Staging the supernatural. The role of theatre, science and media in the rise and fall of spiritualist performances in Belgium, 1830-1930.
AbstractThe proposed study will map and analyze the way spiritualism, popular entertainment, science and religion was dynamically interconnected in Belgium between 1830 and 1930. It departs from the hypothesis that performative and theatrical aspects of spiritualism were essential in its rise and popularity, and yet at the same time contributed to its downfall. This focus on performance will place the known actors in the field of spiritualism in a new light and is key to understanding their specific interactions. This research will unearth the relationships between mediums and spiritualists, professional show people and involved scientific and religious individuals, who kept spiritualism alive through performing it and by surrounding these performances in lively debate. The geographical focus is placed on Belgium, a country with multiple cultural contexts and a crossroads for transnational influences. Furthermore, the vibrant Belgian spiritualist scene has yet to be thoroughly researched. This study aims to situate spiritualism in relation to popular performance culture and analyze the role of show people in the rise and fall of spiritualism, nuancing and adjusting dominant narratives about the role of different actors, the class they may have belonged to, and the place of women in spiritualism. It also aims to develop a better understanding of the role of technological media in creating effects, searching for empirical evidence and unmasking the séances.
- Promoter: Wynants Nele
- Co-promoter: Jonckheere Evelien
- Co-promoter: Van Osselaer Tine
- Fellow: Welslau Hannah
- Research Project
Performances of the Otherworldly : Supernatural Science at the Fair in North-Western Europe (1850-1930).
AbstractThis PhD project will investigate areas of exchange and confrontation between scientists and fairground entertainment in the realm of the supernatural such as mediums communicating with the dead, electric girls, sleepwalkers and seers. Initially introduced as entertainment, by the end of the 19th century the practice aroused the interest of religious and scientific authorities alike. It is well known that spiritualists frequently used explanations based on scientific concepts such as fluids, waves, rays, etc. The scientists themselves were also familiar with the spiritualists' ambitions to communicate from a distance. Like most spiritualists, some scientists were keen to place the manifestations of the spirit within the framework of natural phenomena. By focusing on the physical effects produced by mediums – challenging the laws of gravity, the appearance of objects, the production of ectoplasms – spiritualism revived the hope of a reconciliation between science and religion, alongside its social ambitions of solidarity, women's rights, education and egalitarianism. Across the continent, these advances and novelties blurred the borders between the natural and the supernatural; between science, religion and entertainment. This project aims to advance an interpretation of the ways in which supernatural phenomena were analysed and framed, with a focus on identifying various attempts to scientifically explore and explain the supernatural. The goal here is not a matter of pronouncing on the reality of occult phenomena, but of reconstructing a key moment in cultural history through the traces and documents left by the protagonists.
- Research Project