Society for Psychical Research

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Society for Psychical Research (SPR)

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

In 1882, a group of Cambridge University scholars and others in the London area founded the Society for Psychical Research. Its purpose was to thoroughly examine paranormal subjects such as clairvoyance, telepathy, and precognition, to see whether or not there was any basis of fact. At the inaugural meeting, Professor Henry Sidgwick was elected President; he held that position for nine years. The first council included Professors William Fletcher Barrett and Balfour Stewart, Edmund Gurney, Richard Hutton, Frederick W.H. Myers, William Stainton Moses, E.T. Bennett, Dawson Rogers, Morell Theobald, and Dr. George Wyld.

Early activity was devoted to experimental investigation of extrasensory perception, which the society established as a fact. They also felt safe in confirming a connection existing between death and apparitions. The society collected and published a massive amount of research, finding a great deal of fraud among Spiritualist mediums but also finding many instances of unexplainable phenomena.

In 1885, the American Society for Psychical Research was founded in Boston by Sir William Fletcher Barrett of the British society. Barrett was visiting the United States at the time. Originally independent, the American society affiliated with the British one in 1889.

Led by Dr. Richard Hodgson, the SPR spent many years investigating the trance mediumship of Mrs. Leonore Piper. Hodgson was so impressed with her performances and the evidence she produced that he became converted to the cause of Spiritualism himself. E. Dawson Rogers, President of the London Spiritualist Alliance, said of this that he (Hodgson) had been “a very Saul persecuting the Christians.” His conversion was seen as an achievement for Spiritualism.

The society built up a bias against physical mediumship and its phenomena, and refused to accept any evidence of it. Eventually the bias became so pronounced that in 1930, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and a number of other prominent members resigned from the society. Over the past fifty years the society has spent most of its time with mass experiments evaluated by statistical methods, with most of its interest in extrasensory perception and in psychokinesis.


Buckland, Raymond: The Fortune-Telling Book: The Encyclopedia of Divination and Soothsaying. Detroit: Visible Ink Press, 2004
Fodor, Nandor: Encyclopedia of Psychic Science. London: Arthurs Press, 1933
Guiley, Rosemary Ellen: Harper’s Encyclopedia of Mystical & Paranormal Experience. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991
The Spirit Book © 2006 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Like the Society for Psychical Research, the TS reflected Victorians' yearning for a universal basis for spirituality and attracted many of the same people.
The College of Psychic Studies, The Ghost Club Society based in London and The Society for Psychical Research are groups you might want to contact.
For example, the Society for Psychical Research lambasted the group in the early years of its leadership under Blavatsky, whom they saw as a fraud, more masculine than feminine, and concerned more with performance and a following than with either reason or religion.
Some justification for a restricted focus at the modern end can be advanced; so keen was the Victorian enthusiasm for ghosts and spiritualism that in 1882 the Society for Psychical Research was founded and set about, in (dead) scientific earnest, collecting and evaluating reports of "sightings" making a "census of hallucinations" between 1889 and 1892, and two years later publishing the results based on some 17,000 answers to the "census" questionnaire.
The team from the Scottish Society for Psychical Research were on the case at a famous Ayrshire hostelry built on the site of the school where Burns learned more than just maths...
Mr Tandy's research is published in the latest issue of the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research.
Also present at all times to offer support to the pychics was Montague Keen, a leading member of the Society for Psychical Research. The probability of passing each thorough test with full marks was one in a million - that's one chance for every US dollar up for grabs.
However, the hypothesis that chance restored hundreds of passages to correspond, often word for word, with unknown sources seems less a matter for English studies than for the Society for Psychical Research.
When he became a member of the Council of the Society for Psychical Research in 1927, Dodds attended meetings at which Mrs Sidgwick was present,(5) and so his interest in Sidgwick may have owed something to this personal contact with his widow.
In Britain, the main vehicle for the early dissemination as well as development of the new ideas was the Society for Psychical Research. The Society was formed in 1882 by Cambridge intellectuals influenced by the revival of philosophical idealism in the 1870s.
Words and phrases such as "prestidigitation", "rabbits from hats" spring to mind, and the only authority they do not quote is the Society for Psychical Research.

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