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Spiritualism, 1840-1930

Publisher
Routledge
Publication Date
Keywords
  • Da Great Britain
  • E11 America (General)
  • Pr English Literature
  • Ps American Literature
Disciplines
  • Communication
  • Literature
  • Medicine
  • Philosophy
  • Political Science

Abstract

Since its advent in the 1840s, modern spiritualism has been a topic of popular interest and critical scrutiny. Spiritualism gained increasing prominence in the second half of the nineteenth century, and developed as a religious movement with no defining creeds or formal doctrines, beyond the belief that the dead survived in spirit form and could communicate with the living. Scholars have noted its philosophical origins in the writings of Emmanuel Swedenborg; considered its rise against the backdrop of Darwin’s theory of evolution and the accompanying crisis in faith; examined the fascination of celebrated believers such as Elizabeth Barrett Browning, William James, and Arthur Conan Doyle; explored its potential in the context of gender and sexuality; charted its investigation by the Society for Psychical Research; and identified key periods that mark a rise in spiritualist activity. The history of spiritualist belief and practice has been the subject of extensive debate (see, for example, Routledge’s eight-volume collection, The Rise of Victorian Spiritualism (2001) (978-0-415-23640-9), edited by Bob Gilbert). Similarly, considerable research has been devoted to the question of Spiritualism and gender (explored in the Routledge/Edition Synapse two-volume collection, Women, Spiritualism, and Madness (2003) (978-0-415-27633-7), edited by Bridget Bennett, Helen Nicholson, and Roy Porter). Complementing those earlier collections, this new four-volume set demonstrates spiritualism’s hugely significant—but hitherto often neglected—contemporary engagement with questions of race, eugenics, and the body, and with anti-spiritualist critique. Moreover, as spiritualism is commonly identified as a predominantly Victorian—and western—phenomenon, little has been done better to understand spiritualism in its global and temporal contexts. Furthermore, while numerous studies of spiritualism in canonical Victorian literature exist, the movement’s own rich literary output and its relationship with the non-spiritualist gothic remain underexplored. Indeed, despite the explosion of scholarly interest in modern spiritualism across a wide range of disciplines, almost none of the movement’s key philosophical, literary, political, and medical texts are currently in print. The learned editors of this collection have remedied these imbalances and Spiritualism, 1840–1930 offers access to a wide range of materials from an important period in spiritualism’s history, including previously unpublished material relating to Arthur Conan Doyle’s investment in spiritualism and transcriptions of the Henri Louis Rey séances in New Orleans (the only entirely African-American nineteenth-century spiritualist circle whose records have been preserved). The collection focuses on key topics and is also organized chronologically. It situates inaccessible primary sources alongside better-known works, and posits their importance in the development of spiritualism as a social, cultural, and transatlantic phenomenon. Making readily available materials which are currently very difficult for scholars, researchers, and students across the globe to locate and use, Spiritualism, 1840–1930 is a veritable treasure-trove. The gathered materials are reproduced in facsimile, giving users a strong sense of immediacy to texts and permitting citation to the original pagination. Each volume is also supplemented by a substantial introduction, newly written by the editors, which contextualizes the material and steers readers towards significant secondary sources. And with a full index and a detailed appendix providing data on the provenance of the gathered works, the collection is destined to be welcomed as a vital research and reference resource.

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