19th Century Reform Movements

667 Words3 Pages
The mid-19th Century saw an evolution in reform and religious sentiment. Up to the 1830s, most reform revolved around Protestant evangelism and traditional religious and social thought. However, the 1840s and 1850s saw the creation of new, more ambitiously reforming movements. One of these movements was spiritualism. Generally, it was the belief that an individual could talk to spirits and seek counsel from them. Coming out of the period that produced Mormonism, utopian societies, phrenology, and health reform, and other non-traditional movements, spiritualism fits into the broader historical context. As historian Laurence Moore asserts, “Scarcely another cultural phenomenon affected as many people or stimulated as much interest as did spiritualism [through most…show more content…
Spiritualism, like other reforms, was not merely a phenomenon. Historian Robert Abzug claims in his book, A Cosmos Crumbling, that antebellum movements sought to restructure a world that was collapsing around them.[2] However, spiritualism was fractured. It attracted both those who “were ignorant, credulous, and poor” and “well-educated and distinguished people”.[3] It was further divided between those who saw spiritualism as a tool to radically alter entrenched institutions and those who saw spirit communication as reinforcing religious and society.[4] I will focus on the strand that left the most record, the antiauthoritarian philosophical movement, led by Andrew Jackson Davis, and physically-oriented strand, that began with the Fox Sisters. One must look at the origins of spiritualism to understand what its reformers tried to address. Spiritualism was a legitimate attempt at order; however, it failed for two crucial reasons. First, its unyielding individualism (including the intense attachment of spirit communication over tangible reform) made organization and the broader reform (beyond oneself) extremely difficult. Secondly, criticism of the entire movement created a hostile atmosphere for

More about 19th Century Reform Movements

Open Document