This dissertation is a history of some nineteenth-century English attempts to account for hallucinations. I focus my analysis on Spiritualism and two contemporary movements, namely, psychical research and Theosophy. For the Victorians, the main source of debate was the source of hallucinations. This dissertation analyzes the shift that occurred over fifty years (between 1853 and 1901) from an “objectivist” interpretation that granted ontological relevance to hallucinations, to a “subjectivist” one, which regarded them as merely submerged representations of the unconscious.
My analysis is a contextual history of hallucinations that explores intersections among psychology, psychiatry, physical sciences, theological debates, and religious practices. It shows how religion, authority, ideologies, and the professionalization of science were encoded in theories of “inner vision.”
Therefore this dissertation avoids a teleological and asymmetrical view of the history of parapsychology. The divergences between Spiritualism, psychical research, Theosophy, and physiological psychology cannot be simply understood by invoking factors pertaining to scientific methodology.
A central argument of this dissertation is that Spiritualism, psychical research, and Theosophy were not reflections of the process of secularization. They were neither diluted or compromised forms of religiosity, nor unscientific approaches to the study of the mind. In fact, they were contiguous with contemporary religious trends and changes in moral sensibilities related to new images of the afterlife. And they were also in deep and enriching dialogue with psychology and physical sciences.
This dissertation argues that ideas about hallucinations, like any images of body and mind, are never results of epistemologically neutral procedures. It shows how the issue of “inner vision” was a core part of the way in which many Victorians created their identities, asserted their affinities, and supported their beliefs.