• The Commercialization of the Afterlife: Spiritualism's Supernatural Economy, 1848-1900

      Varon, Elizabeth R., 1963-; Wells, Jonathan Daniel, 1969- (Temple University. Libraries, 2010)
      Spiritualism was a popular cultural movement that flourished in the late-19th century across the United States and eventually Europe. While there were many facets of its philosophy, the primary conviction behind Spiritualism was that spirits of the dead could communicate with the living through human mediums. Although this basic definition of Spiritualism is virtually uncontested in contemporary scholarship, the cultural causes of the movement remain a highly debated topic. Historians have proposed a variety of theories for Spiritualism's inception, but none have yet to explore the economic motivations behind the movement. Spiritualism was, in fact, a vital commercial enterprise that spurred entrepreneurial and consumption opportunities for thousands of nascent capitalists. During the movement's prime, a host of Spiritualist merchandise was mass produced and marketed, including talking boards, spirit photographs, séances, and planchettes. Together, these products were produced and consumed in what became an "economy of the supernatural"--a thriving industry based on the desire to communicate with deceased humans. Through analysis of product advertisements and opinions raised about the issue found in mass media, this thesis will demonstrate that economic motivation was behind every aspect of Spiritualist practice. No part of the movement was left untouched by the desire for financial gain. Furthermore, this thesis argues that while various cultural forces influencing Spiritualism would diminish over time, the movement was able to sustain itself through the development of an economy of supernatural products and services, many of which continue to be produced to this very day.