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The New Prometheans

Faith, Science, and the Supernatural Mind in the Victorian Fin de Siècle

Courtenay Raia

The New Prometheans

Courtenay Raia

440 pages | 4 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2019
Paper $35.00 ISBN: 9780226635354 Published December 2019
Cloth $105.00 ISBN: 9780226635217 Published December 2019
E-book $10.00 to $35.00 About E-books ISBN: 9780226635491 Published December 2019

The Society for Psychical Research was established in 1882 to further the scientific study of consciousness, but it arose in the surf of a larger cultural need. Victorians were on the hunt for self-understanding. Mesmerists, spiritualists, and other romantic seekers roamed sunken landscapes of entrancement, and when psychology was finally ready to confront these altered states, psychical research was adopted as an experimental vanguard. Far from a rejected science, it was a necessary heterodoxy, probing mysteries as diverse as telepathy, hypnosis, and even séance phenomena. Its investigators sought facts far afield of physical laws: evidence of a transcendent, irreducible mind.
The New Prometheans traces the evolution of psychical research through the intertwining biographies of four men: chemist Sir William Crookes, depth psychologist Frederic Myers, ether physicist Sir Oliver Lodge, and anthropologist Andrew Lang. All past presidents of the society, these men brought psychical research beyond academic circles and into the public square, making it part of a shared, far-reaching examination of science and society. By layering their papers, textbooks, and lectures with more intimate texts like diaries, letters, and literary compositions, Courtenay Raia returns us to a critical juncture in the history of secularization, the last great gesture of reconciliation between science and sacred truths.


Chapter One. The Culture of Proof and the Crisis of Faith
Chapter Two. William Crookes in Wonderland: Scientific Spiritualism and the Physics of the Impossible
Chapter Three. Romancing the Crone: Frederic Myers, Spiritualism, and the “Enchanted Portal to the World”
Chapter Four. “The Incandescent Solid beneath Our Line of Sight”: Frederic Myers, the Self, and the Psychiatric Subconscious
Chapter Five. Knowledge in Motion: Oliver Lodge, the Imperceptible Ether, and the Physics of (Extra-)Sensory Perception
Chapter Six. Uncanny Cavemen: Andrew Lang, Psycho-Folklore, and the Romance of Ancient Man
Chapter Seven. Psychical Modernism: Science, Subjectivity, and the Unsalvageable Self
Review Quotes
Jeffrey Kripal, author of Secret Body: Erotic and Esoteric Currents in the History of Religions
"This is easily the best book I have read on this important chapter of Western intellectual history. Raia’s general methodology and conclusions about an alternate route to modernity and a potential epistemology that never really took hold (but still might) are powerfully persuasive, historically correct, and much in need at the moment. We need this book. We need this view on the table, this ‘third thing’ (tertium quid) beyond the traditional belief systems of faith and the naïve positivisms of materialistic interpreted science. The New Prometheans is not just another in that long, footnoted list of books on nineteenth-century mesmerism, spiritualism, and Victorian psychical research. Instead, it’s a rich display of historical-critical readings, of biographical contextualizations, and of erudite philosophical discussions of the history of science, of technology, and of Western thought. A beautifully written and fascinating study."
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