Primary sociological topics include:
Max Weber on charisma
Durkheim on primitive classification
Sociology of scientific knowledge
Max Weber on Charisma
Charisma is central to Max Weber’s theories of authority,
power, and domination. He clearly explained that pure charisma required
the working of miracles, and he specifically mentioned prophecy, telepathy,
and weather control as manifestations of pure charisma.
Weber’s concepts of rationalization, disenchantment,
and bureaucratization are well known. They entail the attenuation
and routinization of charisma. As cultures become more rationalized,
miracles and magic (i.e., overt control of paranormal and supernatural
powers) are suppressed. A variety of institutions are agents for
rationalization and disenchantment. Academe is such a force, as are
most exoteric religions.
Magic and miracles are never fully eliminated from
the world, rather they are expelled from the conscious awareness of cultural
elites. They view them as fiction. Indeed, large industries
portray the paranormal in and as fiction. In financial terms, these
industries dwarf those that attempt to apply psychic powers.
Weber’s theory of charisma was integrated with his
ideas on authority. Pure charisma is the primordial source of authority,
but bureaucracy is inimical to pure charisma. Consequently, those
who directly attempt to apply psychic powers almost always do so outside
the purview of large bureaucratic institutions.
The trickster is a figure of marginality and of transition.
Typically the paranormal is marginalized by establishment elites, but in
times of cultural transition, it becomes more publicly prominent.
Likewise, charismatic leaders attain greater visibility in times of significant
Durkheim’s The Elementary Forms of the Religious
Life (1912) addressed a number of topics that today would be labeled
paranormal, e.g., magic, consequences of taboo, and the irrational.
Stories of the trickster describe them all, but in ways unfamiliar to the
Western mind. The trickster was central in many early (elementary)
religions, and he is the reason that scholars find those religions so difficult
Ethnomethodology and the Sociology of Scientific Knowledge
The chapter on reflexivity discusses ethnomethodology
and the sociology of scientific knowledge. Both disciplines were
disruptive and called into question basic assumptions of sociology.
At an abstract level, they share properties of the trickster.
The Trickster and the Paranormal
draws upon established theories in sociology to illuminate the position
of the paranormal in today’s society. It is argued that paranormal
phenomena are fundamentally sociological, rather than psychological.