Supernatural: Death, Meaning, and the Power of the Invisible World Hardcover – July 2, 2018 by Clay Routledge



Humans are existential animals. We are all fully aware of our fragility, transience, and potential cosmic insignificance. Our ability to ponder the big questions about death and meaning and the anxiety that these questions can provoke have motivated us to be a species not only concerned about survival, but also about our significance.

The quest for transcendent meaning is one reason why humans embrace the supernatural. Children naturally see the world as magical, yet when humans reach full cognitive development they are still drawn to supernatural beliefs and ideas that defy the laws of physics. Even those who consider themselves secular or atheists are seduced by supernatural belief systems. Clay Routledge, an experimental psychologist, asserts that belief or trust in forces beyond our understanding is rooted in our fear of death and need for meaning. In Supernatural: Death, Meaning, and the Power of the Invisible World, he reveals just how universal supernatural thinking is, and how this kind of thinking is adaptive and even healthy.

Routledge takes readers through a wide range of fascinating research from psychology that paints a picture of humans as innate supernatural thinkers. Exploring research from the emerging field of experimental existential psychology, he makes the case that all humans have the same underlying existential needs, with similar coping strategies across times, cultures, and degrees of religiousness. Surprisingly, cultural institutions such as sports, environmentalism, secular humanism, and science also showcase supernatural attributes and qualities. Indeed, studies show that supernatural thinking assuages stress and anxiety and improves mood and psychological well-being. But there is a potential dark side to this line of thinking: it can lead to personal and social problems, and some individuals can take it a step too far. However, Routledge argues that this dark side of supernatural thinking is the exception, not the rule. Further, supernatural thinking is ever-present, and should unite us instead of dividing us.

Editorial Reviews

“Supernatural is a book of apparent contradictions, insightfully reconciled. In this clear and compelling book, Clay Routledge shows us how science can help us to understand religion, how supernatural beliefs come naturally to us, and how our lives are shaped by our deaths.”

— Jonathan Jong, Ph.D., Research Fellow and Deputy Director of the Brain, Belief, and Behavior Group, Centre for Advances in Behavioural Sciences, Coventry University

“This book makes a compelling case that supernatural interests and beliefs are a natural and, for the most part, healthy part of human life, and that even those who do not consider themselves believers are often drawn to the supernatural in their efforts to find meaning in life.”

— Harold G. Koenig, M.D., Director, Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health, Duke University

About the Author

Clay Routledge is a professor and psychological scientist at North Dakota State University who studies human motivation. Much of his work focuses on how people grapple with existential questions and fear about death and meaning. He regularly publishes his work in academic journals and writes for the public on a range of topics related to psychology, academia, and broader social issues.
Product details
Hardcover: 240 pages
Publisher: Oxford University Press (July 2, 2018)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0190629428
ISBN-13: 978-0190629427
Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 0.9 x 6.4 inches
Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars


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