Elsewhere it was developed how, in a 17- nation study, Americans are most likely to report having experienced idionecrophany, or contact with the dead. In the Spring of 1997, I asked my death and dying class to explore with me the social distribution of such experiences in American society and some of the possible consequences of having had them.
In its 1984, 1988, 1989, and 1991 General
Social Surveys, NORC included the question "How often have you
felt as though you were really in touch with someone who had died?"
(variable SPIRITS). Below is the breakdown of responses:
|RESPONSE||FREQUENCY||% OF TOTAL|
|1 OR 2 TIMES||1201||22.8%|
It is worth reflecting on the cultural climate engendering such experiences. Over the past two decades there has been a growing "New Age" movement that has redirected Americans' attentions toward spiritual matters. By the late 1980s, Americans were spending hundreds of dollars per hour to psychics "channeling" advice from alleged spiritual entities. In 1987, the spiritual experiences of actress Shirley MacLaine were dramatized in a two-part prime-time television broadcast on a major network. The nation's top paperback publisher, Bantam Books, increased its number of New Age-type books ten-fold between the late seventies and late eighties, which was its fastest growing line of non-fiction books (Levine, 1). A Gallup survey of the American public indicated that one in four believed in reincarnation, and a 1984 NORC survey revealed two-thirds of Americans claiming to have had some psychic experience.
Let's first examine the relationship between SPIRITS and having had other paranormal experiences. Americans were asked how often they:
|PHENOMENON||EXPERIENCED?||% HAVING AT LEAST ONE
As is evident, having a paranormal experience significantly increases the likelihood of believing that once has felt in touch with the dead. For instance, those having had an ESP experience are nearly four times as likely to have had an idionecrophanic experience than those not having had an ESP experience.
So what factors increase the likelihood of feeling in contact with
the dead? Using the 1989 GSS, MacDonald (1994)
employed a logistic regression model to predict the odds of having such an experience.
He found, in part, that "paranormal experiences arise out of the uncertainty
of life and the human condition and appear most frequently among those
subject to the most change and stress. Women, blacks ... report higher
instances of deja vu, telepathy, clairvoyance, and communication with the
dead" (p. 35). With our greater case base of survey years, let's examine
how race, sex and recency of widowhood affects the likelihood of having
5+ YRS EARLIER
Also shaping Americans' sense of connection with the dead are the influences of religion and education. Catholics are somewhat more likely to have had at least one such experience (44%) than fundamentalist Protestants (40%), moderate Protestants (38%), liberal Protestants (36%), and those with no religious affiliation (32%). The level of religiosity of those of these religious faiths has little effect in determining the experience. Individuals believing in an afterlife are about one-third more likely to have sensed the presence of the dead than those not believing (43% vs. 32%). Education's effect is slight, with those not graduating from high school being somewhat more likely to have had the experience (44%) than those with four or more years of college (36%). Click here to see the relationship between religious faith and education upon having felt contact with the dead.
Fox (1992) claims that there is a positive relationship between paranormal experiences and psychological well-being. This we did not find, at least in terms of the relationship between SPIRITS and whether or not individuals report being very happy. In total, 34% of those never having had a SPIRIT experience reported being very happy compared to 32% of those having had at the experience at least once. This pattern held for white and black males and white females, and only among black females did having this experience increase the likelihood of being happier (with 23% of those having sensed connection with the dead being "very happy" versus 17% of those not having the experience). Of those widowed within the prior four years, 19% of those having sensed connection with the dead reported being very happy compared to 28% of those not having the paranormal experience.
Fox, John W. 1992. "The Structure, Stability,
and Social Antecedents of Reported Paranormal Experiences." Sociological
Analysis 53(4):417- 31.
Levine, Art. 1987. "Mystics on Main Street." U.S. News & World Report (Feb. 9):67-69.
MacDonald, William L. 1994. "The Popularity of Paranormal Experiences in the United States." Journal of American Culture 17(3):35- 42.
MacDonald, William L. 1992. "Idionecrophanies: The Social Construction of Perceived Contact with the Dead." Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 31(2):215-223.