White, “Other Worlds”

9780674984295-lgSpiritualism, the belief that the living can communicate with the dead, goes back a long way in America. The nineteenth-century Transcendentalists dabbled in it, some of them, and Mrs. Lincoln conducted seances in the White House. A new book from Harvard University Press, Other Worlds: Spirituality and the Search for Invisible Dimensions, by Vassar College religion professor Christopher White, suggests spiritualism may be coming back, re-enforced by new scientific theories about the multiverse. These theories, he argues, make spiritualism more plausible. Which makes me wonder, actually: how many of the growing number of American Nones are spiritualists? Anyway, here is the description from the Harvard website:

What do modern multiverse theories and spiritualist séances have in common? Not much, it would seem. One is an elaborate scientific theory developed by the world’s most talented physicists. The other is a spiritual practice widely thought of as backward, the product of a mystical world view fading under the modern scientific gaze.

But Christopher G. White sees striking similarities. He does not claim that séances or other spiritual practices are science. Yet he points to ways that both spiritual practices and scientific speculation about multiverses and invisible dimensions are efforts to peer into the hidden elements and even the existential meaning of the universe. Other Worlds examines how the idea that the universe has multiple, invisible dimensions has inspired science fiction, fantasy novels, films, modern art, and all manner of spiritual thought reaching well beyond the realm of formal religion. Drawing on a range of international archives, White analyzes how writers, artists, filmmakers, televangelists, and others have used the scientific idea of invisible dimensions to make supernatural phenomena such as ghosts and miracles seem more reasonable and make spiritual beliefs possible again for themselves and others.

Many regard scientific ideas as disenchanting and secularizing, but Other Worlds shows that these ideas—creatively appropriated in such popular forms as C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, the art of Salvador Dalí, or the books of the counterculture physicist “Dr. Quantum”—restore a sense that the world is greater than anything our eyes can see, helping to forge an unexpected kind of spirituality.

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