The Historical Journal



SPIRITUALISM AND A MID-VICTORIAN CRISIS OF EVIDENCE 1


PETER LAMONT a1
a1 University of Edinburgh

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Abstract

Historians writing on Victorian spiritualism have said little about the reported phenomena of the séance room, despite such events having been the primary reason given by spiritualists for their beliefs. Rather, such beliefs have been seen as a response to the so-called ‘crisis of faith’, and their expression as part of a broader scientific and cultural discourse. Yet the debate about séance phenomena was significantly problematic for the Victorians, in particular the reported phenomena associated with the best-known Victorian medium, Daniel Dunglas Home. In the attempt to provide a natural explanation for Home's phenomena, two groups of experts were appealed to – stage conjurors and scientists – yet it seems clear that the former were unable to explain the phenomena, while scientists who tested Home concluded his phenomena were real. The overwhelming rejection of supernatural agency, and the nature of the response from orthodox science, suggests that such reported phenomena were less the result of a crisis of faith than the cause of a crisis of evidence, the implications of which were deemed scientific rather than religious.

(Published Online November 29 2004)



Footnotes

1 The author would like to thank the anonymous referees of the Historical Journal for their feedback, and acknowledge the assistance of the Arts and Humanities Research Board, the Institut für Grenzgebiete der Psychologie und Psychohygiene, and the Koestler Chair of Parapsychology.