Spiritualism and the Struggle for Public Knowledge
This chapter looks at the controversy surrounding Spiritualism in the 1870s. Considered by many a modernized religion more suited to the day's empirical advances, Spiritualism sparked substantial disagreement as to whether actual “spirits” of the departed were responsible for the phenomena that occurred in seances. In Russia in particular, where the Great Reforms had vigorously initiated debates over the place of scientific expertise in a modernizing state, Spiritualism became the center of a controversy about the status of religion, science, and superstition. A central episode in the history of Russian Spiritualism served as a microcosm of the concerns about science's relation to the disjointed society of the Great Reforms: the creation and work of the Commission for the Investigation of Mediumistic Phenomena. The Commission was set up in May 1875 at Dmitrii Mendeleev's instigation by the Russian Physical Society—a newly created sibling to the Russian Chemical Society.
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