Recommended Reading on the Lingering Debate

Ghostology 101aA 2013 Harris poll shows some interesting things about Americans’ views of the reality of ghosts. While faith in God, miracles, and Heaven seems to be declining since 2005 — and acceptance of Darwinian evolution is rising — believing that ghosts really exist remains about the same. Technically, the belief in ghosts rose very slightly. I wonder if it’s due to all those greenish-glowing paranormal investigation shows on cable TV.

Meanwhile, there’s another poll showing that belief in ghosts has risen more noticeably in Britain between 2005 and 2013. (The British poll was conducted by the Association for the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena, whose website reveals it has a bias in the matter. The findings seem conveniently suited to keep the association’s supporters believing in its continued existence.)

What I find especially interesting is how close to evenly split the results in both polls tend to be. In the U.S., the Harris poll found 42% believers to 37% unbelievers (and 21% unsure). In the U.K., the ASSAP poll found 52% of respondents saying ghosts are real. There is no overwhelming majority on either side of the issue.

From “Is a Ghost a Mere Emanation from a Physical  Object” (Current Literature, Sep., 1912), the caption describes Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson as “A FAMOUS INVESTIGATOR OF GHOSTLY THINGS.”

Of course, debate about the reality of ghosts has a long, long history. I’m particularly intrigued by how the question was argued in the decades prior to and during Vera Van Slyke’s investigations into ghostly phenomena. Works from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries help me imagine how she might have been received by believers and skeptics.

With this in mind, I started a research bibliography with links to and short descriptions of a variety of non-fiction sources available online. It starts at 1800 and ends around 1920. I’m hoping it can be useful to other students of this century-plus of lively debate regarding ghosts. I’ve titled the bibliography Ghostology 101: Recommended Reading.

This is an on-going project. I warmly encourage others to let me know about additional sources that fit the historical span, the non-fiction status, and the focus on ghosts!


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