ABSTRACT. The present paper investigates the semantic horizons opened by Brownson’s The spirit rapper (1854), a semi-autobiographical fantastic roman à clef about the life of a man who is involved in an attempt to find a balance between religion and science, thus experimenting with mesmerism, spiritism, pneumatism, with a view to starting a world reform, first by using the assistance of the Fox sisters, then by resorting also to professional mediums like Andrew Jackson Davis. The pivotal question that this text poses is whether evil in creation is not in fact a manifestation of elemental forces of nature, of physiological phenomena. In this sense, Catholicism, the last religious system that Brownson embraced, entirely acknowledged Satan’s existence and his power over natural man and material objects. The central idea here, possibly devastating by its consequences, which Brownson explores, and which our study analyzes from various angles, is the following: if science (viz. mesmerism / animal magnetism / spiritism) demonstrates that evil is explicable on the basis of natural principles, as physiological forces, then Christianity (and even religion itself) might collapse, because it is founded precisely on the faith that the chthonic, nocturnal, destructive forces exist and rendered necessary Christ’s redeeming intercession for saving man and the world. The medical science had attempted in this regard (starting by and large from the 17th century) to demonstrate that there is no Devil, that spectral apparitions are in fact hallucinations – a point of view largely illustrated in the 20th century in Boasian anthropology. Brownson saw in the 18th century an age of anti-Christianity expressed in philosophy, physics and materialism; he saw in liberalism a movement springing from that anti-Christian wave, while spiritism / mesmerism for him was a doctrine also of anti-Christian descent (a form of satanism); Mormonism and feminism in turn were branches sprouting too out of the same wave. The present paper explores Brownson’s worldview (esp. as expressed in the novel The spirit rapper, but also taking into consideration other works by him) at the crossroads between religion and science, the First and the Second Scientific Revolution, Enlightenment and romanticism (including romantic Transcendentalism), subject and object, nature and supernature, human and superhuman, reality and illusion, underlying essences and surface appearances.

Keywords: mesmerism; mediumism; spiritism; romanticism; Transcendentalism; Presbyterianism; Universalism; Unitarianism; science; illusion; Mark Twain’s Number 44; the Fox sisters

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University of Bucharest

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