Over half of Americans believe they've interacted with a deceased loved one: study

Unsplash/Stefano Pollio
Unsplash/Stefano Pollio

Over half of Americans claim to have communicated with deceased relatives either in dreams or other means — and the “moderately” religious are the most likely people group to say they've had such a supernatural encounter. 

A recent survey by the Pew Research Center found that 53% of Americans say they've had interactions with loved ones who have passed away. Of these, 46% experienced the interaction within a dream, while 31% claimed it took place in some other manner.

Additionally, 34% of respondents said they've "felt the presence" of a deceased family member, 28% have spoken about their lives to them, and 15% felt that a deceased relative "reached out" to them. Just under half (44%) of participants mentioned having at least one such encounter within the past year.

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The Pew survey, which gathered responses from 5,079 U.S. adults, took place between March 27 and April 2. 

Interestingly, the research highlighted that Americans with medium levels of religious commitment are more inclined to report these experiences than those with either very high or low religious affiliations. 

The report noted that “people who are moderately religious are more likely than others — including those who are highly religious and those who are not religious — to have experienced these things.”

Just 34% of agnostics and 26% of atheists claimed such experiences, compared to 42% of Evangelical Protestants. Historically black Protestants (67%) and Catholics (66%) reported even higher rates.

“People who are moderately religious seem to be more likely than other Americans to have these experiences,” Pew noted. “This is partly because some of the most traditionally religious groups — such as evangelical Protestants — as well as some of the least religious parts of the population — such as atheists and agnostics — are less likely to report having interactions with deceased family members.”

Demographically, women (53%) were more likely than men (35%) to report having an experience with the dead.

The survey inquired about interactions with deceased relatives but didn't delve into the reasons or interpretations behind these experiences. It also didn't clarify if respondents viewed these encounters as supernatural or explainable through natural causes. 

Jeff Dryden, professor of biblical studies at Covenant College, told The Christian Post that while the Bible “does not really speak directly for or against the possibility or practice” of the deceased interceding or communicating with the living, traditionally, the Christian Church has treated this as “somewhere between superstition and something close to witchcraft.”

“The Bible does speak to the reality that personhood continues on past death and exists past death,” he said. “This is not unique to the Bible or Christian belief. Most religions have some kind of understanding of an ‘afterlife’ existence. The Bible gives no endorsement of the validity or utility of communication with the dead or their effective intervention in the land of the living.”

However, the Bible warns against attempting to communicate with the dead and the book of Luke is clear that the dead cannot communicate with the living, even to warn them about eternal damnation, as shown in Luke 16: 22-31

“The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

“But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

“He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.

“Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

“‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

Dryden contends, however, that the verses in Luke are "meant as a parable, not a description of the afterlife," adding: "It tells us nothing about communication with the dead."

He also suggested that deeply religious individuals might be aware of traditional church stances that don't support such beliefs or practices, which is why the group is less likely to report having interactions with deceased family members.

In contrast, those with less religious conviction might have a limited understanding of the afterlife, he said, while those with a moderate religious affiliation might possess a belief in personhood continuing after death, which could support the idea of communicating with the deceased.

“I would venture to say that it is only folks who have some religious affiliation (medium strength) who have a real reason to believe in personhood persisting after death, which is a necessary condition for any kind of communication with the dead or their intervention in the world,” he said. 

A 2019 ​​survey from analytics company YouGov found that 20% of Americans say ghosts “definitely exist” and 25% say they “probably exist.”

More than one-third of Americans (36%) say that they have personally felt the presence of a spirit or ghost. Just over one in 10 (13%) of Americans say that they have communicated directly with a ghost or spirit of someone who has died. 

While some churches have largely remained silent on the topic of ghosts and supernatural experiences, V1 Church Pastor Mike Signorelli recently told CP that in today's culture, where people seek supernatural experiences in all the wrong places, pastors are going to have to “get comfortable” with tackling the issue.

“As a result of New Age and tarot card reading, sage, and all these crazy things that people are getting involved with, unfortunately, for a lot of pastors, we're going to have to get comfortable with engaging the supernatural aspects of the Gospel, because people are going to the all the wrong places for supernatural experiences."

Leah M. Klett is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at:

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