11am, 30th August 2023
Waurn Ponds: IC2.108
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‘My Dear Mother – I am not Dead’: Australian Spiritualism in the Interwar Era
Spiritualism originated as a Victorian-era craze centered around communicating with the dead, featuring parlour séances, renowned mediums performing on stage and the rapid formation of associations and societies advocating its principles. Contrary to the hopes of its numerous critics, this phenomenon did not wane over time. Instead, in the interwar period in Australia, Spiritualism experienced a remarkable flourishing. Its followers established numerous new congregations, acquired properties for their churches, lobbied for government recognition, and endeavoured to establish state and national-level organisations.
Although a few studies have investigated the resurgence of Spiritualism in Britain after World War I, the Australian context remains largely unexplored. The loss of soldiers intensified the longing to communicate with the departed. However, its appeal extended beyond the bereaved. Spiritualism not only offered solace but also furnished its adherents with spiritual guidance, a sense of purpose and a community. Its allure extended to those who felt disillusioned with traditional churches, emerging as an important source of spiritual insight and communal support during a challenging period.
Crucially, the movement presented women with avenues for leadership, authority and financial independence. In this presentation, I employ photographs, spirit art and maps to portray the vibrant influence of Spiritualism in interwar Australia.
Andrew is Professor of Sociology and Social Research in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Deakin. Andrew is also a member of the CCH Executive. His research interests include spirituality, young people, new religious movements (including Spiritualism), global Christianity, secularisation, non-religion, religious change, and contemporary survey methods.
Cover photo details:
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle lectures on Spiritualism, Melbourne Town Hall, November 1920. Photo from his book about his Australasian tour, Wanderings of a Spiritualist.