Ghosts in Belief, Practice and Metaphor: What People Believe, What People Do, and How some Scholars Avoid Both
Paul Cowdell [+]
Some recent scholarship has attempted to treat newly emergent broadly neo-pagan religious observation as primarily a matter of practice rather than theology. While this allows for some investigation into the eclectic aspects of observation, it also tends to sideline the practitioners’ own thinking about their belief and its construction. Ghost belief offers a helpful case study for considering the interplay of belief and practice. It can be found across denominational groups, quite often in antagonism to the official doctrines of the religion, and vernacular eschatological thinking can quite often inform moves towards a newer syncretic practice. Similarly, the current academic enthusiasm for metaphors of ‘haunting’, ‘spectrality’, and ‘ghosts’ often proceeds by the deliberate exclusion of ethnographic data. Basing myself on recent fieldwork data, I will here examine the relationship between the thinking and practice I encountered around ghost belief. I will also look at the ways informants described their beliefs and practices. From this I will aim to place informants back at the centre of any consideration of these questions, and offer some suggestions for understanding the relationship between formal and informal spiritual beliefs.