The Secular Soul

John J. Carullo. The Secularization of the Soul: Psychical Research In Modern Britain. Institute for the Study of Human Issues, Philadelphia, 1982.
Despite the subtitle this book deals with the intellectual development of spiritualism and psychic research up to 1900, where they are treated as attempts to preserve 'the soul' in an increasingly secular society. Under the influence of the 'Cambridge Group' around Henry Sidgwick and F W H Myers, the SPR developed a separate, more this-wordly ideology than the spiritualists.

Cerullo describes this ideology, epitomised by Myers' concept of the 'sublimated self' as the 'secular soul'. 'Soul' because it posited a mysterious 'other' aspect of the human personality, 'secular' because it operated in this world. Unfortunately in order to develop this point, Cerullo has to drastically reduce the central role which the concept of postmortem survival had for Myers, especially. In many ways his rhapsodic writings were more 'other-worldly' than the materialistic visions of heaven (complete with whisky and sodas and the English class system) which many Spiritualists had to offer.

This concept of 'secular soul' is more applicable to the views developed by Rhine and his circle, than to these early years. Examining the biographies of six lay members of the SPR, Cerullo detects a connecting thread linking their disparate careers - that of the lone individual in battle against bureaucratised 'mass society'. This is certainly a theme which is apparent in the writing of some later members, G W M Tyrell, for example. In the concluding chapter he argues that the 'secular soul' lost out to the new Freudian unconscious, which with its concepts of 'sublimation' and 'reality principle' could function to suppress dissent.

Peter Rogerson, from Magonia 16, July 1984.

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