Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

Table of Contents | Cover Page  |  Editors  |  Contributors  |  Introduction  |  Web Version

Apparition (from Latin apparere , to appear) is an anomalous perception of seemingly paranormal nature. Apparitions may be of persons, animals, or inanimate objects and can be perceived through any of the five senses. The term ghost generally refers to visual apparitions of deceased humans or animals.

Apparitions of deceased people inevitably suggest to those perceiving them that the deceased has qualities surviving bodily death. Hallucinations, a concept parallel to apparitions, are perceptions arising without external stimuli. It is not certain that all apparitions are hallucinations because some apparitional events are experienced by two or more people simultaneously. Apparitions sometimes correspond, temporally, to real events such as a death or crisis. Although many scholars assume that apparitional episodes are created by the perceiver's mind, and consequently are an outgrowth of cultural conditioning, comparison of apparitional accounts from many societies indicate that these episodes have universal features. Apparitional experiences have the capacity to produce religious beliefs rather than being fully products of them. Apparitions contribute to belief in spirits, souls, and life after death.

James McClenon


R. C. Finucane, Appearances of the Dead (Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus, 1984)

E. Gurney et al., Phantasms of the Living (London: Tubner, 1986 [1918])

J. McClenon, Wondrous Events (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1994)

H. Sidgwick et al., "Report on the Census of Hallucinations," Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research 10(1894):25-422.

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