Body and Soul
A Sympathetic History of American Spiritualism
Publication Year: 2003
A product of the "spiritual hothouse" of the Second Great Awakening, Spiritualism became the fastest growing religion in the nation during the 1850s, and one of the principal responses to the widespread perception that American society was descending into atomistic particularity.
InBody and Soul, Robert Cox shows how Spiritualism sought to transform sympathy into social practice, arguing that each individual, living and dead, was poised within a nexus of affect, and through the active propagation of these sympathetic bonds, a new and coherent society would emerge. Phenomena such as spontaneous somnambulism and sympathetic communion with the dead—whether through séance or "spirit photography"—were ways of transcending the barriers dissecting the American body politic, including the ultimate barrier, death. Drawing equally upon social, occult, and physiological registers, Spiritualism created a unique "social physiology" in which mind was integrated into body and body into society, leading Spiritualists into earthly social reforms, such as women’s rights and anti-slavery.
From the beginning, however, Spiritualist political and social expression was far more diverse than has previously been recognized, encompassing distinctive proslavery and antiegalitarian strains, and in the wake of racial and political adjustments following the Civil War, the movement began to fracture. Cox traces the eventual dissolution of Spiritualism through the contradictions of its various regional and racial factions and through their increasingly circumscribed responses to a changing world. In the end, he concludes, the history of Spiritualism was written in the limits of sympathy, and not its limitless potential.
Robert S. Cox is Curator of Manuscripts at the American Philosophical Society.
Published by: University of Virginia Press
Body and Soul
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List of Illustrations
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Prodded by his publisher to produce, Kenneth Graeme defended himself by claiming to be “a spring, and not a pump.” As the epitome of a spring, I owe a debt of gratitude to several individuals not only for bringing out my artesian tendencies but for clarifying the emissions. ...
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Wendell Newhall knew his feelings, having been introduced to them by an old friend. When he reminisced about the events of that evening’s self-encounter to Asa Smith, a witness, a participant, and a sympathetic soul in his own right, the sensations still boiled within. ...
1: Sleepwalking and Sympathy
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On a late afternoon near the turn of the nineteenth century, a great whale was dragged ashore on Long Island and prepared for butchery. For a town like East Hampton, the windfall of meat and oil transformed the event into a community affair, stirring “the greater part of the people” to gather round to carve or cart the blubber, ...
2: Celestial Symptoms
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Spreading madness with a kiss in the summer of 1801, the mother of John S. infected her son with the belief that he would become a “preacher of the everlasting gospel,” and with kiss after kiss she passed the contagion to her other children and daughters-in-law, each of whom fell prey, one upon another, to the common delusion. ...
3: Transparent Spirits
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Spiritualists spoke often of the desires of mid-Victorian life: of the desires sparked by developments in wire, steam, and rail that promised the erasure of distance and social isolation; of those kindled by scientific rationalism and its hopes for revealing the most intimate structures of causality and being; ...
4: Angels’ Language
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To many Americans daguerreotypes were the “angels’ language of types & symbols.” With an ineffable ability to replicate nature in minute detail and to portray even the most elusive nuances of character, the daguerreotype resounded with a spiritual and moral authority, idolized as the potent spawn of art mated with science ...
5: Vox Populi
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On a summer’s night in 1851, a “bright and beautiful” spirit appeared to Judge John Worth Edmonds, cloaked in a gossamer robe “as if it was an atmosphere of a pale-blue . . . , transparent and ever moving like living flame.” This noble, gray-haired spirit shone forth with a “great firmness, as if he could stand unmoved amid a conflict of worlds,” ...
6: Invisible World
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The New York Herald pulled no punches during the convention of “Southern Loyalists” in 1866. “Blacks and Whites,” it howled in headline, “Free Lovers, Spiritualists, Fourierites, Women’s Rights Men, Negro Equality Men and Miscegens in Convocation!” ...
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For a modest fee clients of the National Developing Circle received a small packet of “developing paper” surcharged with an electric energy guaranteed to produce wondrous results. A simple touch, it was reported, had reduced one recipient to a fit of uncontrollable trembling; ...
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In the wake of the Civil War, the spirits spoke as often as they ever had before, but their silence prevailed over words: defying both critics and historians, the half million souls that littered the landscape from Pennsylvania to New Mexico remained resolutely mute. ...
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Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 2003