A better life in a better world : the search for community and well-being among spiritualists in contemporary London
Appears in the following Collection
This study draws on 6 months of fieldwork to explore spiritualist ritual practice,and the relation between these performances, the selves of the participants, and some of the sosiocultural traits of the larger context in which they are set.
As experienced by the performers themselves, these rituals are "healing" andprovide for their "spiritual development". This thesis explores the meaning of these terms, embedds them within spiritualis cosmology, and seeks to explain the underlying embodied processes on which they are based. I argue, drawing on the insights of practice theory (e.g. Bourdieu 1977, 1984) and theories of embodiment (Csordas 1990,1993) that spiritualist ritual practice effects a transformation of the embodied self that, on the one hand, incorporates into it moral dispositions that accord with those sanctioned by Spiritualism as such and, on the other, are experienced as beneficial and positive in phenomenological terms; thus these rituals come to effect what spiritualist discourse objectifies as "spiritual development" and "healing".
Consequently, I show how the structure of practice in spiritualist ritualperformance accord with the personal dispositions embodied by individual mediums and others, and how these are considered to be forms of "spiritual" practice and moral action that are regarded as 'better' than those held to dominate contemporary "materialistic" society. Drawing on sociological and anthropological theory and research on contemporary modern/late-modern society (esp. Giddens 1991), I show also that these practices break with the logic of modern institutions and argue that this is a major reason why they are performed. Research and theorising on modernity/late-modernity point out how it is a social order which gives rise to certain forms of suffering.
I argue that this is an important thing to consider if we want to understandthe healing efficiency of spiritualist ritual practice. Thus, spiritualist ritual practice comes to stand as a form of resistance to and a means of coping with certain features of the social order of modernity/late-modernity and the afflictions it generates. I draw on Catherine Bell's (1992) notion of the "ritualization" of practice to explore this continuity between ritual, self, and the larger social context in which it is set. Although earlier studies of Spiritualism (Skultans 1974, Cherrytree 2003) have pointed out the experienced therapeutic efficiency of their practices, none, to my knowledge, have systematically related this efficiency and the practices as such to the larger structures of modernity/late-modernity. On the theoretical level, this thesis formulates a conception of 'sickness' in terms of the "preobjective" (Csordas 1990, 1993) and the "senses of the socially informed body" as developed by Bourideu (1977:124) and use it to understand "healing" as an genuinely embodied process and to understand how the social order of modernity can and does create bodily real affliction. By emphasising the embodied nature of spiritualist cosmology this thesis also argue for the methodological need of personal embodied experience and participation in practice on behalf of the researcher, if genuine insight into the nature of spiritualist practice is to be gained. If ommitted, the result would most likely severely miss the point.