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The New PrometheansFaith, Science, and the Supernatural Mind in the Victorian Fin de Siécle$
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Courtenay Raia

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780226635217

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2020

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226635491.001.0001

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The Culture of Proof and the Crisis of Faith

The Culture of Proof and the Crisis of Faith

(p.15) Chapter One The Culture of Proof and the Crisis of Faith
The New Prometheans

Courtenay Raia

University of Chicago Press

The nineteenth century saw the scientific revolution come sweeping through the common culture, not just as technology or worldview, but more intimately, as a personal standard of truth. The Victorian "crisis of faith" finds its authenticity in this space of private conscience, as the new premium on evidence undercut belief without proof. But rather than a war between science and religion, most Victorians were battling over the terms of the peace. Institutional defenders sought an amicable division between clerical and academic authority, upholding what they could of social norms. Reformers pushed for a harder reconciliation between science and spirituality, dissatisfied with the status quo. Victorian spiritualism arrived on cue in 1852. Inside the séance circle, evidence and belief could advance together, letting faith rise with the fortunes of positivism. While spiritualism was highly customizable, it was still one overarching movement, hoping for a truth that could be shared. That convergence never came, but aspects of its epistemological project (proof of the unseen) carried forward with psychical research in the scientific idiom of consciousness. The Society for Psychical Research (1882) was the culminating effort by Victorian intellectuals to heal divided knowledge, putting synthesis not separation at the heart of modernity.

Keywords:   nineteenth-century spiritualism, psychical research, positivism, crisis of faith, the science and religion wars, epistemology and truth, culture wars, religious reform, popularization of science

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