Spirits and Scientists

Ideology, Spiritism, and Brazilian Culture

By (author) David J. Hess

Paperback - £24.95

Publication date:

15 April 1991

Length of book:

272 pages


Penn State University Press

ISBN-13: 9780271033679

Brazilian Spiritism (espiritismo, kardecismo) is an important middle-class religious movement whose followers believe in communication with the dead via spirit mediums and in healing illnesses by means of spiritual therapies. Unlike Anglo-Saxon Spiritualists, Brazilian Spiritists count among their number a well-developed and institutionalized intellectual elite that has reinterpreted northern hemisphere parapsychology and developed its own alternative medicine and sociology of religion. As a result, the mediation between popular religion (especially Afro-Brazilian religious practices) and the orthodoxies of the universities, the state, and the medical profession.

Situating Spiritist intellectual thought in what he calls a broader ideological arena, Hess examines Spiritism in the context of religion, science, political ideology, medicine, and even the social sciences. Hess challenges the legacy of French sociologist Roger Bastide, who saw in Spiritism an elitist, middle-class ideology. In the process, Spirits and Scientists provides a new approach to middle-class religious movements in Latin America.

“A well-researched and well-written account of Spiritism among contemporary Brazilians. Theoretically, Hess is remaking the traditional concept of syncretism in the anthropological study of religions, particularly of folk religions where world religions are adapted over long periods of time to local systems of belief. Certainly in English there is nothing in the literature quite like this treatment of Spiritism among literate, and presumably modern, secular people in Brazil.”

—George Marcus, Rice University