'Als de tafel danst, dan wankelt de wetenschap'. De relatie tussen spiritisme en wetenschap in Nederland rond 1900.

L.K. Vermeer*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


    If the table turns, science will stagger'. The relationship between spiritualism and science in the Netherlands around 1900 Spiritualism is the belief that living men can keep contact, usually through an intermediary called a 'medium', with spirits of the dead. The history of modern spiritualism started in 1848 in America and in the decades that followed it spread all over the world. Especially as a result of British influences modern Anglo-Saxon spiritualism is characterized by a search for scientific proof of the so-called spiritualist phenomena. In the 1920s the Netherlands were late in comparison with neighbouring countries to institutionalize the scientific study of these phenomena. But this does not imply that there was no earlier discussion about it. Indeed, around 1900 there were attempts for a debate about the scientific underpinning of spiritualism and the main stage for it was the journal Het toekomstig leven [The future life]. In the historical conceptualization of this debate it has long been common to see the spiritualists as an anti-modern counterculture and the scientists as the representatives of modernity. Recently this dichotomic order has been replaced for a nuanced view that does more justice to the historical reality. Although Het toekomstig leven often used rhetoric strategies that emphasized the confrontation with science, the journal also lavishly incorporated scientific elements and made inexhaustible attempts for a scientific debate and study of the paranormal phenomena. Unlike in neighbouring countries there were hardly any natural scientists who responded, but there were some physicians as well as pioneers of the new field of parapsychology who pleaded for scientific research of spiritualism. This research eventually became reality in 1920 under the direction of some heavyweight scientists, but just as Het toekomstig leven the Dutch Society for Psychical Research was also marked by the difference between the critical-scientific approach and the not so critical approach of the believers. In my contribution I have showed that this demarcation was however not the same as the one between science and spiritualism, because these boundaries were considerably permeable.
    Original languageDutch
    Pages (from-to)26 - 43
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2007

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