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Determined Spirits

Determined Spirits: Eugenics, Heredity and Racial Regeneration in Anglo-American Spiritualist Writing, 1848-1930

Christine Ferguson
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Determined Spirits
    Book Description:

    Examines the Spiritualist movement's role in disseminating eugenic and hard hereditarian thoughtStudying transatlantic spiritualist literature from the mid-19th to the early 20th century, Christine Ferguson focuses on its incorporation and dissemination of bio-determinist and eugenic thought. She asks why ideas about rational reproduction, hereditary determinism and race improvement became so important to spiritualist novelists, journalists and biographers in this period. She also examines how these concerns drove emerging Spiritualist understandings of disability, intelligence, crime, conception, the afterlife and aesthetic production. The book draws on rare material, including articles and serialized fiction from Spiritualist periodicals such as Light, The Two Worlds and The Medium and Daybreak as well as on Spiritualist healing, parentage and sex manuals.Key FeaturesThe first major study of Transatlantic Spiritualism's sustained commitment to eugenics, bio-determinism and hard hereditarianismDevotes a chapter to eugenic and raciological writing of Paschal Beverly Randolph, the 19th-century African-American Rosicrucian and sex magician whose work has only recently been rediscovered by scholarsInterdisciplinary and historicist methodologyThe rich transatlantic reading demonstrates the continuity and influence between British and American Spiritualist writings on the body, reproduction and mental fitness

    eISBN: 978-0-7486-5066-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. Illustrations
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. Series Editor’s Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Julian Wolfreys
  5. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-20)

    Modern Spiritualism has experienced a remarkable revival in its academic and counter-cultural capital since the 1970s. This scholarly renaissance represents a considerable turnabout for the heterodox movement inaugurated in a humble upstate New York farmhouse in 1848, and once derided as a pathetic, trivial and best-forgotten freak of the West’s vexed and still incomplete transit towards secular modernity. Even if its constituents never succeeded in widely disseminating their belief in a vocal and interventionist spirit world, their faith is now regularly tapped as an index to shifting religious and social attitudes in its two most fertile early sites: Great Britain...

  7. Chapter 1 Radical Determinism and the Natural History of the Medium
    (pp. 21-57)

    In what has become one of the best-known articulations of eugenic yearning in Victorian scientific thought, Charles Darwin uses the conclusion to The Descent of Man ([1871] 2001) to identify and critique the popular resistance to his proposed exploration of managed human breeding. He writes:

    Man scans with scrupulous care the character and pedigree of his horses, cattle, and dogs before he matches them; but when he comes to his own marriage he rarely, or never, takes any such care. Yet he might by his own selection do something not only for the bodily constitution of his offspring, but for...

  8. Chapter 2 Spirits in Mind: Madness, Idiocy and the Cultural Capital of Ignorance
    (pp. 58-85)

    For many of Spiritualism’s early critics, Spiritualist belief and mental defect seemed to be natural correlatives. Where the first existed, they argued, the second was sure to lurk nearby as either consequence or catalyst. In many ways, the aetiological hesitation in this diagnosis was more troubling than the fact of the correlation itself. What was Spiritualism, a cause or effect of diseased minds? Were seances so dangerous as to trigger insanity in otherwise mentally healthy individuals¹ – a disturbing enough possibility, given the wide popularity and availability of Spiritualist paraphernalia such as the planchette – or, worse yet, was Spiritualism’s spread merely...

  9. Chapter 3 Eugenic Summerlands: Sexual Reproduction and Family Engineering in the Spheres
    (pp. 86-113)

    In the first book of the New Testament, the apostle Matthew records what has proved to be one of the most gnomic and controversial characterisations of the future life in Christian scripture: ‘For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven’ (22 Matthew 30: King James Version). With salvation, these words imply, comes an attendant liberation from the processes of sexual reproduction, the problems of population control, and the distractions of erotic desire that too often stand between man and God. Where other details about the coordinates of...

  10. Chapter 4 Blended Souls: Paschal Beverly Randolph and Occult Miscegenation
    (pp. 114-141)

    At the time of itinerant occultist Paschal Beverly Randolph’s dramatic death by suicide in 1875 – he shot himself in the head outside the Toledo home he shared with his estranged wife Kate Corson – the American attitudes towards interracial identity that had dogged him all his life were undergoing a significant sea change. No longer viewed simply as a necessary if regrettable consequence of slavery that would phase out after Emancipation, race mixing was, as Robert Bernasconi and Kristie Dotson point out, coming increasingly in the Reconstruction period to look like a prospective national destiny, one that could only be averted...

  11. Chapter 5 Criminal Man and Recidivist Spirit: Spiritualism, Criminal Anthropology and Thanato-Rehabilitationism
    (pp. 142-171)

    In 1920, only a few short years after his public declaration of Spiritualist faith, Arthur Conan Doyle returned to the periodical in which he had decades earlier made his international reputation as creator of the master detective Sherlock Holmes to argue for a new approach to the problem of crime, one wholly different from the ratiocinative method trademarked by his archetypal fictional creation. ‘A New Light on Old Crimes’, published in The Strand in January, presented the popular author’s conviction that Spiritualism, and Spiritualism alone, could quell the growing tide of contemporary lawlessness by enlisting otherworldly intelligences to maintain public...

  12. Chapter 6 Dead Letters: Bioaesthetics and the New Realism in Fin-de-Siècle Spiritualism
    (pp. 172-198)

    In her influential account of the rise of British supernatural fiction, E.J. Clery contends that the literary ghost only obtained a stable, even prominent, position in the eighteenth-century fiction market through a series of negotiated concessions.¹ Chief among these was its abandonment of any aspirations to the status of the ontological real. Positioned outside the purview of empiricism and narrative realism alike, the literary spectre moved into an autonomous aesthetic space in which it apparently remained for the duration of the nineteenth century, functioning not as a figure of mimesis, but as a catalyst for affect. Clery observes:

    Within the...

  13. Conclusion
    (pp. 199-203)

    Inaugurated in the nineteenth century, the relationship between otherworldly contact, eugenics and human bioengineering which this study has mapped has arguably never been closer than in the last decade. In December 2002, some 150 years after the first rappings were heard in Hydesville, another dynamic new religious movement announced the dawning of a utopian eugenic age in which humans would be scientifically perfected and immortalised through the benevolent direction of unearthly higher powers. Clonaid, a controversial US-based human cloning company with links to the Raelian UFO religion, claimed to have facilitated the birth of the world’s first human clone, a...

  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 204-219)
  15. Index
    (pp. 220-230)