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  • 2019radakovicphd

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Beyond faith and reason: the genesis of psychical research and the search for the paranormal domain (1850-1914)

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

Published
Publication date2019
Number of pages246
QualificationPhD
Awarding Institution
Supervisors/Advisors
Publisher
  • Lancaster University
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

The late-Victorian period was characterised by rapid social, cultural, and intellectual changes, with all domains open to challenge from numerous and diverse directions. This thesis focusses on a short period in ‘the Age of Enlightenment’, from the mid-nineteenth century to 1914, during which many groups and individuals wanted to try to answer the ultimate questions about the nature of the universe and humanity’s place within it. For them, the well-established fields of science, religion, and philosophy each proved to be inadequate individual tools with which to attempt to answer these questions. Consequently, many members of the cultural and intellectual elite turned to the paranormal domain, within which they saw the potential to answer some of their fundamental questions. Psychical research was a nascent intellectual field that investigated strange phenomena which existed at the borders of orthodox thinking, sitting precariously between the acceptable and the unacceptable. This thesis investigates the cultural, evidential, and sometimes personal motivations of the early paranormal researchers, all of which were members of the Society for Psychical Research, and some of the first theories developed by them. The thesis thus establishes the significance of paranormal research during this period. It discusses, in an intentionally eclectic way not done before, several of the key thinkers of the time. It posits a typology to help understanding of the period. This ‘paranormal domain’ represents a combination of an intellectual mindset, an investigative methodology, and a spiritual perspective, particular to the early psychical researchers of the SPR.