October 30, 2013

18% of Americans say they’ve seen a ghost

On Thursday evening, many American children will encounter costumed ghosts as they roam the streets in search of candy and other treats on Halloween. Before bedtime, to avoid nightmares, some parents may try to reassure their kids that ghosts are not real.

PF_13.10.31_Supernatural_310px (1)But not all of those parents may buy their own reassurances:  Nearly one-in-five U.S. adults (18%) say they’ve seen or been in the presence of a ghost, according to a 2009 Pew Research Center survey. An even greater share – 29% – say they have felt in touch with someone who has already died.

Claude Fischer, a professor of sociology at the University of California, Berkeley, explored Americans’ persisting beliefs in some supernatural phenomena in a recent blog post.

“As we approach Halloween, note that most American adults in the 21st Century say that they believe in life after death and in the devil,” Fischer wrote, citing data from Gallup and other sources. “Over one-third say that they believe in the spirits of the dead coming back; about that many also say they believe in haunted houses.”

Despite the influence of modern secularism and science, he observed, “the magic has not totally gone.”

Does going to church help keep ghosts away? It’s impossible to say, but people who often go to worship services appear to be less likely to say they see ghosts. Just 11% of those who attend religious services at least weekly say they’ve been in the presence of a ghost, while 23% of those who attend services less frequently say they have seen a ghost, the Pew Research survey found.

Topics: Religion and Society

  1. is Assistant Editor at the Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project.

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18 Comments

  1. Lynne9 months ago

    I am grateful for being brought up a skeptic. My child mind, infused with doubt of God, after life, ghosts and all things paranormal by atheistic, skeptical parents spared me as I grew up, as a psychic child, in a haunted house. I could have been terrified by the phenomena surrounding me but instead I learned to doubt what I was seeing, hearing and experiencing which allowed to me remain calm. However, by age 17 I had my third experience in witnessing a ghost and a domino effect happened. I then realized all my experiences were as they seemed and not some complex, complicated trick of the mind. The first ghost, which I heard and saw in my childhood home (as did my sister I discovered years later) I tagged an my having an active imagination. The second, which was 2,000 miles from my home and witnessed with 6 other people including a professor from my college, I pondered. The third, which I watch for about 20 minutes and was almost a solid light form, I embraced. I now study and work with ghosts and have captured photos and audio of their presences. I now have a deep understanding of who they are and what they want. I am grateful for my skeptic upbringing as it afforded me the opportunity to experience ghostly activity without fear. Denial allowed me that. Now I fully recognize there is nothing to fear.

    Reply
  2. Renée Luna9 months ago

    Here’s one for you: I do not believe in spirits, souls, or life after death. BUT, I lived in a quadruplex in Okinawa in the early ’00′s where not only myself, my kids, and my mother experienced phenomenon (she was visiting from another country and hadn’t been told anything any paranormal goings-on), but the rest of the residents of building did as well. Even my husband, who is not just atheist like myself but skeptic to his core, experienced things which puzzled and spooked him at the time. Naturally he now dismisses it all as common auditory and visual hallucinations. But, every single one of us, from adults to children, at both separate times and occasionally together over the course of 2 years, experienced what one might call a haunting by a child “ghost” or “ghosts.” Words spoken, questions asked, blood curdling screams, items moved or toppled over…

    It was the spookiest thing I’ve ever experienced. Never before or after have I or any of the other people involved experienced anything like it. So, while I don’t believe in “ghosts,” I can deny that there is a something “other” that we can’t (always) see, can’t (always) hear, that we don’t at all understand…but is there nevertheless.

    Reply
    1. Renée Luna9 months ago

      I “can’t” deny. Freudian slip?

      Reply
  3. Jay9 months ago

    Ghosts are real. I admit, I’ve seen one. My sister saw the same one I did, only on different nights. For the skeptics, you better think again.

