HUA Dept Head Candidate: Christopher White, Vassar, Research Talk, Science, Technology & the Enchanted Imagination

Monday, February 04, 2019
11:00 am to 12:00 pm
Floor/Room #: 
SL 402

In my recent book, Other Worlds: Spirituality and the Search for Invisible Dimensions (Harvard 2018), I examined how modern Americans and Europeans built enchanted worldviews by using fantastic scientific ideas such as higher dimensions and parallel universes.  One of the surprising findings of Other Worlds was that secular scientific ideas were sometimes repurposed in order to create new, spiritual worldviews.  In my next book project I will examine a broader set of strategies that people have used when cobbling together new spiritual views from older, religious ideas and newer scientific ones.  How do new scientific ideas and technologies become metaphors or “things to think with”?  In this project I examine for instance how Americans used wireless radio to reimagine faith and worship in terms of electro-spiritual transmissions; how they leveraged the importance of the subjective observer in quantum mechanics and Relativity to argue for the freedom and transcendence of the human self; how they argued that quantum theories about the “nonlocal” nature of matter pointed to supernatural (or “psychic”) human abilities; how they harnessed the metaphorical power of the atom bomb to buttress beliefs in explosive spiritual energies undergirding all things (a development which Salvador Dali called a new “nuclear mysticism”); how they thought of televisions, which mysteriously received invisible signals, as devices that might tune in departed spirits in ritual ceremonies and séances; and how they used phrenological charts, electronic biofeedback devices, and even iPhones as ways of probing and understanding better the interior spaces of the self.  My new book works chronologically through these developments, providing a synoptic analysis of popular culture, popular science and spirituality that will illuminate how Americans fashion new, enchanted worldviews in an era of secularity and science. 

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Mary Cotnoir
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