Connie Jones (UCL) - 2020-21 Students

Communing with the Spirit World: An ethnographic study into the beliefs and practices of contemporary Spiritualists in London

Spiritualism has been significantly under-researched anthropologically in the UK, despite its long-established presence. This research aims to produce an in-depth qualitative study of contemporary Spiritualists and mediums in the UK through an ethnographic investigation into three areas of contemporary British Spiritualism: (1) current beliefs, practices and historical influences, (2) digital outreach practices, and (3) the experiential realisation of Spiritualist philosophy via spirit communication. I will conduct long-term anthropological fieldwork with the Spiritualist National Union (SNU) and affiliated mediums across several Spiritualist churches and open mediumship circles in London. Employing in-depth participant observation, semi-structured interviews, somatic methods, and digital content analysis, a comprehensive understanding of the patchwork of cognitive and social processes involved in the development of particularly ‘controversial’ and intuitive forms of belief is anticipated to emerge. This research will contribute to wider theories of knowledge regarding how seemingly contradictory beliefs are actualised and maintained in the face of critical scepticism, how contemporary Spiritualist philosophy and practice might support people through the process of death and bereavement, the role of online platforms in the production and dissemination of particular forms of emotive belief, and the relationship between scientific and religious discourse in ethical practice.

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