ABSTRACT

If public explanations of ghost stories were shaped by principles of natural law, medicine and discourses of politeness, they also continued to be bound by spiritual directives. But how did these narratives fare in the second half of the eighteenth-century when the intellectual ferment of the Enlightenment had fundamentally altered the theological landscape? Gospel truths had fallen under the inscrutable gaze of empirical philosophers, and liberal theologians began to ask new questions about the nature of God and his relationship with the natural world. Were the miracles described in the bible now explicable by the laws of nature? Was Christian emphasis upon divine supernatural intervention now outmoded? Many Protestant reformers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries had insisted that signs, wonders and miracles should be consigned to the apostolic age, but Enlightenment medicine and philosophy now o ered a way for such episodes to be empirically tested. Questions like these began a new phase in persistent debates about the correct balance between reason and revelation in religious life. is chapter investigates how perceptions of ghost stories altered in accordance with these new emphases, and whether any discernible connection between patterns of ghost belief and confessional identity can be traced. e analysis here works on two levels. e rst concerns how publicly-professed attitudes towards ghost stories shi ed in line with confessional con ict, which uctuated in response to intellectual, political and cultural change. e second level examines links between this public discourse and more private re ections about the appearance and meaning of ghosts. At issue here are the ways in which ordinary parishioners made sense of these extraordinary episodes; how their responses were conditioned by religious a liation; and whether their interpretations in uenced the way in which clergymen, theologians and philosophers responded to ghost stories. Reactions to ghost stories in these years also throw new light on existing historical debates about the vitality of eighteenth-century Anglicanism, the relationship between clergy and parishioners, and relations between the established Church and dissenting groups. e chronology of this chapter coincides with

the rapid spread of evangelical Methodism from the 1740s, which partly explains why interpretations of ghost stories were such contentious issues in Methodist and Anglican communities. is focus also re ects the circulation of ghostrelated texts in these years, which was dominated by Methodist, Anglican and other Protestant apologists. e confessional rivalry which marked this period helps to explain diverse responses to one of the most famous ghost stories that eighteenth-century England encountered.