Laboratories of Faith: Mesmerism, Spiritism, and Occultism in Modern France by John Warne MonroeLaboratories of Faith: Mesmerism, Spiritism, and Occultism in Modern France by John Warne Monroe

Laboratories of Faith: Mesmerism, Spiritism, and Occultism in Modern France

byJohn Warne Monroe

Hardcover | December 14, 2007

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At a fascinating moment in French intellectual history, an interest in matters occult was not equivalent to a rejection of scientific thought; participants in séances and magic rituals were seekers after experimental data as well as spiritual truth. A young astronomy student wrote of his quest: "I am not in the presence or under the influence of any evil spirit: I study Spiritism as I study mathematics." He did not see himself as an ecstatic visionary but rather as a sober observer. For him, the darkened room of occult practice was as much laboratory as church.

In an evocative history of alternative religious practices in France in the second half of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries, John Warne Monroe tells the interconnected stories of three movements—Mesmerism, Spiritism, and Occultism. Adherents of these groups, Monroe reveals, attempted to "modernize" faith by providing empirical support for metaphysical concepts. Instead of trusting theological speculation about the nature of the soul, these believers attempted to gather tangible evidence through Mesmeric experiments, séances, and ceremonial magic. While few French people were active Mesmerists, Spiritists, or Occultists, large segments of the educated general public were familiar with these movements and often regarded them as fascinating expressions of the "modern condition," a notable contrast to the Catholicism and secular materialism that prevailed in their culture.

Featuring eerie spirit photographs, amusing Daumier lithographs, and a posthumous autograph from Voltaire, as well as extensive documentary evidence, Laboratories of Faith gives readers a sense of what being in a séance or a secret-society ritual might actually have felt like and why these feelings attracted participants. While they never achieved the transformation of human consciousness for which they strove, these thinkers and believers nevertheless pioneered a way of "being religious" that has become an enduring part of the Western cultural vocabulary.

John Warne Monroe is Associate Professor of History at Iowa State University. He is the winner of Yale University's Theron Rockwell Field Prize.
Title:Laboratories of Faith: Mesmerism, Spiritism, and Occultism in Modern FranceFormat:HardcoverDimensions:312 pages, 9.25 × 6.13 × 1 inPublished:December 14, 2007Publisher:Cornell University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0801445620

ISBN - 13:9780801445620

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Editorial Reviews

"This is a superb book, thoughtfully conceived, richly documented, and elegantly written. It builds on an existing tradition of revisionist scholarship regarding the religious history of modern France, but it approaches the questions raised by that scholarship with a new depth and imagination. John Warne Monroe offers an original and suggestive account of the nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century roots of New Age religion. Beyond that, he also calls into question the view of French cultural history of that era as marked by the triumph of a militantly secular republic and with it a materialist and anticlerical intellectual vision." - Jonathan Beecher, University of California, Santa Cruz