Platos Ghost: Spiritualism in the American Renaissance

Hardcover | September 18, 2009

byCathy Guiterrez

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In its day, spiritualism brought hundreds of thousands of Americans to seance tables and trance lectures. It has alternately been ridiculed as the apogee of fatuous credulity and hailed as a feminist movement. Its tricks have been exposed, its charlatans unmasked, and its heroes' names lost toposterity. In its day, however, its leaders were household names and politicians worried about capturing the Spiritualist vote. Cathy Gutierrez places Spiritualism in the context of the 19th-century American Renaissance. Although this epithet usually signifies the sudden blossoming of Americanletters, Gutierrez points to its original meaning: a cultural imagination enraptured with the past and the classics in particular, accompanied by a cultural efflorescence. Spiritualism, she contends, was the religious articulation of the American Renaissance, and the ramifications of lookingbackward for advice about the present were far-reaching. The Spiritualist movement, says Gutierrez, was a 'renaissance of the Renaissance,' a culture in love with history as much as it trumpeted progress and futurity, and an expression of what constituted religious hope among burgeoning technologyand colonialism. Rejecting Christian ideas about salvation, Spiritualists embraced Platonic and Neoplatonic ideas. Humans were shot through with the divine, rather than seen as helpless and inexorably corrupt sinners in the hands of a transcendent, angry God. Gutierrez's study of this fascinatingand important movement is organized thematically. She analyzes Spiritualist conceptions of memory, marriage, medicine, and minds, explores such phenomena as machines for contacting the dead, spirit-photography, the idea of eternal spiritual affinity (which implied the necessity for marriage reform),the connection between health and spirituality, and mesmerism.

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In its day, spiritualism brought hundreds of thousands of Americans to seance tables and trance lectures. It has alternately been ridiculed as the apogee of fatuous credulity and hailed as a feminist movement. Its tricks have been exposed, its charlatans unmasked, and its heroes' names lost toposterity. In its day, however, its leaders...

Cathy Gutierrez is Associate Professor of Religion at Sweetbriar College.
Format:HardcoverDimensions:240 pages, 9.25 × 6.13 × 0.98 inPublished:September 18, 2009Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0195388356

ISBN - 13:9780195388350

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Table of Contents

Introduction1. Memory2. Machines3. Marriage4. Medicine5. MindsConclusionSource materialIndex