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Many Americans say they believe in ghosts. Do you?

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There are a number of different ways to quantify belief among Americans in so-called paranormal phenomena. One way is to ask a selection of people who are representative of the population if they believe in ghosts. In a IPSOS survey 2019, 46 percent of respondents said they did.

Another is to ask them what they fear. This year, according to the Chapman University survey of American fears, about 9% of 1,035 adults surveyed said they were afraid of ghosts, and the same number said they were afraid of zombies; many more people said they were afraid of government corruption, the coronavirus or widespread civil unrest.

The last time Gallup interrogates people on ghosts, in 2005, 32 percent of respondents said they believed in ghosts or that the spirits of deceased people can return in certain places and situations. When Gallup asked the same question in 1990, the result was 25%.

Such beliefs have permeated American culture and media for centuries. But some researchers are now studying whether their rise may be linked, in part, to the increase in recent decades of Americans claiming no religious preferences.

People look to other things or non-traditional things to answer big questions in life that don’t necessarily include religion, said Thomas Mowen, a sociologist at Bowling Green State University.

For an ongoing study on religion and paranormal beliefs, for example, Mr Mowen said he finds that atheists tend to report a higher belief in the paranormal than religious people.

Last year, the share of Americans who belong to religious congregations fell below 50 percent for the first time in more than 80 years, according to a Gallup poll released in March. And the percentage of people reporting no religion nearly tripled from 1978 to 2018, according to the General Social Survey.

Yet even though religious frameworks for reflecting on the meaning of life and death have become less popular in the United States, the great existential questions inevitably remain.

The General Social Survey found that, while religious affiliation declined over four decades, belief in the hereafter remained relatively stable: in 1978, around 70% of those surveyed believed in the hereafter, and about 74% said the same in 2018.

As Joseph Baker, co-author of American Secularism: Cultural Contours of Nonreligious Belief Systems, says: People are outside organized religions, but they still have this supernatural interest.

Paranormal television, movies, and media of all kinds also play an important role in perpetuating belief in the supernatural. Sharon Hill, author of the 2017 book Scientifical Americans: The Culture of Amateur Paranormal Researchers, sees the rise of non-fiction paranormal TV shows like Syfys Ghost Hunters, which averaged around three million viewers per episode at its peak. , as particularly influential in culture.

Ghost Hunters, which premiered in 2004 and originally spanned 11 seasons, portrays the pursuit of paranormal activity as a discipline. They had gadgets, they spoke in jargon, it sounded professional, Ms Hill said. It was convincing to the person at home that this was a serious thing going on in the world.

And then, Ms Hill said, because of the growing interest in the paranormal, it was really, really easy for these tabloids to pick up cheap stories of people saying they had demons in their homes or that they had seen a ghost or had something scary on their video camera.

The internet has made it possible for people around the world to connect with each other over paranormal interests, Ms. Hill added. Reddit has become a popular forum for discussing inexplicable mysteries, such as a strange experience in a rest area Where Demonic run-in claims in a hospital unit. The site added a new element to these stories by making them interactive, with readers going back and forth in the comments, joining in and adding to the narrative themselves.

Some paranormal investigative groups in the United States say they received more requests than usual during the pandemic.

Don Collins, director of Fringe Paranormal, a group in Toledo, Ohio that is investigating allegations of unexplained events, said his team had been contacted for residential inquiries or information on a weekly basis this year, as opposed to one or two typical requests. per month they received before the pandemic.

I think part of that is because, since a lot of people are at home because of Covid, if something paranormal is going on, they’re actually at home noticing it, Mr Collins said. .

People try to explain things that are happening through paranormal means when they can’t find an explanation for the things that are going on, he continued. Negative things are happening around them, they may tend to attribute them to paranormal activity.

Mr. Baker, the co-author of American Secularism, put it another way. Religion and supernatural beliefs tend to increase in times of what we would call an existential crisis or more existential peril, he said.

The increase in suffering and death caused by the pandemic means people are more likely to have death experiences recently, he said. It can make these kinds of issues question the minds of loved ones.

Believing in the supernatural can even be a source of comfort. Emily midorikawa, a female biographer of the Victorian era, provided a historical parallel. There was certainly a real spike in people seeking the services of psychics, seeking solace in spiritualism during the Civil War era, she said.

Then as now, the paranormal was fodder for connection. Sances in Victorian times were gathering places where social structures were less rigid, Ms. Midorikawa said.

It was not uncommon, for example, to have a female medium leading a dance, speaking to groups of men and women, she said. There was an appeal to women who just went to parties as participants, maybe it was a chance to go out and mingle with people in this somewhat unusual setting and where maybe there was a bit more freedom.

Today, believing in some form of the paranormal may represent freedom in another way, perhaps as a way to conceptualize other possibilities. After all, there are many everyday mysteries that we just come to terms with in modern life.

A belief in the paranormal might not seem so exaggerated, Ms Midorikawa said, when we think about all the things they interacted with all the time, it might as well be some kind of magic for all the understanding we have of it. have.

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