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Modern Spiritualism and the Church of England, 1850-1939

Modern Spiritualism and the Church of England, 1850-1939

Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 268
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  • Book Info
    Modern Spiritualism and the Church of England, 1850-1939
    Book Description:

    From the moment of its arrival in Britain in 1852, modern spiritualism became hugely popular among all sections of society. As well as offering mysterious and entertaining séance phenomena, spiritualism was underpinned by a belief that the living could communicate with the departed and even come to know what life after death looked like. This book, offering the first detailed account of the theology of spiritualism, examines what happened when the Church of England, itself already grappling with questions about the nature of the afterlife, met with such a vibrant and confident presentation.BR> Although this period saw a gradual liberalising in the Church's own theology of heaven and hell this was not communicated to the wider public as long as sermons and liturgy remained largely framed in traditional language. Over time spiritualism, already embedded in common culture, explicitly influenced the thinking of some Anglican clergy and implicitly began to permeate and shape popular Christianity - to the extent that even some of spiritualism's harshest critics made use of its colourful imagery. This study sets one significant aspect of Christian doctrine alongside an attractive alternative and provides a fascinating example of the 'negotiation of belief', the way in which, in the interface between Church and culture, religious belief came to be refreshed and redefined. GEORGINA BYRNE is an ordained Anglican priest and currently Director of Ordinands for the Diocese of Worcester and a Residentiary Canon at Worcester Cathedral.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-880-3
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. 1 The Church of England, spiritualism and the ‘decline’ of religious belief
    (pp. 1-17)

    Such was the straightforward comment made by the eminent zoologist and philosopher J. S. Huxley, contributing to a collection of essays which sought to answer precisely that question. The publication,Where are the dead?(1928), drew together philosophers, clergy, atheists, scientists and spiritualists to answer an anonymous letter published in theDaily News,which wondered of the dead, ‘Wherearethe mighty hosts of the dead … what happens to the poor bewildered soul?’²

    Similar questions have been addressed by all human beings at some point in their lives. An encounter with death, perhaps through personal bereavement, leads people to...

  6. 2 Spiritualism in context
    (pp. 18-38)

    The story of modern spiritualism begins in America, and, more precisely, in a house in Hydesville, New York State, in 1848.¹ The village of Hydesville was made up of wooden houses and the people were farmers. The nearest significant town was Rochester, which was thirty miles away, and New York itself was two hundred and fifty miles away – at least two days’ journey. One of the wooden houses was inhabited by John Fox, who lived with his wife and two of their children, Margaretta (or Maggie), aged fifteen, and Catherine (Katie), aged twelve. Their married daughter, Leah Fish, lived in...

  7. 3 Spiritualism and English common culture
    (pp. 39-79)

    Spiritualism quickly became embedded within English life. It gained committed followers and offered flamboyant mediums and the hint of scandal, as well as strange, even indescribable phenomena. At the same time, and importantly, the language and ideas of spiritualism became familiar in the homes, meeting halls, newspapers and workplaces of many more people than would have acknowledged themselves as ‘spiritualists’. The central claim to communicate with the dead became widely known to men and women, adults and children alike, who came into contact with the language and ideas of spiritualism regardless of whether or not they believed its claims or...

  8. 4 The teachings of spiritualism
    (pp. 80-108)

    In his comprehensive study of nineteenth-century theological controversies concerning eternal punishment and the future life Geoffrey Rowell offers a brief word concerning spiritualism:

    No discussion of nineteenth-century ideas concerning the future life would be complete without a mention of the spiritualist movement, even though this had little direct influence on the doctrine of more orthodox thinkers. Where it was valued, it was so largely because it appeared to offer empirical evidence for a future life, and where it was ignored, it was frequently on the grounds that the reported psychic phenomena were the result of satanic agency. In any case...

  9. 5 The Church of England and the departed c. 1850–1900
    (pp. 109-143)

    The teaching of communicating spirits was, according to convinced spiritualists, strikingly different from what they characterised as the ‘traditional’ teaching of the ‘orthodox’ Churches. Whereas spiritualism offered a vision of the afterlife as a place of beauty, love and peace, the Churches, it was claimed, taught people about a ‘fearful place’ beyond the grave.¹ Death, argued spiritualists, according to this ‘traditional’ teaching, was followed by a period of ‘slumbering’² before human beings rose from their tombs for the final day of judgement, after which those deemed unfit for heaven were punished and tormented for all eternity in a place of...

  10. 6 The Church of England and spiritualism
    (pp. 144-181)

    From the 1850s until the early part of the twentieth century Church of England clergy expressed concerns that spiritualism was widespread. Despite this anxiety, there was no ‘official’ response to spiritualism until 1920, when the Lambeth Conference briefly discussed spiritualism, along with Christian Science and Theosophy, and concluded that there were ‘grave dangers’ in the ‘tendency to make a religion of spiritualism’.¹ It was not until 1936, however, that a small committee, gathered by the archbishop of Canterbury, began to consider spiritualism formally for the Church, presenting its report to the bishops in 1939. Seven of the ten members of...

  11. 7 Re-imagining the afterlife in the twentieth century
    (pp. 182-220)

    During the second half of the nineteenth century, as language and ideas of spiritualism permeated the common culture, the Church of England’s theology of the afterlife had, in some quarters at least, shifted towards the possibility of post-mortem spiritual progress. At the same time, as we saw in chapter five, sermons and liturgy remained largely framed in the traditional language.

    During the Great War this traditional frame was disrupted. The Church of England, confronted by the deaths of so many young men, became more inclined to speak about the state of thedead, as distinct from the living, and thus...

  12. 8 The negotiation of belief
    (pp. 221-228)

    When modern spiritualism arrived in England with Maria Hayden in 1852, it quickly became popular among people from all levels of society. So much so that by 1857The Timesnoted that its ‘forms, nomenclature and rules’ had been absorbed into the common culture and it was ‘all around’.¹ It provided fascination for society ladies, servants and Yorkshire radicals alike. In 1919 George Bernard Shaw wrote of the second half of the nineteenth century as being a time when the leisured classes were

    addicted to table-rapping, materialization séances, clairvoyance, palmistry, crystal-gazing and the like to such an extent that it...

  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 229-248)
  14. Index
    (pp. 249-252)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 253-256)