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Science and Spiritualism, 1750-1930


​​​The Leeds Centre for Victorian Studies is pleased to announce a two-day conference, Science and Spiritualism, 1750 – 1930, at Leeds Trinity University on Thursday 30 and Friday 31 May 2019.

What's happening?

Since the emergence of modern mediumship in the middle of the nineteenth century, science and spiritualism have been interwoven. Sceptics and believers alike have investigated spirit and psychic phenomena to determine its legitimacy.

We are delighted to have Professor Christine Ferguson (University of Stirling), and Professor Roger Luckhurst (Birkbeck, University of London) as our keynote speakers.

Shannon Taggart, internationally acclaimed photographer for The New York Times and Time Magazine, will be in attendance to showcase her exhibition of photographs of Lily DaleNew York, (home to the world's largest Spiritualist commu nity). Nik Taylor and Andy Cooper will be performing a re-enactment of a Victorian Séance followed by a critical discussion with delegates. Nik Taylor is a research magician and performer from the University of Huddersfield and Andy Cooper (performing under the stage name Ashton Carter) is a magician and storyteller specialising in bizarre magic and the recreation of séances.

This two-day interdisciplinary conference will explore the history of the intersection of science and spiritualism during the long nineteenth century.


Thursday 30 May

9.00 – 9.30am
Registration and refreshments

9.30 – 10.45am
Session 1A

  • Anaïs Aledo – Liminality and the Unconscious in Arthur Machen's Use of the Transcendent Doctor Figure
  • Andreas Sommer – Scientific Naturalism and the Study of Spiritualist Phenomena by Positivist and Materialist Representatives of Science and Medicine
  • Béatrice Laurent – Spiritualism vs. 'Exact Science' in the Work of James John Garth Wilkinson


Session 1B

  • Bill Jenkins – The Physiology of the Haunted Mind: Naturalistic Theories of Apparitions in Early Nineteenth-Century Scotland
  • Clare Button – 'The Higher Fundamental Rhythms': Margaret Morris, a Spiritualist Physiotherapist?

10.50am – 12.05pm
Session 2A

  • Eleanor Dobson – 'The Picture of Dorian Gray': Oscar Wilde, Spirit Photography and Occulture
  • Anthony Enns – Gothic Media


Session 2B

  • Annette Mülberger – Spiritualists in Barcelona and their Social Reform Project (1870-1900)
  • Julia Falk - The Terra Incognita of the Soul, Spiritualism in Sweden 1891-1922
  • Julia Gyimesi – Scientific Spiritualism and its Opponents in Hungary

12.10 – 1.00pm Séance: A view from through the veil with Nik Taylor and Andy Cooper

1.00 - 2.00pm Lunch

2.00 – 3.15pm
Session 3A

  • Karl Bell and Eilís Phillips  – 'There is Nothing Certain': Science and Spiritualism, 1914-1924
  • Hayley Flynn – Spiritualism and Dream in Periodical Literature of the 1860s
  • Merrick Burrow – Ecology Catastrophe and the Scientific-Spiritualist Nexus in Arthur Conan Doyle's Professor Challenger Stories


Session 3B

  • Efram Sera-Shriar – Grumbling at the Folklore Society: Edward Clodd, Andrew Lang and The Problem of Psychical Research
  • Elsa Richardson – Lentil Soup Beyond the Veil: Spiritualism, Vegetarianism and Dietetics
  • Shane McCorristine – Science, Geography, and the Spirits: Arctic Explorers and Shamanism

3.20 – 3.55pm Refreshment break

4.00 – 5.15pm
Session 4A

  • Taylor Tomko - Popular Poison: Pastiche and the Rhetorics of Influence in William Somerset Maugham's 'The Magician' and Oscar Wilde's 'The Picture of Dorian Gray'
  • Jodie Marley - 'The Philosophic Voices': W.B. Yeats' Spiritualist Experiments and the Formation of 'A Vision' (1925)
  • Kazuki Inoue - Scientific and Spirit 'Medium' in T.S. Eliot's 'Tradition and the Individual Talent'


Session 4B

  • Andrew Lenoir – Channelling The New Era: John Murray Spear's Mechanical Messiah and the Divine Social State on Earth
  • Claudia Abreu & T Camel – The Fall of Spiritism, The French Spiritualist Movement
  • ​John M. Andrick - Prophetess of a Glorious Future: Lilian Whiting and the Progressive Science of Spiritualist Evolution 1893 - 1919


Session 4C

  • ​Kaat Wils – Magnetizers, Spiritism, and the Science of Hypnosis in Late Nineteenth Century Belgium and France
  • L. Anne Delgado – Death-Defying Acts: Mina Crandon and the 'Sister Art of Magic'
  • Ross MacFarlane - Taken from the Genuine and Original Record: Spiritualism and Information Science

5.15 – 6.00pm Wine Reception

6.15 – 7.15pm Keynote speaker – Christine Ferguson 'Anna Kingsford (1846-1888) and the Intuitive Science of Occultism' 

Feminist, occultist, and one of the first British women to qualify as a medical doctor, Anna Kingsford remains curiously absent from recent studies of science and spiritualism.  Although active and esteemed in each of the latter arenas, her contributions here have been repeatedly side-lined by those of spiritualistically-inclined contemporaries such as Oliver Lodge, Alfred Russel Wallace, and William Crookes. This neglect is attributable to more than just the lesser impact of Kingsford's scientific work; it also reflects a wider tendency within spiritualism and science studies to prioritize interactions between professional male investigators and female or socially subordinate mediums, one that both reflects and reproduces the power dynamics of Victorian psychical research itself.

