All of the post-war opinion polls and surveys suggest that belief in ghosts has been steadily on the rise over the last 60 years. What might this mean? Does it mean that more people believe in ghosts? Or that they are more prepared to say so? One question that goes unasked is what people actually mean when they say 'ghost'. Might the increase in stated belief mean a change in popular definitions?
Accordingly, I've begun my research with some simple (but big) questions. What do people mean when they say 'ghost'? How is this understanding reflected (or not) in their beliefs? Are the things people believe the same as the stories they tell? What is the relationship between belief or non-belief and experience? How do these beliefs fit into other, maybe more orthodox, beliefs?
Quite apart from library research, these questions clearly demanded fieldwork amongst believers and non-believers. I've been conducting interviews, and also distributing a questionnaire. The plan is to continue this field research early into 2010, and then spend the majority of next year working through my findings.
My research is primarily into the situation here in England. Because of the University location, I'm concentrating to some extent on Hertfordshire. However, this is by no means a restricted or parochial survey - there have been huge demographic shifts in the post-war period, and I am interested in the ways in which ghost beliefs may reflect changing cultural influences. As such, I'm more than happy to consider broad comparative international material.
So, within those parameters, I am looking for participants and informants. The questionnaire is available to download below. and it can be returned to me electronically. I'm interested in as broad a range of responses as possible, from believers and non-believers alike. I'm also looking to identify possible informants for interview. This is more restricted geographically than the questionnaires, obviously, but I am still rolling out the interview programme and still looking for participants.