New articles on the history of psychical research, temporarily for free download

shpsc_coverHistorian of science Andreas Sommer, who blogs at Forbidden Histories, just announced the publication of a special section on the history of psychical research and parapsychology, published in the Elsevier journal Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences. Usually, articles in this journal would be unavailable to most people, but this time Elsevier has provided free download links to the articles that will be accessible until December 7. Sommer has collected the links in his write-up at Forbidden Histories, along with abstracts of the articles. This means that you are just a few clicks away from finding out what role the horse Clever Hans played in the establishment of German parapsychology, how epistemically virtuous William Crookes really was, what sort of relation psychical research had to experimental physics, and what place this elusive discipline has in current historiography and philosophy of science. Among other things. Check it out.

“Materialization: Occult Research on the Soul” – an esoteric lecture with Andreas Kilcher at UCSB

Kilcher lecture

This summer, the President of ESSWE, Andreas Kilcher, has been located at Stanford University. With me being based at UC Santa Barbara, we found a great opportunity to arrange a small esotericism event at the UCSB Religious Studies Department and the Religion, Experience and Mind Lab group that I am working with. So if you are in the area, consider this event on August 6th: Andreas Kilcher lectures on “Materialization: Occult Research on the Soul”. Scroll down for the abstract (or download the flyer here):

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Blind Spots of Disenchantment (1/3)

Max Weber (1864-1920)

The way things have turned out, the content of my PhD dissertation will revolve around a concept which Max Weber somewhat unsystematically formulated almost 100 years ago: the disenchantment of the world. Disenchantment has usually been described as a socio-cultural process, driven by rationalisation and intellectualisation processes which Weber traced back to the invention of monotheism, and the development of monotheistic theology. It has been embraced by sociologists and historians of religion in particular, who have seen in it (as did Weber) certain consequences for the condition of religion, magic, and their relation to intellectual life (and particularly science) in the modern world. My dissertation is increasingly becoming a criticism of the concept of disenchantment, and an exploration of a more nuanced approach to it as it relates to interfaces between religion, science, and that vast unsystematic and poorly defined set of “the occult”, “esoteric”, and “magical”. In April I had two opportunities to discuss these ideas in workshop settings, first with a commentary from the social historian of knowledge Peter Burke, and later in a research workshop for cultural history PhDs in the Netherlands called the Barchem symposium. In this post, and in two following installments, I will share the text of my lecture(s), intended to give an overview of my general approach, illustrated with snapshots of relevant cases from early 20th century history of science and culture. This first post discusses, historicises and criticises Weber’s concept of disenchantment in what is a brief theoretical introduction proposing that we take a different approach to it. Part two will concern the place of this revised notion in early 20th century scientific discourses, particularly in their broader cultural reception and context. The third part discusses briefly the attempt to create a “new natural theology” in this period.

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William McDougall and the Professionalization of Parapsychology

William McDougall (1871-1938): British psychologist, eugenical agitator, and professionalizer of parapsychology.

It is admittedly with some pride I notice that my very first history of science article has now been published. Since I am essentially an autodidact when it comes to history of science/science studies it was important for me to get through the peer review process of the Journal for the History of the Behavioral Sciences. Additionally, a scholarly discourse on psychical research and parapsychology has been developing on the pages of JHBS over the last few years, especially with articles by Heather Wolffram, Courtenay Grean Raia, and Sofie Lachapelle. I hope to make a modestly contribute to this developing discourse with “A nice arrangement of heterodoxies: William McDougall and the professionalization of psychical research”.

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Frederic W. F. Myers and Gothic Psychology

F. W. H. Myers

“Frederic Myers will always be remembered in psychology as the pioneer who staked out a vast tract of mental wilderness and planted the flag of genuine science upon it.” With these words the far more famous American psychologist and philosopher, William James, concluded his 1901 obituary of British classicist, amateur psychologist and founding member of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR), Frederic W. F. Myers (1843-1901). According to James, Myers’ work would set a new standard for the psychological sciences of the 20th century. More than a decade into the 21st, the name is mostly remembered by parapsychologists and historians with an interest  in the quirkier twists that psychology could have taken.

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Some notes on scientism

The word “scientism” gets tossed around a lot in critical public debates about science’s place in society. Usually it is used derogatorily to dismiss a trend in using science which the user of the word doesn’t like. Used in this way, it is a rhetorical label without much analytic content. But it may also be turned into a useful category for analyzing historical data.

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