Spirited visions : a study of spiritualism in New Zealand settler society, 1870-90
Broadley, Shaun David
This thesis examines the growth, character and significance of spiritualism in New Zealand settler society in the 1870s and 1880s. Spiritualism was a religious cult which popularised mediumship and the seance in Victorian society and gained publicity through manifestations alleged to emanate from the spirits of the dead. Though largely overlooked by historians in New Zealand, the topic merits serious attention. Spiritualism was not a social oddity or merely an epiphenomenon of wider social forces. It was a significant religious movement in its own right. Spiritualism shaped many areas of colonial culture and was part of a much larger body of eclectic spirituality among settlers. Settler society was an egalitarian environment favourable to the growth of novel religious movements and heterodox philosophies. This study reveals that heterodox religious belief and religious enquiry were common in settler society, and that few cultural sites were devoid of spiritual content and religious significance. New Zealand was far from wholly Christian, but it was not irreligious. Spiritualism provides a clear illustration of this. Though hardcore adherents were few, its prevalence cannot be measured in converts. It was a heterogeneous movement that attracted the interest of thousands and influenced a much wider circle of settlers. Spiritualist topics infiltrated such varied domains as politics, science, Christianity, medicine, literature, the women's movement, stage entertainment and popular culture in general. Spiritualism provoked numerous public debates and had a measurable impact on the character and development of settler society. It provided a seed-bed for the growth of novel socio-religious movements and fuelled liberal reform in the wider community. Spiritualists and their sympathisers were commonly involved in the political radicalism that preceded liberal social reform in the 1"890s, and some achieved political power and public acclaim. More generally, spiritualism resonated with the dominant liberal aspirations of Pakeha settlers: it reflected and reinforced the vision of New Zealand as an embryonic utopia where progressive social experimentation would eliminate Old World ills and unleash the latent potential of humanity.
Advisor: Stenhouse, John; Olsson, Erik
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: History
Publisher: University of Otago
Research Type: Thesis