By Robert S. Cox
A made of the "spiritual hothouse" of the second one nice Awakening, Spiritualism grew to become the quickest growing to be faith within the state through the 1850s, and one of many imperative responses to the frequent conception that American society used to be descending into atomistic particularity.
InBody and Soul, Robert Cox indicates how Spiritualism sought to remodel sympathy into social perform, arguing that every person, dwelling and useless, used to be poised inside a nexus of have an effect on, and during the energetic propagation of those sympathetic bonds, a brand new and coherent society could emerge. Phenomena resembling spontaneous somnambulism and sympathetic communion with the dead―whether via séance or "spirit photography"―were methods of transcending the limitations dissecting the yank physique politic, together with the last word barrier, loss of life. Drawing both upon social, occult, and physiological registers, Spiritualism created a special "social body structure" during which brain was once built-in into physique and physique into society, major Spiritualists into earthly social reforms, equivalent to women’s rights and anti-slavery.
From the start, although, Spiritualist political and social expression was once way more assorted than has formerly been famous, encompassing specified proslavery and antiegalitarian lines, and within the wake of racial and political alterations following the Civil struggle, the move started to fracture. Cox strains the eventual dissolution of Spiritualism in the course of the contradictions of its numerous local and racial factions and during their more and more circumscribed responses to a altering international. in any case, he concludes, the background of Spiritualism was once written within the limits of sympathy, and never its unlimited potential.
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Additional info for Body and Soul: A Sympathetic History of American Spiritualism
Both pleasure and pain, he suggested, were shared through sympathy, and to different degrees both were experienced corporeally. ”11 As natural and powerful as it was, however, sympathy had expressive limits: it was “habitual” (learned), and its experience was therefore predicated upon the tenor of the relationship of the individuals involved: a person sympathized most powerfully with those with whom he or she was most frequently in contact and much less powerfully with others. 12 Adding a further wrinkle, while the sympathetic response was like the originating sentiment, it was of nowhere near the “same degree of violence,” particularly with respect to bodily pain, and it was of only limited duration.
But to Belden, as for many commentators, the significant factor in these “paroxysms” was neither the excellent performance of her duties nor the particular nature of the actions, but the peculiar nature of Rider’s physical senses. ” To lessen the pain Belden had her eyes heavily bandaged, but even in this state she was able to read in the dark and discern the dates of well-worn coins held at a distance. Although Rider was unable to see through truly opaque barriers, other somnambulists could, like the boy examined by the Physical Society of Lausanne or like Abigail Cass, the “Stanstead Somnambulist,” who • Sleepwalking and Sympathy could “see” through insensate eyes.
Yet as should be clear, somnambulists also exposed a disquieting personal vulnerability. Like the double-edged theory of sympathy, somnambulists embodied not only the hopeful construal of bodily union but the implicit fear of the indeterminacy of internal states. When first entering the Stebbins home to treat Jane Rider, Lemuel Belden was struck by the girl’s “false conception” of her surroundings: she believed fully that she was at home in Brattleboro, having “no recollection of ever having been in Springfield.