Deep Weird: High Strangeness, Boggle Thresholds and Damned Data in Academic Research on Extraordinary Experience

  • Jack Hunter Religious Experience Research Centre, University of Wales Trinity Saint David


This paper is about the stranger reaches of extraordinary experience research, and examines why some of the most unusual experiential reports come to be neglected in the scholarly discourse, even within this relatively fringe field of inquiry. Some of the reasons are methodological in nature, while others are rooted in deeper cultural and personal attitudes to anomalous data. The academic aversion to the most unusual forms of extraordinary experience has resulted in a gulf between the kinds of experiences discussed in the scholarly literature - which often fall into distinctive types and categories (OBE, NDE, voice hearing, encounters with light, religious experience, and so on) - and the writings of popular paranormal researchers, who have more frequently been able to discuss a broader range of experiential accounts (from UFO encounters to Bigfoot and fairy sightings). Notwithstanding this divide, however, there are significant themes that run through the established academic literature on religious and extraordinary experience and the canon of popular popular paranormal research, some of which are explored in the following paper. These similarities suggest that even the most unusual experiences, which are often ignored by academics, contain elements that connect them to other forms of extraordinary experience that are more broadly accepted. This paper concludes by suggesting that a sense of high strangeness might well be a core underlying feature of extraordinary experience more generally, and that instead of being neglected the deep weird should be granted greater and renewed scholarly attention.