Over the last two decades there has been a marked rise in alternative belief systems. Guy Michelat analyses this phenomenon, drawing on studies that he has made in collaboration with Daniel Boy, and he offers several observations.
According to his findings, women are more likely to be believers than men; the younger the age-group, the greater the belief in the paranormal; and, by contrast with astrology, belief in the paranormal is not uncommon among those who have gone on to higher education.
Furthermore, while 81% of French people think that scientific advances lead to progress, 51% of them agree with the idea that science will never be able to explain everything. For many people, the "parasciences" will in the future be accepted as science. There is a desire, on the one hand, to legitimize the supernatural through science and, on the other, to cultivate the charm and mystery of alternative beliefs.
In addition, although belief in the paranormal has increased as Roman Catholicism has declined, the new beliefs are not opposed to religious beliefs, and are even more often found among those who believe in God and an afterlife.
Finally, in hoping for rational explanations, people resort to parascientific beliefs -in an odd twist of modernity and the spread of the ideology of progress. This magical knowledge, far removed from scientific rigour, soothes their fears about death and provides psychological and emotional support. People are most likely to resort to the paranormal where there is anomie, with the concomitant vulnerability, poor social and work relationships, fear of the future and loneliness.
Guy Michelat concludes by saying that, just when "off the peg" collective belief systems are declining and traditional points of reference are disappearing, people are acquiring greater freedom (and with it, greater anxiety), so that they seek personal solutions as a substitute for the major belief systems of the past.