My talk examines how Kingsford sought to dismantle this divide between a masculinized scientific mode and a feminized practice of intuition throughout her eclectic literary output and self-experimentation. Across her visionary, medical, and anti-vivisectional writings, Kingsford advocated an intuitive form of investigation in which the subjectivity of the researcher took centre stage, and where feeling, inward reflection and self-experimentation replaced distanced observation. Actively resistant and hostile to the "new creed of objectivity" (Daston and Galiston 2007; 195) which came to dominate professional science in the latter half of the nineteenth century, she insisted instead that the self was the first and most appropriate subject for occult and scientific research alike. In this conviction, I argue, she emerges as an important if deeply eccentric pioneer of a feminist epistemology of science, one who would assert the impossibility and undesirability of non-situated knowledge.

Friday 31 May

9.00 – 9.30am Registration and refreshments

9.45 – 11.00am
Session 5A  

  • Aren Roukema – Mediumship at Hyper-Speed: Spiritualism and Science Fiction
  • Muhamet Alijaj – Epistemology, Experiment and Testimony Inside and Outside the Text: The Report of the London Dialectical Society
  • Daniel Albert Joslyn – Heterodox Sexology: Sexual Mysticism as Popular Sexology in the Late Nineteenth-Century United States


Session 5B  

  • Nik Taylor and Andy Cooper – Spiritualists and Magicians: Outrage, Appropriation and the Birth of a Performance Genre
  • Evelien Jonckheere & Kurt Vanhoutte – Metempsychosis in the Fairgrounds: The Migration of a Ghost

11.15 – 12.30pm
Session 6A

  • Beatrice Ashton-Lelliott – Dragging the Davenports: Magic's Co-Option of the Séance
  • Robert Dickins – 'I Am Not a Machine!': Automatism, Domesticity and Spiritual Writing in Nineteenth-Century Britain
  • Susan B. Barnes – The Davenport Brothers' Mediumship: Scientific Fact or Magical Fiction


Session 6B

  • Jane Ford – 'Un-Decodeable Wireless Signals': Telepathy in Lucas Malet's 'The Survivors' (1923)
  • Kitt Price – Frederic Myers and the 'dawning practical science of eugenics'

12.30 – 1.30pm Lunch

1.45 – 3.00pm
Session 7A

  • Camilo Garzón – The Invention of a Spirit's Science: Rhetoric, Places of Production, and Inscriptions of an 'Ungraspable' Scientific Object, 1857-1860
  • Ellen Packham – Contesting Boundaries: William Gregory (1803-1858) and the Limits of 'Established Science' in the Mid-Nineteenth Century.
  • Rebecca Sheppard – Pathologized Victim or Self-Realised Subject? Mesmerism in George Du Maurier's 'Trilby' and W. Somerset Maugham's 'Magician'


Session 7B

  • Emma Merkling – Evelyn De Morgan and 'The Unseen Universe': Material Death, Eternal Life, and Victorian Thermodynamics
  • James Mussell – Binding and Embodiment: Oliver Lodge, Physics, and the Book
  • Havelok Symes – Representing the Ether: Oliver Lodge and the Fight Against Instrumentalism

3.15 – 3.45pm Refreshments break

4.00 – 5.15pm
Session 8A

  • Rosemary Mitchell – Catholic Priests and Spiritualism
  • Suzy Anger – Western Buddhism and the Victorian Sciences of the Mind: Lafcadio Hearn's Mediations
  • Susan Leybourne – Darkness, Visionary Experiences and the Nineteenth Century Séance 


Session 8B

  • Serena Keshavjee – Photographing Teleplasm: The History and Aesthetics of Ghost Photographs on the Prairies
  • Shannon Taggart – Scientists as Spirit Guides: Communications with Tesla, Einstein and Edison in Contemporary Spiritualism
  • Karolina Maria Hess – Photography and Radiation in Mediumistic Experiments by Julian Ochorowicz


Session 8C

  • Tetsuya Kumagai – The Influence of German Spiritualism on Modern Japanese Philosophy: Raphael von Koeber at Tokyo Imperial University
  • Sophie Allen - Nineteenth-Century Spiritualism in Birmingham and Mrs Groom: Intellectual or Feeble-Minded? 
  • Marie Holm and Gazi Islam: Mind over matter: Exploring spiritualism in society through history

5.30 – 6.30pm Keynote Speaker – Roger Luckhurst 'Stanhope Speer and the Ghost Club Circle: Questions and Methods'

6.30pm Conference close


Leeds Trinity University, Brownberrie Lane, Horsforth, Leeds LS18 5HD

How can I book?

Please book your space via the Online Store. ​


For information regarding travelling to campus please click here​.

For guests wishing to stay overnight, Weetwood Hall offers a discounted rate of £74 per night for delegates at Leeds Trinity University. Alternatively, guests may look to stay at city centre hotels close to Leeds train station (the University is a 14 minute train ride from the city centre). 

Further information

If you have any further enquiries please email Jane deGay, Professor of English at Leeds Trinity University. ​The programme is correct at time of posting and may be subject to change.