Hyslop, James Hervey

Hyslop, James Hervey (1854–1920)

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

James Hervey Hyslop was Professor of Logic and Ethics at Columbia University, New York, from 1889 until 1902. He was one of the most distinguished psychical researchers of his day, though some thought him too ready to believe in life after death. He formed his conclusions after long and careful investigation. Hyslop was Secretary-Treasurer of the American Society for Psychical Research from 1906 until his death in 1920.

James Hyslop was born August 18, 1854, near Xenia, Ohio. His parents were devout Presbyterians. A twin sister of Hyslop’s died at birth and an older sister died a few years later. A younger brother and a sister both died of scarlet fever when Hyslop was ten. It has been suggested that these sibling deaths may well have affected his thinking and his views on death.

Hyslop intended to follow his parents’ expectations and to enter the ministry, but as Rosemary Guiley (The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits, 1992) reports, “While at the College of Wooster [Ohio], from which he graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in 1877, he suffered a crisis of faith that over the next five years led him to reject the divinity of Christ and embrace a materialistic philosophy instead.” He received a Ph.D. in psychology from Johns Hopkins University in 1887. Four years later he married Mary Fry Hall, whom he had met in Germany. Hyslop went to study philosophy at the University of Leipzig, under Wilhelm Wundt, founder of the first formal psychology laboratory in 1879.

In 1886, Hyslop’s attention was caught by an article on telepathy in Nation magazine. Contacting the author, he was persuaded that the apparition phenomenon described in the article was genuine. Then in 1889, he heard Richard Hodgson lecture and quickly became involved in psychical research. He joined both the British Society for Psychical Research (SPR) and the Boston-based American Society for Psychical Research (ASPR). He also helped organize a New York chapter of the ASPR.

Hyslop’s wife died unexpectedly in 1900 and the following year Hyslop had a nervous breakdown. In 1902, medical reasons forced him to resign from Columbia University. Within a year, however, he had made a full recovery and determined to spend his full time on psychical research. When Richard Hodgson died in 1905, Hyslop took his place as Chief Investigator of the medium Leonore E. Piper. After an astounding amount of verified evidence had been produced in his sittings with Piper, in 1888 Hyslop said, “I have been talking with my father, my brother, my uncles. Whatever supernormal powers we may be pleased to attribute to Mrs. Piper’s secondary personalities, it would be difficult to make me believe that these secondary personalities could have thus completely reconstituted the mental personality of my dead relatives. To admit this would involve me in too many improbabilities. I prefer to believe that I have been talking to my dead relatives in person; it is simpler.”

Hyslop devoted himself to reorganizing the new American Society for Psychical Research and became the mainstay of that organization. In January, 1907, the first Journal was published by the society. Hyslop was initially assisted by Dr. Hereward Carrington and later by Dr. Walter Franklin Prince.

Hyslop suffered a stroke and died June 17, 1920. He was a prolific writer. His books included Problems of Philosophy (1905), Science and a Future Life (1905), Borderland of Psychical Research (1906), Enigmas of Psychical Research (1906), Psychical Research and the Resurrection (1908), Psychical Research and Survival (1914), Life After Death: Problems of a Future Life and Its Nature (1918), and Contact With the Other World (1919). In Life After Death, he said, “I regard the existence of discarnate spirits as scientifically proved and I no longer refer to the sceptic as having any right to speak on the subject.”


Fodor, Nandor: Encyclopedia of Psychic Science. London: Arthurs Press, 1933
Guiley, Rosemary Ellen: The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits. New York: Facts On File, 1992
Hyslop, James Hervey: Life After Death: Problems of a Future Life and Its Nature. New York: 1918
The Spirit Book © 2006 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.