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Laboratories of Faith: Mesmerism, Spiritism, and Occultism in Modern France Hardcover – December 20, 2007


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"A mesmerizing overview of a foreign field. Monroe has immersed himself in the ferment of ideas going on in this period and analyzes what they meant to people then, however naïve they may now seem. He stresses just how widely read the publications of some of the figures that he discusses were, making them a crucial factor in any balanced assessment of French intellectual life."—Tom Ruffles, Fortean Times, April 2008

"Laboratories of Faith is an account of scientists and others who used scientific language and concepts to investigate the 'spirit world.' They aimed to give the proof of the validity of spiritual endeavor that a materialistic age demanded. Metaphysics was no longer going to be a matter of philosophical speculation, but one of rigorous experimental study. Thus French savants handed themselves over to every conjurer and charlatan in the land. . . . It is an excellently researched, scholarly look at serious-minded people seeking empirical truth for the doctrines they already believed by faith, a 'science of God.' With a firmer grip than most writers on his subject, Monroe puts these events into their political context, showing how psychic phenomena had a rewarding way of changing shape to reflect the preoccupations of those observing them. In the post-1848 atmosphere of political repression journalists enjoyed reporting exciting events that were not subject to censorship; Catholic priests were able to play on anxieties by presenting the devil as a demonstrable presence in the séance room; scientists could portray themselves as objective guardians of rationality. The political left also gained solace from these phenomena, following revolution and a conservative backlash. Victor Hugo, for example, in 1853 asked a table for a 'commentary,' to which it replied 'Republic.' He asked the table to strike the floor as many times as there were years from then until the republic; the table struck two blows. Thus a divine order ruled the universe and a French republic was part of that order. It was very reassuring, once you had overcome your reserve about talking to a table."—Jad Adams, The Guardian, 10 January 2009

"This is a deeply humane book. John Warne Monroe takes us into the occult world of first-rate mediums, for-profit somnambulists, sober scientists, bored aesthetes, earnest seekers, clueless dupes, shrill moralists, tireless self-promoters, and blatant crooks. He introduces them to us without a hint of mockery or condescension. In fact, he writes about them in ways that make us see them as entirely familiar and utterly human."—Raymond Jonas, Giovanni and Amne Costigan Professor of History, University of Washington

"This is a superb book, thoughtfully conceived, richly documented, and elegantly written. It builds on an existing tradition of revisionist scholarship regarding the religious history of modern France, but it approaches the questions raised by that scholarship with a new depth and imagination. John Warne Monroe offers an original and suggestive account of the nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century roots of New Age religion. Beyond that, he also calls into question the view of French cultural history of that era as marked by the triumph of a militantly secular republic and with it a materialist and anticlerical intellectual vision."—Jonathan Beecher, University of California, Santa Cruz

From the Back Cover

"This is a deeply humane book. John Warne Monroe takes us into the occult world of first-rate mediums, for-profit somnambulists, sober scientists, bored aesthetes, earnest seekers, clueless dupes, shrill moralists, tireless self-promoters, and blatant crooks. He introduces them to us without a hint of mockery or condescension. In fact, he writes about them in ways that make us see them as entirely familiar and utterly human."--Raymond Jonas, Giovanni and Amne Costigan Professor of History, University of Washington

"This is a superb book, thoughtfully conceived, richly documented, and elegantly written. It builds on an existing tradition of revisionist scholarship regarding the religious history of modern France, but it approaches the questions raised by that scholarship with a new depth and imagination. John Warne Monroe offers an original and suggestive account of the nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century roots of New Age religion. Beyond that, he also calls into question the view of French cultural history of that era as marked by the triumph of a militantly secular republic and with it a materialist and anticlerical intellectual vision."--Jonathan Beecher, University of California, Santa Cruz


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