Plato's Ghost Spiritualism in the American Renaissance (AAR Theory and Reflection Series)

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9780195388350: Plato's Ghost Spiritualism in the American Renaissance (AAR Theory and Reflection Series)
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In its day, spiritualism brought hundreds of thousands of Americans to séance 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 to posterity. 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 American letters, 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 looking backward 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 technology and 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 fascinating and 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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About the Author:

Cathy Gutierrez is an Associate Professor at Sweet Briar College.

Review:


"Graced by her erudite yet playfully accessible prose, Gutierrez's book is an essential rereading of the spiritualist phenomenon as 'the religious articulation of the American Renaissance'...Gutierrez has woven a spectacular text that should be compulsory reading...Scholars of American metaphysical religion, esotericism, and the history of ideas in nineteenth-century America will be pleasantly rewarded for their reading." --Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft


"...the most systematic analysis to date of nineteenth-century..."--Bret E. Carroll, California State University


"In Plato's Ghost, Cathy Gutierrez references all of these well-known aspects of spiritualism, but she discusses them in innovative ways and in so doing shows how Spiritualists reacted to changes in American culture, how they in turn affected American society, and she illustrates some of the subtle ways that Spiritualist thought developed and changed over time...By including captivating stories and quotations, Gutierrez not only provides support for her claims, but also makes the work a pleasure to read."--Religious Studies Review


"At a time when books on Spiritualism are in vogue, Gutierrez's work stands apart by focusing on the broad cultural logic at work in 19th-century America...Gutierrez's own use of historical imagination has resulted in a work full of rich narratives and captivating descriptions of 19th-century American life that masterfully move the reader back and forth through time and vividly bring the past to life."--Religion


"This work would be particularly useful to those looking for an example of a thoughtful intellectual history of a popular religion...it should be necessary reading for those studying American metaphysical religions and anyone interested in religious concepts of time and progress."--Preternature


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