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Spiritualism and a Mid-Victorian Crisis of Evidence

Peter Lamont
The Historical Journal
Vol. 47, No. 4 (Dec., 2004), pp. 897-920
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4091661
Page Count: 24
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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 seance 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.

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