Carlos S. Alvarado, PhD, Visiting Scholar, Rhine Research Center
Christopher M. Moreman, Associate Professor of Philosophy at the California State University (East Bay) has compiled a three volume anthology of articles entitled The Spiritualist Movement: Speaking with the Dead in America and Around the World (Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2013, $163.00).
The book is described in the publisher’s website as follows:
“Based on the belief that the dead can communicate with the living through mediums, Spiritualism touches concepts as timelessly fascinating as human mortality and the continuing existence of the soul beyond bodily death. This comprehensive work will help readers parse the mysteries of this uniquely American religion through three thematically organized volumes . . . Drawing on fields as diverse as psychology, sociology, religious studies, anthropology, history, ethnic and gender studies, literature, and art, this broad-based collection frames Spiritualism through the views of a team of international scholars.
Among the many things that separate Spiritualism from mainstream religions is the involvement of women in central leadership roles. Such cultural and political elements of the movement are one aspect of this study. Of equal interest to believers and skeptics alike will be the work of scholars who have devoted themselves to examining the claim that communication through mediums proves the existence of life after death.”
The book includes 43 essays, including one I wrote about the influence of mediumship on the development of psychical research. They appear across the three volumes, which in turn have several sections as follows:
Volume 1: American Origins and Global Proliferation
(Pre-Spiritualist Mediumship, Spiritualism’s Spread in European History, Key Historical Figures, Spiritualism Today: Case Studies)
Volume 2: Belief, Practice and Evidence for Life After Death
(Spiritualist Beliefs, Spiritualist Practice, Spiritualist Phenomena and the Debate Over Evidence for Survival)
Volume 3: Social and Cultural Responses
(Responses from Other Religious Traditions, Gender, Race, and Other Cultural Issues)
Some examples of the essays are:
Spiritualism in Italy: The Opposition of the Catholic Church, by Massimo Biondi (Vol. 1).
Spiritualism and the Origins of Modern Psychology in Late Nineteenth-Century Germany: The Wundt-Zöllner Debate, by Andreas Sommer (Vol. 1).
Jung and the Spirits, by Francis X. Charet (Vol. 1).
Angels Among Us in Four San Diego Spiritualist Churches, by Rebecca Moore (Vol. 1).
Echoes of the Past: The Influence of Spiritualism on Contemporary Belief, by Andrew Singleton (Vol. 2).
Exploring the Meaning of Mental Mediumship from the Medium’s Perspective, by Elizabeth C. Roxburgh and Chris A. Roe (Vol. 2).
Spiritual Channeling: An Ethnographic Account, by Heather Kavan (Vol. 2).
Canadian Psychical Research Experiments with Table Tilting and Ectoplasm Phenomena in the Séance Room, by Walter Meyer zu Erpen (Vol. 2).
Mediumship and Psychical Research, by Carlos S. Alvarado (Vol. 2)
Combating Nefarious Necromancy: Christian Theological Critiques of Nineteenth-Century American Spiritualism, by Roddy Knowles (Vol. 3).
The Influence of Emmanuel Swedenborg and the New Church on the Spiritualist Movement, by Jane Williams-Hogan (Vol. 3).
From Catspaw to Kindred Spirit? Changing Perceptions of the Medium in British Occultism, by Alison Butler (Vol. 3).
Mediums and Stars: Mediumship, Show Business, and Celebrity in Nineteenth-Century Spiritualism, by Simone Natale (Vol. 3).
The authors of the essays do much to illustrate the multiple dimensions of spiritualism and the ways in which the topic may be approached. This, in fact is in my view the main advantage of the volumes. While most of the authors present discussions focusing on issues such as gender, social, and cultural aspects, a few discuss the reality of the phenomena. Actually, The Spiritualist Movement is unique in combining these issues. Usually publications that approach spiritualism from historical and sociological perspectives do not include discussions of the reality of the phenomena, things such as the manifestations of mental and physical mediums.
Another advantage of these volumes is that different time periods are represented. While many essays are about past eras, some cover more recent developments. The topics represented in The Spiritualist Movement are still with us, as seen in the practice of mediumship today across the world and in the various spiritualist and spiritist organizations active in different countries. Some of them with a Web presence include the National Spiritualist Association of Churches, the Lily Dale Assembly, the French Spiritist Council, and the Brazilian Spiritist Federation.
Three volumes are not enough to cover the complexity of the topic. Certainly there are other topics that could be explored, as the editor of the volumes clearly acknowledges. I would have liked to see more about spiritualism in relation to psychology and psychiatry. Another topic deserving more attention is studies of particular mediums, many of whom were important ambassadors for the development of spiritualism in more ways than one. Emma Hardinge Britten and D.D. Home, to name two figures from the past, come to mind. In the United States figures such as Andrew Jackson Davis, John W. Edmonds, and Hudson Tuttle, were also very important in investigating and producing phenomena, not to mention in assisting greatly in the conceptual development of spiritualism. But there are also influential modern figures deserving study, among them the Brazilian Chico Xavier, a medium that was as well or better known and influential in his country as many politicians and movie stars.
To some extent I am indulging here on some of my favorite topics, several of which, I want to remind my readers, were not completely neglected. To be fair, I suspect it was difficult to find authors for many topics. Furthermore, we need to be aware that limits have to be set in practice to address the economic demands of modern publishers. As it is, the publication of a three-volume work on the subject is unprecedented.
Rather than emphasize omissions, the value of an anthology lies in its content, and this one is rich indeed, offering much about phenomena, specific figures, influences, and social dimensions. It is to be hoped that the publication of The Spiritualist Movement will stimulate more work in this area.