Biographical Processes of Transformation in the Context of Exceptional Experiences

The focus of this empirical study is subjects who claim to have had exceptional experiences. Exceptional experiences in the context of this study were deemed to be of an extrasensory nature, including, but not limited to: telepathy, precognition, ghosts and spirit activity, contact with the dead and near-death experiences. Such "exceptional experiences" have been researched for a long time within the framework of parapsychology science and research. It is claimed that these experiences often have the capacity to be life changing. Additionally it is claimed that individuals are left with a changed perception of time, space, reality and human existence. Although various theories start from the basic premise that this kind of experiences have the potential to initiate transformation within the individual, questions remain as to the definition, course and parameters of the transformation process. In this study the central question is how people who have had such experiences integrate these experiences into their personal biography and self image and how they express any subsequent transformation. Biographical and narrative interviews were conducted with the subjects and analysed in a qualitative fashion. The analytic method chosen was a method designed to reconstruct narrative identity (Lucius-Hoene & Depperman 2002). This method has particular value as it not only allows reconstruction of subjective explanatory patterns but also to demonstrate how people create and express their identities and what meaning the extrasensory experience has in this framework.

The data analysis and presentation of results focus on seven central aspects: (1) Interviews highlighted how the subjects recount their life stories and how these stories are structured, which exceptional experiences are included and how these experiences are integrated with the personal biography both thematically and structurally. (2)
Research indicated if subjects mentioned changes in the context of the extrasensory experiences and if so what these changes were. (3) Initial results indicated that the importance subjects gave these changes should be recorded. (4) A forth aspect focused on the length of time these changes took to resolve themselves, i.e. the process of transformation. (5) Scientific and popular literature indicates that exceptional experiences can lead to personal shock or crisis. Therefore the biographical narrations of the subjects were analysed for crisis events and how the subject expressed any crisis in the context of the experience. (6) During analysis of the interview texts it was noted that some subjects expressed very strongly that they were "special", whilst others expressed equally forcefully that they were "normal".
Therefore patterns of normalisation and development of any realisation of being "special" were highlighted in the interview text and how these changes were expressed was recorded. (7) The seventh aspect is investigating the verbal construction and expression agency. The empirical element of the study contains the description of the various forms of expression indicating these seven aspects.

Doctoral candidate: Dipl. Psych. Christina Schäfer

Supervisors at the IGPP:
PD Dr. Michael Schetsche
Dr. Gerhard Mayer


Schäfer, C. & Mayer, G. (2011). Grenzerfahrung, Krise, Identität: Biografische Integration außergewöhnlicher Erfahrungen. Zeitschrift für Anomalistik, 11(1+2+3), 78-112. [Border Experiences, Crisis, Identity: Biographical Integration of Extraordinary Experiences]

Schäfer, Christina Sandra (2007) Außergewöhnliche Erfahrungen: Konstruktion von Identität und Veränderung in autobiographischen Erzählungen. [Exceptional experiences: the construction of identity and transformation in autobiographic narrations]. Online-Publication.

© 2007 IGPP  (imprint)
last revision: 22 june 12