Maybe they are souls since the religious quality of that term fits with "bardo" and the sense that moving on is to...the next phase. If it's the bardo, that phase would be most likely reincarnation. I still think that "spirit" is neutral, while "ghost" implies manifestation to someone living, but "souls" does capture the sense of the period between death and whatever comes next.
I was bothered by the implications of the reverend's vision until I did a little (very little) research on "bardo." Check out this quote from the Wikipedia:
Chönyi bardo (chos nyid bar do): is the fifth bardo of the luminosity of the true nature which commences after the final 'inner breath' (Sanskrit: prana, vayu; Tibetan: rlung). It is within this Bardo that visions and auditory phenomena occur. In the Dzogchen teachings, these are known as the spontaneously manifesting Thödgal (Tibetan: thod-rgyal) visions. Concomitant to these visions, there is a welling of profound peace and pristine awareness. Sentient beings who have not practiced during their lived experience and/or who do not recognize the clear light (Tibetan: od gsal) at the moment of death are usually deluded throughout the fifth bardo of luminosity.
This is the "bardo" in which the souls are in the novel. Since Saunders pleases to call where they are the "bardo," a very specifically Tibetan Buddhist concept, the Reverend's fundamentalist Christian vision is most likely a delusion based in his expectations (and his repressed sense of guilt and unworthiness).
I would consider the book an extreme example of magic realism. "Extreme" in the sense that the emphasis on the fabulous is unusually strong. Realism of a kind due to the sense of unusual accuracy and concreteness to the historical sections of the novel. The plight of the slave souls also fits with the theme of political and social oppression and marginalization that is so often an integral part of magic realism.
I agree with joffre that the souls were reasonably well differentiated. Any novel, such as J R by William Gaddis, that relies on dialogue with no context is difficult to follow. Saunders treats it almost as a play by naming the person before proceeding with the dialogue (although the dialogue would not work well spoken. There are real differences between writing for the page and writing for the stage.)
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