Today marks the UK release of Warner Brothers’ supernatural thriller film Hereafter, based on the screenplay by Peter Morgan and directed by Clint Eastwood. It stars Matt Damon as George, a seemingly ordinary guy who has a special gift allowing him to commune with the dead.
In conjunction with the launch, a survey into the supernatural has been commissioned in consultation with Dr Penny Sartori, a former intensive care nurse and expert on near-death experiences. She is the author of The Near-Death Experiences of Hospitalized Intensive Care Patients: a Five Year Clinical Study (Edwin Mellen Press, 2008).
To judge from accounts in the print media, 3,000 adult Britons were interviewed online for the Hereafter Report, but precise details of fieldwork dates and methodology are as yet unavailable, so judgment has to be reserved on just how representative the sample and the findings might be.
66% of respondents believed in some form of afterlife and 65% that our actions in this life could affect the fate of our soul in the hereafter.
Specifically, 35% believed in heaven, a lower proportion than in other surveys (http://www.brin.ac.uk/figures/documents/heaven_000.xls), and 22% in reincarnation, similar to other studies (http://www.brin.ac.uk/figures/documents/reincarbelchart.xls).
58% thought that their late loved-ones were with them in spirit, and 40% expressed the desire to speak with them. There was also some wish to talk to dead historical figures, foremost among them being Princess Diana (19%), followed by Albert Einstein (10%), Marilyn Monroe and Freddie Mercury (8% each), Adolf Hitler (7%), and Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley and Winston Churchill (6% each).
53% were convinced that psychics can communicate with the dead, and 19% that somebody in their own family possessed such powers. 22% had actually visited a medium or psychic, consistent with earlier research (http://www.brin.ac.uk/figures/documents/psycmediumcons.xls), spending an average of £31 on each visit. 54% knew someone who had made such a visit.
22% claimed to have seen a ghost or to have felt the presence of a spirit, slightly higher than in other polls (http://www.brin.ac.uk/figures/documents/ghostsreportedsighting_000.xls), of whom 13% were sure that it was a deceased relative or friend. However, most would have been too embarrassed to own up to the fact.
40% believed in guardian angels, although 18% would feel awkward about saying they had been visited by one. The proportion of two-fifths is higher than in a recent ICM study but broadly consistent with previous Ipsos MORI polls (http://www.brin.ac.uk/news/?p=809).
Overall, 32% described themselves as ‘spiritual’ and 25% as ‘religious’, a result which touches the wider academic debate about the extent to which traditional religion is giving way to spirituality (see, especially, Paul Heelas and Linda Woodhead, The Spiritual Revolution, Blackwell, 2005).
Summing up, but without any obvious access to comparative data, Dr Sartori was quoted as saying that ‘the nation is becoming more open-minded in accepting that consciousness may exist independently of the body and is not created by the brain’.
The above is a composite write-up, largely derived from reports in today’s Daily Express, Daily Mail and The Sun newspapers, which are the principal sources about the poll which I can find at the moment. You can read these articles at: