Laboratories of faith : mesmerism, spiritism, and occultism by John Warne Monroe

By John Warne Monroe

At a desirable second in French highbrow heritage, an curiosity in issues occult was once now not reminiscent of a rejection of medical notion; contributors in séances and magic rituals have been seekers after experimental information in addition to religious fact. a tender astronomy scholar wrote of his quest: "I am now not within the presence or less than the effect of any evil spirit: I learn Spiritism as I research mathematics." He didn't see himself as an ecstatic visionary yet really as a sober observer. For him, the darkened room of occult perform used to be as a lot laboratory as church.

In an evocative historical past of different non secular practices in France within the moment 1/2 the 19th and starting of the 20 th centuries, John Warne Monroe tells the interconnected tales of 3 movements―Mesmerism, Spiritism, and Occultism. Adherents of those teams, Monroe finds, tried to "modernize" religion via delivering empirical aid for metaphysical suggestions. rather than trusting theological hypothesis in regards to the nature of the soul, those believers tried to assemble tangible facts via Mesmeric experiments, séances, and ceremonial magic. whereas few French humans have been energetic Mesmerists, Spiritists, or Occultists, huge segments of the knowledgeable normal public have been accustomed to those hobbies and infrequently seemed them as interesting expressions of the "modern condition," a striking distinction to the Catholicism and secular materialism that prevailed of their culture.

Featuring eerie spirit pictures, a laugh Daumier lithographs, and a posthumous autograph from Voltaire, in addition to vast documentary facts, Laboratories of Faith provides readers a feeling of what being in a séance or a secret-society ritual may perhaps even have felt like and why those emotions attracted individuals. whereas they by no means completed the transformation of human recognition for which they strove, those thinkers and believers however pioneered a manner of "being spiritual" that has turn into an everlasting a part of the Western cultural vocabulary.

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46 41 Quoted in La Gazette médicale, June 4, 1853, 350. La Gazette de France, June 14, 1853, 3. La Presse, July 5, 1853, 2. 44 Cosmos 2 (May 29, 1853): 665. 45 Chevreul published a letter on this subject in 1833 in the Revue des deux mondes; it was reprinted in the Journal des débats, May 13, 1853, 2. 46 See L’Illustration, July 9, 1853, 27; Alison Winter, Mesmerized: Powers of Mind in Victorian Britain (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), 276–305. 42 43 40 Interpreting the Tables Tournantes Objectivity and the Limits of the Possible Arago’s “imperceptible movement” hypothesis, even after it had received the confirmation of a scientist as illustrious as Faraday, struck many observers as insufficient because it failed to account for all the phenomena séance participants described.

The willingness of so many commentators to accept the authenticity of the tables tournantes, then, reflected both a growing interest in tangible religious experience—whether positive or negative—and a greater openness to conceptions of the spirit world that resonated with popular beliefs. Catholic books, pamphlets, and periodicals devoted to the new phenomena found an enthusiastic audience. The most successful publications were those that presented the tables tournantes as products of demonic intervention.

These accounts made the tables agents of moral turpitude and spreaders of revolution, but they also transformed them into tangible proof of the rightness and power of Catholic dogma. For members of the 17 L a b o r ato r i e s o f Fa i t h Académie des sciences and their allies, explaining the tables tournantes became a way of linking science with the authoritarian, technocratic ethos of the Second Empire. Debunking the new phenomena allowed members of the Academy (académiciens) to elaborate an image of the scientist as objective guardian of rationality and, by extension, as protector of the social stability that 1848 had threatened.

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