    Reply
  4. R A V RAGHAVAN9 months ago

    What a surprise. I thought only Asians (particularly Soth Indians) believed in existance of Ghosts.Just recalled my father mentioning having seen something of an apparition during a dark rainy night which startled him

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  5. winnie h-g9 months ago

    We humans come to living with many different perceptive capacities; we tend to trivialize that which we don’t understand nor fits in our worldview. My life experiences have taught me that nobody yet has the full story of the how, why and what of precognition, perception, life after death and the process of passing away. I have had a near death experience and whatever the explanation is on this side, I can only say it had a lifetime impact on me. I won’t challenge what others experience and the knowledge they generate for themselves and the rest of us from those experiences. In fact, I am grateful for those who have the courage to share experiences and in that process stand up to the derision inherent in some of the posted comments. whg

    Reply
  6. Joseph9 months ago

    Steve • 1 hour ago

    Am I the only one here who is alarmed by the fact that not only are so many Americans clearly delusional, but also freely willing to admit it?

    Until a few years ago I would have agreed with your philosophy but not any more, by the way I am an agnostic, non drinker and all my working life has been in the scientific arena.
    On holiday in Italy we checked into a small hotel on the banks of Lake Como and were allocated a room but after two days we were moved to the room next door as they did not want an elderly lady who made repeated visits to the hotel to be accommodated in the room into which we had been moved. Nothing particularly sinister in that or so you may think. However, shortly after switching off the light and about to close my eyes a sepia coloured apparition came through a closed door moved across the room and out through the closed and shuttered glass doors to the balcony. The details of this female figure remains indelibly etched into my subonscious I can describe the dress but not the face as she wore a bonnet which shielded her face. As result of this I went out into the passage and onto the balcony but there was no tangible evidence. As indicated above this dramatically changed my opinion on ghosts. As I speak no Italian this wasn’t mentioned to the management.

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  7. Peter David Shapiro9 months ago

    My novel, GHOSTS ON THE RED LINE, explores how people react, and how the city reacts, when commuters encounter their Departed on Boston’s Red Line subway trains. When word gets out about the visitations, the MBTA (which runs Boston’s transit system) is forced to respond, and soon others become involved including the Archbishop of Boston, Massachusetts politicians, a notorious gangster, and MIT. Something to think about when you board a subway train.

    Reply
  8. James Singer9 months ago

    Man, I like ghosts. But more especially, I like people who believe in them… and angels… and zombies… and unicorns… and, wowser, UFOs.

    Reply
  9. Wilson9 months ago

    I don’t believe in heaven and I don’t believe in hell. I have not seen either of them and have never met anyone who has either – but I have seen ghosts and I know plenty of other people who have seen them too

    Reply
  10. Don9 months ago

    It’s no wonder this country is NUTS!!!!!!!!

    Reply
  11. Steve9 months ago

    Am I the only one here who is alarmed by the fact that not only are so many Americans clearly delusional, but also freely willing to admit it?

    Reply
  12. Mike Andrews9 months ago

    Ask the question, “Where are these ghosts coming back from?”
    Holy Scripture tells us that Heaven is so outrageously wonderful
    (I Corinthians 2:9) that no one will ever want to leave and Satan hates us so awfully much (1 Peter 5:8)that he will never let anyone out of hell. While we will live on in one place or the other, there are no ghosts wandering around this world.

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    1. Steve9 months ago

      So you are willing to believe in supernatural nonsense as long as it’s in the Bible? That makes perfect sense.

      Reply
    2. Steve Ross9 months ago

      So Mike,

      How about demons? Are they of this realm? Or are they spiritial?
      They are in the bible.
      So are spirits.

      Reply
  13. bobby clay9 months ago

    There is nothing in the dark that was not there before when the lights were on!!!!!!!!!!!1 Ghost.. shmost….the only supernatural spirit beings are those created in the mind through an overly active imagination.

    Reply
  14. Jenny9 months ago

    I don’t believe in ghosts or superntural beings, but I don’t Not believe in them either.

    Reply
    1. Andy Nguyen9 months ago

      I’m also somewhat agnostic about the existence of certain topics like ghosts, an afterlife, and an impersonal “god.”

      Reply