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Americans are surprisingly spiritual, new study finds

Man meditating - Yuri A | Shutterstock

John Burger - published on 12/14/23

Pew Research Center begins regular survey about religious attitudes in the US. Most people believe in a soul or spirit.

At a time when religious practice in the United States is perceived to be declining, an overwhelming percentage of Americans apparently believe in a realm beyond the material world.

The Pew Research Center found in a recent survey that 83% of all U.S. adults believe people have a soul or spirit in addition to their physical body.

In addition, 81% say there is something spiritual beyond the natural world, even if we cannot see it.

Overall, 70% of U.S. adults can be considered “spiritual” in some way, because they think of themselves as spiritual people or say spirituality is very important in their lives, Pew says.

Results of a new survey of American spirituality, conducted July 31-August 6, were released December 7. Pew said it is a new line of questioning, so it has no data from prior years to determine if there is a trend. But the research institute said it would continue the spirituality survey in the coming years. 

“We plan to use our new questions about spiritual beliefs, practices, and experiences as a baseline, re-asking them periodically to see which measures are rising, which are falling and which are stable,” Pew says.

New line of questioning

At this point, however, the findings can be compared with previous Pew research that has found a decline in traditional religious beliefs and practices. That includes a drop in the shares of U.S. adults who say they believe in God with absolute certainty, attend religious services regularly, pray daily and consider religion to be very important in their lives.

Other findings in the survey include: 

  • 45% of respondents say they have had a sudden feeling of connection with something from beyond this world.
  • 38% say they have had a strong feeling that someone who has passed away was communicating with them from beyond this world.
  • 30% say they have personally encountered a spirit or unseen spiritual force.

Half of Americans believe that spirits can inhabit burial places, such as graveyards, cemeteries or other memorial sites, Pew found. And a similar share (48%) says that parts of the natural landscape – such as mountains, rivers or trees – can have spirits or spiritual energies.

Beyond this world

In addition, about a quarter of U.S. adults believe that spirits or spiritual energy can reside in certain objects, such as crystals, jewels, or stones (26%).

“The survey finds that 71% of Americans believe in heaven, while somewhat fewer – 61% – believe in hell and 60% believe in both,” the organization says. “More than half of U.S. adults (57%) believe that in the afterlife, people definitely or probably can reunite with loved ones who also have died. … About four-in-ten or more Americans say that dead people definitely or probably can assist, protect, or guide the living (46%), be aware of what’s going on among the living (44%) or communicate with people who are still living (42%).”

About a quarter of U.S. adults believe it is definitely or probably true that the dead can be reincarnated (27%).

Forty-five percent of respondents say they have had a sudden feeling of connection with something from beyond this world, and 38% say they’ve had a strong feeling that someone who previously passed away was communicating with them from beyond this world.

The full report can be read here

AmericaReligious LifeSpiritual LifeSpiritualityUnited States
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