(The Atlantic) Modernity be damned: It’s 2014, and the spirit world is alive and well. Even in secular life, mild superstitions loom; just look at the popularity of Paranormal Activity, haunted-house tours, and teen books and shows and movies that involve cemetery-related dares. These rituals may seem casual and goofy, but they’re rooted in a deep cultural preoccupation with the dead and the possibility that shapeless, spooky spirits lurk among us.

Spirits have more of a formal role in religious life. Possession and exorcism are part of Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam. The Bible has stories of angels speaking to Abraham, Jacob, and David; in Genesis, creatures called Nephilim walk the earth. Many Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians pray for saints to intervene in their lives; the Vatican routinely reviews miracles claimed to be caused by the holy figures of the Church.

But what do most people actually believe about the spirit world?

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