The survey above was created by Hannah Austin and Christina Gordon to gather information about belief in ghosts among students on W&L’s campus. It was sent out to the fraternity and sorority houses on campus and to the members of the Washington and Lee University Singers via email, and was completed online. The survey consists of the following ten questions.
- What is your gender?
- What is your class year?
- What is your major/field of study?
- If you are doing a double major, what is your second major?
- What is your religious affiliation?
- Do you believe there is enough evidence to support the existence of ghosts, demons, or angels?
- Do you think it’s possible that ghosts, demons, or angels exist?
- Have you ever been in a situation or had an experience which you could not explain?
- Has a friend or family member ever attributed an unexplainable event to ghosts, demons, or angels?
- Do you believe in ghosts?
- And, a fill in the blank question attached to the one above, “Please define ‘ghost’ in your own words.”
The survey had a total of 77 responses. The breakdown for each question is as follows.
69.74% of people who took the survey were female, and 30.26% were male.
Most people who took the survey were from the class of 2019, with 35.53%. In descending order, the rest of the classes are as follows: 2017 with 25%, 2016 with 22.37%, and 2018 with 17.11%.
The following majors were selected from the list by people who took the survey: Accounting (5.33%), Anthropology (1.33%), Art and Art History (2.67%), Biochemistry (5.33%), Biology (8%), Business Administration (20%), Chemistry (2.67%), Computer Science (1.33%), Economics (5.33%), Education (1.33%), Engineering (2.67%), English (2.67%), Geology (4%), History (4%), Journalism and Mass Communications (6.67%), Mass Communications (2.67%), Mathematics (2.67%), Music (5.33%), Neuroscience (4%), Psychology (9.33%), and Spanish (2.67%).
The following second majors were selected from the list: Art and Art History (2.94%), Biology (1.47%), Business Administration (1.47%), Classics (1.47%), Economics (2.94%), Engineering (1.47%), English (4.41%), Environmental Studies (1.47%), French (1.47%), Geology (1.47%), History (2.94), Journalism and Mass Communications (4.41%), Mathematics (1.47%), Music (1.47%), Philosophy (1.47%), Psychology (1.47%), Sociology (1.47%), Spanish (4.41%), and Studio Arts (1.47%). 58.82% of people who took this survey answered N/A to this question.
In terms of religious belief, the breakdown was as follows: 21.05% of people who took the survey identify as Catholic, with 47.37% identifying as Protestant. 7.89% identify as Jewish. 14.47% of people answered None, and 9.21% answered Other. Of these, however, 0.57% of people who answered Other filled in a form of Christian belief.
The next two questions were answered on a scale of “Strong Agreement” to “Strong Disagreement.” Overall, people answered that there was both more evidence for the existence of angels and demons than of ghosts, and more people believed in the possible existence of demons and angels than ghosts, accordingly. For the specific breakdown, please consult the following two tables.
The overwhelming response to question eight was No, with 55.26% of the answers. 19.74% of people who answered the survey said Yes, but I would NOT attribute the phenomenon to ghosts, angels, or demons. This leaves 25% of the answers voting in the positive to the question, and in filling in the requested explanation of the experience, turned up some interesting answers. Some of the more interesting ones are noted here:
“I’ve seen people healed instantly of broken bones, cancer, and spinal misalignments. These all happened in front of me. I’ve also felt a demonic presence in my room before, or at least what I thought was one.”
“After my friends’ father passed away, there were multiple times that after I was having a tough day I would feel this unexplainable warm feeling come over me. The only thing I could attribute it to is his spirit/ angel in me.”
“When I was younger, I used to have brief, unexpected flashes of scenery completely different from where I was at the time–never for long, only for the briefest half a second, just long enough to absorb roughly what was seen and for the vision itself to disorient me. I used to remember them vividly, and a number of years later (maybe 5 or 6; I’m not really sure), I began to run across the scenes themselves in my real life. There are two I can remember distinctly now, so many years later: one I found when I was on a cruise ship in middle school, coming down some very ornate red-carpeted stairs; the other was my freshman high school English class. That vision was the last one I found, and with that, all the visions I’d had when I was younger were completed.”
Of the three responses given above, all three stories were taken from female respondents – a trend which will be explained in the final analysis of the survey. The first respondent strongly disagreed with the possibility of the existence of ghosts, while the second two agreed that it might be possible. These three stories are all very different phenomena that have been attributed to supernatural causes, and while they may not seem ghostly, especially not in the case of the first, whose respondent does not attribute it to ghosts, they are still experiences which surpass the understanding of the witness, which makes them applicable to supernatural phenomena.
Question nine was a simple yes/no question, and 45.45% of respondents answered in the positive while 54.55% answered in the negative. Respondents were also asked to briefly explain the experience if they answered yes, and here are some of the stories:
“My family is Christian and believes in the concept of spiritual warfare. They believe that angels, demons, and the devil influence everyday actions and choices.”
“The lights in my home will flicker on and off only while preparing food for major holidays or events. My mother attributes this to her grandmother who has passed away.”
“They were on the highway and about to go over a bridge across the river and he saw an angel that told him to not go this way. So he turned around and little later part of the bridge collapsed.”
Again, these strange appearances/stories all hold their root in supernatural belief, and while only one is specifically attributed to a ghost, these three are just a sampling of the responses.
The final question had four options for participants to select from. The breakdown for these answers are as follows: Yes (20.78%), No, (20.78%), No, but I believe in angels and demons (16.88%), and I’m skeptical or would need to see a ghost to believe it (41.56%). Attached to this question, participants were given the opportunity to define “ghost” in their own words. Of the 35 comments, nearly all gave a response including the word “spirit” or “soul” in relation to a deceased person. Only half of the responses insinuated that this spirit or soul had returned for some purpose: in the words of one respondent, for “unfinished business.” Only one respondent included the possibility of animals as ghosts in their definition.
The final analysis concludes that there is no correlation between major/field of study and ghost belief. However, there does seem to be a correlation between gender and ghost belief. Females answered Yes (22.64%) or I’m skeptical… (43.40%) more than answering No (16.98%) or No, but I believe in angels and demons (16.98%), and on the whole they answered in the positive more often than males did. For males, the breakdown was as follows: Yes (17.39%), I’m skeptical… (34.78%), No (30.43%), and No, but I believe in angels and demons (17.39%).
There is also a correlation between religious belief and belief in ghosts. Between the Christian religions, reported belief in ghosts was stronger for Catholics, but overall positive or questioning for both the Christian religions, with most respondents answering Yes or I’m skeptical or would need to see a ghost to believe it. These two answers combined for Catholic participants constituted 75%, while they constituted 55.55% for Protestants. Between the two Christian religious affiliations, Protestants were overwhelmingly more likely to answer that they believed in angels and demons, but not ghosts (30.56%) than Catholics (12.50%). Those who selected Jewish as their identification were more likely to answer No (33.33%) or I’m Skeptical… (50%) than Yes (16.67%). 45.45% of people with no religious affiliation answered that they do not believe in ghosts, while 36.36% answered that they were skeptical. And those who selected Other for their religious affiliation were tied for Yes and No, with 28.57% each, and 42.86% saying they were skeptical.