious experiences and beliefs and paranormalism, which emphasizes that religious and paranormal experiences and beliefs share inherent physiological, psychological, and ontological similarities. Despite these parallels, organized religious groups typically delineate a narrow subset of experiences and explanatory frames as acceptable and True, banishing others as either false or demonic. Accordingly, the theory provides a revised definition of the “paranormal” as beliefs and experiences explicitly rejected by science and organized religions. To demonstrate the utility of the theory, we show that, after controlling for levels of conventional religious practice, there is a strong, positive relationship between claiming Christian-based religious experiences and believing in, pursuing, and experiencing the paranormal, particularly among individuals not strongly tethered to organized religion. Bounded affinity theory makes sense of recent non-linear and complex moderation findings in the empirical literature and reiterates the importance of the paranormal for studies of religion.


This is a pre-copy-editing, author-produced PDF of an article accepted for publication in Sociology of Religion following peer review. The definitive publisher-authenticated version

Baker, J. O., Bader, C. D., & Mencken, F. C. (2016). A bounded affinity theory of religion and the paranormal. Sociology of Religion, 77(4): 334-358. doi: 10.1093/socrel/srw040

is available online at DOI: 10.1093/socrel/srw040

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Oxford University Press



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