Tuesday Talks | Professor Richard Noakes
7 September.7:30 pm-9:00 pm
Occult Arts and Sceptical Sciences? Reflections on the Historiography of Spiritualism
7th September 2021 | 7.30pm until 9.00pm BST | £5 | Online
Open Minds, Open Minds
Join us for the first Tuesday Talk of Autumn 2021. We’ve gathered a group of physicists, psychologists, philosophers and writers to deliver a series of online lectures which encourage open-minded thinking about matters of the human spirit.
Professor Richard Noakes, from the University of Exeter, presents our first Tuesday Talk. Richard discusses the past, present and future functions of the academic historian of Spiritualism and other areas of enquiry that since the 1990s have been grouped together as ‘Western esotericism’. He offers a critical review of historical studies of Spiritualism since the 1850s and argues that, like other aspects of Western esotericism, Spiritualism has been subject to historical interpretations informed by religious, philosophical, scientific and other beliefs that undermine their scholarly rigour.
Until the 1980s many historical accounts of Spiritualism tended to be more preoccupied with the ultimate truth or falsity of Spiritualists’ claims about psychology, metaphysics and spirituality than with satisfactory understandings of historical sources and their contexts. Academic historians, who had until this point largely marginalised or ignored Spiritualism, started addressing this problem via ground-breaking studies linking Spiritualism to more traditional areas of history such as politics, gender, religion, science, medicine and popular culture. As a historian of science, Richard’s approach to Spiritualism has naturally been from that of the sciences, and his talk explores the ways in which revisionist approaches to scientific practices have challenged sterile yet still widespread historical narratives of ‘rational’ science vanquishing ‘irrational’ Spiritualism.
Drawing on examples explored in his recent book Physics and Psychics (2019), he will argue that a rigorous scholarly approach to Spiritualism’s history makes it more significant to the sciences and shows how important the subject was in nurturing scientific creativity and open-mindedness.
Join us at 7:30 PM BST via ZOOM. Professor Noakes’s Tuesday Talk will last for around 45 minutes and is followed by a live Q&A.
You can purchase a ticket online for £5.00 (plus ticket processing fee) or you can call us on 0131 625 0700 to book over the phone. Season passes are available and grant access to all the Autumn 2021 talks for a heavily discounted price.
Physics & Psychics
The Occult and the Sciences in Modern Britain
This is the first systematic exploration of the intriguing connections between Victorian physical sciences and the study of the controversial phenomena broadly classified as psychic, occult and paranormal. These phenomena included animal magnetism, spirit-rapping, telekinesis and telepathy. Richard Noakes shows that psychic phenomena interested far more Victorian scientists than we have previously assumed, challenging the view of these scientists as individuals clinging rigidly to a materialistic worldview.
About Professor Richard Noakes
Associate Professor of the History of Science and Technology
Richard Noakes is an Associate Professor of the History of Science and Technology at the University of Exeter. After studying natural sciences at undergraduate level, he gained a PhD in the history of science at the University of Cambridge, and then proceeded to postdoctoral fellowships at Leeds and Cambridge. He was appointed lecturer at the University of Exeter in 2007 and promoted to Associate Professor in 2020. His areas of research include the history of the physical sciences, telecommunications, psychical research, Western esotericism, science popularisation, the engagements of science and religion, and science fiction. He has published numerous articles in peer-reviewed scholarly journals and the following books: From Newton to Hawking (2003) (co-edited with Kevin Knox), Culture and Science in the Nineteenth Century Periodical (2004) (co-edited with Louise Henson et al) and Science in the Nineteenth Century Periodical (2004) (co-authored with Geoffrey Cantor et al) and Physics and Psychics: The Occult and the Sciences in Modern Britain (2019). His current research explores the relationships between wireless telegraphy, psychical investigations and science fiction in the early twentieth century.
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