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Christopher Bader was one of those kids who loved tales of the improbable. He grew up to become his own improbable tale:
He's a sociology professor at the conservative and Baptist Baylor University, a Presbyterian who has a particular interest in people who say they are UFO abductees or victims of religion-linked ritual abuse. His study of the two groups was published in a recent issue of the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion.
His paper, published in the peer-reviewed journal, is the fruit of years of tentative contacts with support groups for people who say they've been snatched by aliens or ritually abused. Members of these groups are suspicious of outsiders. Much of his paper details how he gained their trust – and eventually, some information about them.
Eventually, he was able to get 55 of the UFO folks and 51 ritual-abuse survivors to anonymously fill out forms about their ages, education and other demographic information.
That information fills a hole in the study of these groups, he said. Most academic attention has focused on the beliefs or on psychological effects on the believers. Bader's goal was to identify the kinds of people who subscribe to these beliefs.
What he came up with has its limits, he admits. The sample size is small, and there's no way to know for sure if they represent the average UFO abductee or ritual-abuse survivor. But the results are in line with research done on other small, new religious movements, he said.
Many academics who study such movements tend to consider members of these particular groups as rubes, he said. "They assume that these are some country bumpkins who believe that the UFOs are plucking them off their tractors. That's not what people who are interested in new ideas are like."
It turns out that the folk who filled out Bader's forms are a lot like most Americans who seek out unusual faith experiences: They're generally female, white, affluent and well-educated when compared with the general population.
Of the 51 UFO abductees, 32 were women, 48 said they were white and six identified as Native American (three chose both categories), 34 attended some college, and 29 were white-collar workers. Most said they found some positive aspects to their experience.
Of the 48 ritual-abuse survivors, all were white women, 44 had attended college, and of the 21 then employed, 18 were white-collar workers. This was an unhappy population, and most reported they had dozens of multiple personalities.
What they have in common, Bader said, is that they mostly follow the pattern found in other new religious movements.
"The theory tells us that it doesn't matter about the personality of the 'god' involved," he said. "The point is that a certain demographic is interested in things outside the mainstream."