Date of Award

Spring 4-13-2017

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Department

History

First Advisor

Bruce Kinzer

Second Advisor

Jeffrey Bowman

Abstract

Spiritualism’s rise in England in the nineteenth century was closely linked to concurrent developments in science and technology. The movement’s fundamental appeal lay in the tangible evidence of its claims produced in the séance room, and many who became interested in the movement were inspired to conduct their own quasi-scientific investigations into the phenomena. However, the most dedicated spiritualists also found deep religious significance in their séance experiences and used them to develop ideas about not only about the nature of the afterlife but also about humanity’s destiny and place in the universe. Although spiritualism lacked any kind of central organization and spiritualists varied in their individual belief, they nonetheless organized together not only to hold séances but also to spread the spiritualist message and educate the public. Although many members of that public were dismissive, some scientists and scholars found spiritualists’ claims intriguing enough to merit investigation. These scientists, much like the spiritualists themselves, tended to express dissatisfaction with the narrow-mindedness of those who refused to consider spiritualist claims. Among its avowed skeptics, spiritualism was viewed as superstitious and irrational primarily for its methods, rather than its beliefs. In all cases – skeptic, spiritualist, and those in between – the question of spiritualism’s veracity rested on its ability to empirically prove its claims. Spiritualism represented a synthesis between religion and science: it reaffirmed the existence of the afterlife while providing empirical evidence that met the new standards of the age.

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