This paper examines a recent arrival on the American pop cultural scene, a type of ghost encounter called After-Death Communications (ADCs). Delivered in dreams, visions, voices, odors, coincidences, etc., these cheerful greetings from deceased loved ones help bereaved survivors cope with their loss. Since the Enlightenment, spirits of the dead have become increasingly irrelevant to collective life. The new phantoms, however, are assigned roles in the family, health, and faith. How has this occurred? Strands of a complicated process are delineated, including medical origins in the bereavement hallucination, a designated symptom of grief. Cultural dynamics behind the current ADC phenomenon are contrasted with national trends that shaped the nineteenth-century spiritualist enthusiasm for ghosts. The literature, published since the 1990s, is reviewed in which the ADC has been formalized as a source of bereavement therapy and revelation. A tally of the peculiar features and functions of this twenty-first-century ghost experience links it to two American industries, psychotherapy and spiritual seeking.
- ©© 2009 by The Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture