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The emancipation of consciousness in nineteenth-century America

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Amidst the current profusion of research on consciousness, discussions of the historic origins of the topic are frequently overlooked. At the beginning of the nineteenth century in the West, the nature of consciousness was barely understood, nor differentiated from its esoteric and religious contexts. By the end of the century, however, novel ideas about the structure of consciousness were proposed by Janet, James, and the Society for Psychical Research. This article proposes that these discoveries were intrinsically linked to popular nineteenth-century explorations of unorthodox religious experiences and trance states. Operating outside mainstream religious, medical, and academic settings, alternative spiritual and medical sub-cultures such as Mesmerism, Mind Cure, Spiritualism, Transcendentalism and Orientalism provoked scientific discourse about consciousness that advanced the field. Examining these developments sheds light on the current renaissance in consciousness research and its relation to popular interest in states of consciousness, meditation and powers of mind.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Box 4096, College of St. Catherine, 2004 Randolph Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55105, USA.

Publication date: October 1, 2000


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