Book Chapter




Ferguson C (2014) Introduction. In: Ferguson C (ed.) Spiritualism 1840-1930: Vol. 1: Health, Race, and Human Variation. Victorian Concepts. London: Routledge, pp. 1-20.

First paragraph: In a generally enthusiastic 1862 review of African-American occultist P. B. Randolph's Dealings with the Dead ( 1861 ), the London-based Spiritual Magazine opens with one slight demurral. After lauding Randolph's account of otherworldly travels as 'one of the most remarkable of all those which this subject has brought forth', the contributor regrets that 'its first title is certainly not well adapted to it, for instead of telling us of "dealings with the dead," it speaks of and reveals to us an intensity of lifo' ('The Blending State' 278). This corrective vividly captures the dimension of Anglo-American spiritualist thought that this volume aims to foreground: its deep commitment to exploring, celebrating and, perhaps most intriguingly, shaping human biological life at both the individual and the species level. This preoccupation has been all but forgotten in the movement's subsequent popular association with sepulchrally darkened seance rooms, and sibylline mediumistic utterances. Yet for the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century believers and critics whose writings this volume privileges, modem spiritualism's new revelation, one focused and energized if not originated by the 1848 Hydesville Rappings, had nothing necromantic about it. However much they may have differed in their individual philosophies and practices, the diverse group of advocates, investigators and cynics collected here were united in the conviction that modem spiritualism revealed more about the telos of cosmic evolution, the causes of disease and health, the origins of culture and the meaning ofhumao variation than it did about the putative terrors of the grave. The disembodied citizenry of the spirit world and their earth-bound mediumistic hosts were not only the heralds of a new religion but, equally importantly, subjects for previously unimagined fonns of biological, anthropological and medical inquiry. For many of its adherents, spiritualism was nothing less than an enhanced and thoroughly modem science of life, one superior to its secular professional counterparts by virtue of its willingness to push its investigations beyond the conventional horizon of death. Far from rejecting contemporary scientific theories about the evolutionary origins oflife, racial variation and primitive culture, spiritualist seers and philosophers drew upon them to create their own rich, imaginative and diverse understandings of the present state and future destiny of the human species.

Title of seriesVictorian Concepts
Publication date31/12/2014
Publisher URL…ok/9780415683067
Place of publicationLondon

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Professor Christine Ferguson

Professor Christine Ferguson

Professor in English, English Studies