Accepted Paper:

"You all worship the same god": ghosts and religion  


Paul Cowdell (Folklore Society)

Paper short abstract:

Based on recent fieldwork I discuss the relationship between informal belief in ghosts and institutional religious practice and reflect on the genres employed. The syncretism of ghost belief shapes transmission and feeds into congregational religious observance, which operate at a different pace.

Paper long abstract:

In recent field research into ghost belief in England I sought to cover a number of developments including the demographic shifts that have taken place in Britain over the last period and the relationship between informal ghost belief and more institutional religious practices. The two are related, as discussion of ghost beliefs revealed a thoughtful syncretism and eclecticism informed by exposure to new cultural factors. A young Hindu woman, for example, linked English vernacular death traditions involving candles to Hindu burial practice. This has not always been reflected in folklore research on ghosts: even Gillian Bennett's groundbreaking work of the 1980s dealt with a rather limited social group of informants.

This openness to syncretism across reflects the patterns of transmission of ghost beliefs and narratives. The acceptance, or negotiation, of anomalous events determines the ways in which such topics are shared, but it also feeds back into congregational religious observance with which it may sometimes be at odds.

Given the pattern of transmission such informal beliefs do not respond immediately to external economic pressures in the same way as institutional religious forms do, but both developments continue to influence each other. I will discuss these patterns of transmission and investigate their relationship, touching on the genres employed in their continued circulation.

Panel P20
Fluidity, mobility and versatility of the sacred