Modernity be damned: It's 2014, and the spirit world is alive and well. Even in secular life, mild superstitions loom; just look at the popularity of Paranormal Activity, haunted-house tours, and teen books and shows and movies that involve cemetery-related dares. These rituals may seem casual and goofy, but they're rooted in a deep cultural preoccupation with the dead and the possibility that shapeless, spooky spirits lurk among us.
Spirits have more of a formal role in religious life. Possession and exorcism are part of Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam. The Bible has stories of angels speaking to Abraham, Jacob, and David; in Genesis, creatures called Nephilim walk the earth. Many Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians pray for saints to intervene in their lives; the Vatican routinely reviews miracles claimed to be caused by the holy figures of the Church.
But what do most people actually believe about the spirit world? A new Pew study on Hispanic-American religious belief attempts to provide part of an answer to this question, with fascinating results: It shows that spirits are still pretty popular in modern life. Here's what researchers found, sorted by religious group, church attendance, and country of origin:
These three beliefs are all somewhat spiritually amorphous. Saints are a squarely Christian concept, but "spiritual beings"? Likewise, spiritual possession shows up in church teachings across denominations, but magic and witchcraft? Less so.