“Through an examination of their material culture, American Spiritualists illuminate a period of flux in American religious history and a means to navigate the changing landscape of the long nineteenth century. ”
Spiritual Matters: American Spiritualism and Material Culture, my current book project, examines the material culture of American Spiritualism (the practice of communing with the spirits of the dead) to reveal remarkable and major shifts in Americans’ relationship with religion. Spiritualism emphasized the spirit, the ephemeral, and the intangible, and it depended on material culture and simply could not exist without it. However, Spiritualism has never been examined comprehensively from the perspective of materiality in religion. Spiritual Matters takes up this task and argues that American Spiritualists saw themselves in an interconnected world that included the ethereal and the material. In the process, I narrate an important moment in American religious history—one in which the world was a modern place and still a magical one. The book’s periodization (1840s-1920) examines a period of flux in American religious history. Changing social boundaries, shifting assumptions about gender, new ideas about race, and the embrace of modernity greatly altered the U.S. religious landscape. Spiritualism welcomed these changes, while also arguing for the continued spiritual enchantment of the modern world.