Psychic Investigators

Anthropology, Modern Spiritualism, and Credible Witnessing in the Late Victorian Age

This is a book I've been waiting decades to read—a superbly researched and compellingly argued analysis of the ways that anthropological theories and practices shaped Victorian scientific research into spiritualism and, more surprisingly, how spiritualism shaped the theories and practices of anthropology in the critical period of its disciplinary formation.
Richard Noakes, author of Physics and Psychics: The Occult and the Sciences in Modern Britain

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Psychic Investigators examines British anthropology’s engagement with the modern spiritualist movement during the late Victorian era. Efram Sera-Shriar argues that debates over the existence of ghosts and psychical powers were at the center of anthropological discussions on human beliefs. He focuses on the importance of establishing credible witnesses of spirit and psychic phenomena in the writings of anthropologists such as Alfred Russel Wallace, Edward Burnett Tylor, Andrew Lang, and Edward Clodd. The book draws on major themes, such as the historical relationship between science and religion, the history of scientific observation, and the emergence of the subfield of anthropology of religion in the second half of the nineteenth century. For secularists such as Tylor and Clodd, spiritualism posed a major obstacle in establishing the legitimacy of the theory of animism: a core theoretical principle of anthropology founded in the belief of “primitive cultures” that spirits animated the world, and that this belief represented the foundation of all religious paradigms. What becomes clear through this nuanced examination of Victorian anthropology is that arguments involving spirits or psychic forces usually revolved around issues of evidence, or lack of it, rather than faith or beliefs or disbeliefs.

236 Pages, 6 x 9 in.

June, 2022

isbn : 9780822947073

about the author

Efram Sera-Shriar

Efram Sera-Shriar is a Copenhagen-based historian and writer. He received his PhD from the University of Leeds and has worked in higher education and the museum sector for nearly twenty years. As an associate professor in English studies at the University of Copenhagen, he teaches about the history and culture of the English-speaking world. He is also associate director of research for the Centre for Nineteenth-Century Studies International at Durham University. Prior to taking on these roles, he was a senior researcher and research grants manager for the Science Museum Group in the UK and lecturer of modern history at Leeds Trinity University.

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Efram Sera-Shriar