Other Worlds: Alfred Russel Wallace and the Cross-Cultures of Spiritualism

Noeud de réseau: 
Me., Oct. 30, 2013, 3:30pm

Other Worlds: Alfred Russel Wallace and the Cross-Cultures of Spiritualism
Edmonton: University of Alberta, Oct. 30, 2013

The Alberta node is pleased to support this event as part of More than Natural Selection: A Lecture Series on Alfred Russel Wallace at the University of Alberta, October 2013.

In 1848, a young Alfred Russel Wallace arrived at the gate to the Amazon river in Pará, ready to embark on the exploration tour that would provide him with his first extended contact with non-Western indigenous peoples.  Thousands of miles to the north, an encounter of a very different kind was taking place in the rural hamlet of Hydesville, New York.  Here the young mediums Kate and Maggie Fox had just started to receive the rapped séance communications that would launch the international modern spiritualist movement. My lecture considers the impact of contact with these sometimes overlapping constituencies of spirits and non-Western peoples on Wallace’s writings on social progress and spiritual evolution.  Wallace entered the public sphere as a defender of spiritualism at a time when anthropological accounts of cross-cultural spirit belief was regularly being claimed by believers and anti-Spiritualists alike— William Howitt and E.B. Tylor, to name just a few— as evidence for their respective positions. Wallace remained relatively silent on the subject of so-called “savage” spiritualism in his main spiritualist opus Miracles and Modern Spiritualism (1875), perhaps out of fear of confirming the Tylorite equation of modern séance practices with primitive survivals; yet in his late-life sociological and biographical writings, he became far more explicit in his incorporation and endorsement of the numinous testimony of global indigenous peoples. I read Wallace’s shifting position towards the evidentiary value of non-Western spiritualism as an important index of both his increasing skepticism towards the Enlightenment project and of the role of race in Victorian spiritualist and occult thought.



Speaker:  Christine Ferguson is a Senior Lecturer in English Literature at the University of Glasgow. Over the last several years, her research has focused on the literature of the Victorian spiritualist movement, with a particular emphasis on its reception of contemporary evolutionary, eugenic, and anthropological ideas. Her monograph on this topic, Determined Spirits, was published by Edinburgh University Press in 2012; in late 2013, her scholarly edition of nineteenth-century transatlantic spiritualist writings on race, eugenics, and human variation will appear with Routledge.


Lecture series description: Alfred Russel Wallace was a great natural historian and a leading figure in the debates that swirled around the questions of evolution and the origins of humans in the nineteenth century. He and Charles Darwin are often paired as co-discoverers of evolution by natural selection. But Wallace’s interests were very wide ranging. One hundred years after his death, we will remember in this lecture series Wallace the natural historian and evolutionist, but we will also explore lesser known aspects of Wallace’s life, including Wallace’s involvement with spiritualism, his political sympathies, and even Wallace the protagonist in controversies around the existence of extra-terrestrial life.   These multiple idiosyncrasies are usually described as paradoxical departures from, even diminishments of, Wallace’s scientific competence.  We find in them a different sort of paradox.  They simultaneously attest to Wallace’s profound intellectual originality and independence while also being inextricable from the culturally and historically specific milieu of Victorian science.   Each of the talks in the series will explore a different aspect of this paradox and the interesting problems it poses for the study of science.

For information on other events in this series, see here:http://www.situsci.ca/event/alfred-russel-wallace-lecture-series-more-natural-selection