Decolonizing Parapsychology | Jacob Glazier

Introduction: How does parapsychology continue to perpetuate colonial ideologies? Certainly, with the limited number of researchers in the field coupled with the underfunded institutional support for the discipline, this question may strike many as not pertinent or even unrelated to the study of psi. On the contrary, if parapsychology wants to forge new connections with other-than-Eurocentric worldviews, while perhaps even increasing the mainstream acceptance it has long sought after, this issue, now more than any ever, should arguably be the leading problematic in the field, after only, perhaps, investigating psi itself. 

A recent trend in psychology has been the call to decolonize the discipline, perhaps most typified in the recent conference held by Columbia University (Teachers College, 2021). The speakers offered tips for understanding the ways that, for example, in clinical supervision, supervisors may unwittingly be passing their values onto their supervisees by, put very curiously, not holding space for dissenting voices or alternative approaches. Even research practices in psychology that parallel to an extent those of parapsychology were held up to critical questioning: the fact that white supremacy is perpetuated by adhering to outdated protocols that were deemed the most scientific in the past while, at the same time, quashing dissenting, non-Eurocentric, or indigenous methods at investigating the world. The presenters were clear: the process of decolonization is a long one, and psychology (and we could assume, here, parapsychology by extension) has a lot of work to do.

Decolonization is not just a political or social issue, as it may appear at first blush. Rather, critically examining the ideologies that are assumed as categorical and allowed to propagate goes for the heart of what it means to do good science. In terms of gender equity, Zingrone and Alvarado (2019) offer a brief overview but solid foundation upon which to build a more probing critique. As scientists, we must ask ourselves: if psi is that anomalous ‘what’ that seems to defy normal explanatory models, shows weak significance, or eludes attempts at replication, does that mean that psi doesn’t exist? Or perhaps the research methods that were co-opted from the colonizing heritage of the natural sciences that parapsychologists have been using have been the wrong ones all along.

The call to ‘decolonize parapsychology’ inaugurates the couple first steps toward a much longer journey. If we are to take seriously the fact that forms of racism, colonialism, sexism and other prejudices are alive and well in our disciplinary practices and circles, then it is incumbent upon us as ethical scholars to do the work to see the way our research adheres to, circulates, or, in the best case, rejects these kinds of ideologies.

The Parapsychological Association is an international professional organization of scientists and scholars engaged in the study of psi (or ‘psychic’) experiences, such as telepathy, clairvoyance, psychokinesis, psychic healing, and precognition. The primary objective of the PA is to achieve a scientific understanding of these experiences.

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Published on May 20, 2022