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Deus in MachinaReligion, Technology, and the Things in Between$
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Jeremy Stolow

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780823249800

Published to Fordham Scholarship Online: May 2013

DOI: 10.5422/fordham/9780823249800.001.0001

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The Spiritual Nervous System

The Spiritual Nervous System

Reflections on a Magnetic Cord Designed for Spirit Communication

Chapter:
(p.83) The Spiritual Nervous System
Source:
Deus in Machina
Author(s):

Jeremy Stolow

Publisher:
Fordham University Press
DOI:10.5422/fordham/9780823249800.003.0005

This chapter documents the development of a nineteenth-century American Spiritualist technology for communicating with the dead, first proposed by Andrew Jackson Davis in 1853. The chapter situates this seemingly fantastical technology in relation to the expanding circulation of popular science in the nineteenth century, and in particular the rapid growth of non-expert discourses about electrical signalling drawing upon diverse fields, from telegraphy to neuro-anatomy. The chapter demonstrates how Davis and his Spiritualist contemporaries adopted and adapted this new understanding of ‘the electrical circuit’ as a basis for diverse communication systems, extending from intra-corporeal to terrestrial, astronomical, and even supernatural spaces and dimensions. The chapter concludes by arguing that there is no clear basis for separating Spiritualist practices and discourses about cables, signals, electrical circuits, and nervous systems from the practices and discourses of ‘proper’ or ‘legitimate’ techno-science, and that the rejection of the former by the latter is ultimately a political act.

Keywords:   Andrew Jackson Davis, American Spiritualism (nineteenth century), Popular science, Neuro-anatomy – nineteenth century, Electricity – religious uses

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