GETTYSBURG, Pa. – Tourists visit Gettysburg, Pa., during the day for its history, stay at night for a chance to have a first-hand encounter with the paranormal.
During the past decade, Gettysburg has become a popular location to host conferences focusing on various aspects of the paranormal and the unexplained. This duality has been cursed by historians and blessed by business owners.
On Friday, a three-day academically focused conference: Exploring the Extraordinary opens on the campus of Gettysburg College, which some claim is haunted by the Confederate signal man who reportedly stands guard in the cupola of Pennsylvania Hall. In April, Gettysburg will host Phenomacon, a three-day paranormal pop-culture-styled conference in April, sponsored by North Eastern Paranormal Investigations, featuring paranormal TV and radio celebrities, authors and others.
“Exploring the Extraordinary started as an email list back in 2007 after myself, and my colleagues Dr Madeleine Castro and Dr Nicola Holt, had wondered how we might be able to provide a forum for people researching similar areas to us,” Hannah Gilbert said. “At the time, we were all PhD students working in the Sociology Department at the University of York, (U.K.); although Nicola's PhD is in Parapsychology from the University of Northampton. We came from different academic backgrounds, (namely, psychology, sociology and anthropology), and had eclectic and wide ranging interests.”
Gilbert said many of the presenters represent parapsychology, sociology and other university-based programs; such as, Christopher Laursen of the University of British Columbia, Canada, who opens the conference with “Of Thy Neighbour: Investigating who and what's next door in cases of hauntings.” During the afternoon session on Friday, Fiona Bowie of King's College, London, will discuss the “mechanics of spirit communication.”
“Quite a few papers are concerned with spirit communication, and the history of extraordinary research and theory,” Gilbert said. “There are also a few papers in which presenters will be discussing their own experiences. We've got a wonderful keynote from Dr Julie Beischel, of the Windbridge Institute, who has been researching mediums for over 10 years, and will be sharing her wealth of knowledge and experience with us.”
Attendees and speakers at the conference are based primarily on the East Coast, though several from England and other countries will be represented, she said. Previous conferences were held in England. This is the first time the event has been held in the United States.
“Our mission is to provide a supportive, interdisciplinary environment for people to talk about their ideas, that specifically focuses on the extraordinary, therefore giving room for a variety of topics that compliment each other in regards to experiences and beliefs that transcend the everyday,” Gilbert said. “We're keen to support students, as well as providing a forum for more established academics, and increasingly we include presentations from experients or those who are not associated with an academic institution who nevertheless make valuable contributions, and help to give the conferences a more holistic feel.”
When asked whether there is a need for standards for paranormal research methodology, Gilbert said it was a “tricky question.” In England, she said, a group called ASSAP has recently implemented a certification process in order to promote suitable paranormal research. A debate has been raging over that very topic. To some, standardization would establish some basics regarding ethical issues involved in paranormal investigations and research. Others argue that no one is an expert in the field; consequently, no individual or organization is qualified to create and set standards.
“I really don't know what my perspective would be, as I both appreciate arguments on both sides,” Gilbert said. “This conference is generally more aimed at studies of the paranormal from an academic perspective, or reflections on personal experience, and not so much about how to conduct paranormal research per se – which is just how the submissions have fallen.... That's not to say these issues are not important, just that I come from a social scientific background with a training in asking different questions. This is why we benefit from sharing our ideas and expertise.”
For more about the conference and its founders, visit https://www.facebook.com/pages/Exploring-the-Extraordinary/316204538482740