WASHINGTON – Nearly half of Americans report having at least two supernatural encounters, with conservative Protestants more likely than religious liberals to say they had such experiences, according to a survey recently published in a new book.
Among the most common religious and mystical experiences reported by Americans include protection from harm by a guardian angel (55 percent); calling by God to do something (44 percent); witnessing a miraculous, physical healing (23 percent); and hearing the voice of God (20 percent), according to the second part of the Baylor Religion Survey.
Researchers say they did not expect to find such high numbers of Americans reporting supernatural experiences, in particular, the guardian angel result.
"It was the biggest surprise to me in our findings," sociologist Christopher Bader of Baylor University in Waco, Texas, said on Thursday.
When examining results by denominations, respondents belonging to conservative Protestant churches were more likely than those in liberal Protestant churches, the Roman Catholic Church, and Jewish respondents to report religious and mystical experiences.
Those belonging to the Pentecostal, Assemblies of God, and Baptist denominations were the most likely to cite having religious and mystical experiences.
Meanwhile Jewish and those in the Unitarian and United Church of Christ were least likely to report such experiences.
One exception to the conservative-liberal trend in regards to religious experiences is members of the Church of Latter-day Saints, or the Mormon church, which reported an equally high percentage as members of the Assemblies of God.
"A finding like this doesn't directly change religion or the churches," explained Dr. Rodney Stark, co-director of Baylor's Institute for Studies of Religion, who wrote the book What Americans Really Believe, in which the survey's findings were published this past week.
"What it may change are popular perceptions. The knowledge that such events are common may change the way the media treat them and may reassure many who have had them," Stark told The Christian Post.
Other survey findings include:
•Megachurches surprisingly are more intimate communities than small congregations of less than 100 members. The growth of megachurches is mostly due to their members, who tend to witness to friends and strangers, much more than members of small churches.
•The percentage of atheists in America – Americans who say they do not believe in God – has not changed for the past 63 years. It holds steady at four percent .
•Conservative Christianity, especially evangelicalism, greatly decreases belief in the occult and paranormal such as Bigfoot, UFOs, haunted house, communicating with the dead and astrology.
•Sixty-seven percent of Americans say they were "absolutely sure" heaven exists, and 17 percent thought it "probably" does.
•Seventy-three percent of Americans believe hell absolutely or probably exists.
A total of 1,648 randomly selected adults nationwide were asked to answer more than 350 items in the survey designed by the Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion (ISR) and conducted by the Gallup organizationin the fall of 2007.