Deviant Spirits, the Unconcious, and Gender in Mexican Spiritism

Saturday, January 9, 2010: 9:00 AM
America's Cup B (Hyatt)
Lia T. Schraeder , California State University, Bakersfield, Bakersfield, CA
Gender is receiving increasing attention in a growing body of scholarship on Catholic and Protestant women in modern Mexico.  My paper contributes insights on gender from my study of spiritism, a minority religion popular among a small but influential sector of urban and middle class actors at the turn of the twentieth century.   My paper focuses on the relationship between the scientific claims of the spiritist movement and its gender relations.  Spiritist practices of magnetism and later hypnotism corresponded with many popular and scientific beliefs of their time and through these practices spiritists found compromise between religious experience and scientific facts.  Women played important roles in spiritist rituals, as the mediums who channeled the spirit world within the intimate domestic meetings at the core of the movement.  But the spiritist understanding of magnetism/hypnotism also suggests a growing ambivalence, within the movement and in a secular discourse in Mexican society, between public, rational, and scientifically-monitored forms of experimentation with  spirit "phenomena" and more private and personal forms of religiosity, associated with “feminine” piety.  I argue that as spiritists embraced stronger scientific methods of oversight in the early twentieth century they shifted away from the mystical spirituality and women's roles in the inner movement.  This paper will develop the significance of this shift through comparisons with the “feminization of religion” among Catholics in Mexico and in international practices of spiritualism.
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