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The idea that during the 19th century the demarcation between religion and science became more and more clearly defined has been revised in the last three decades. Historians and literary scholars have presented a wide range of studies showing that religion and science were involved in a - though often controversial - dialogue about their relationship. Spiritualism as a "scientific religion" giving evidence of the soul's immortality has been described as a paradigmatic example how mid-19th century Victorians (and their contemporaries in other countries) found a way to reconcile two conflicting fields of knowledge. But from about 1880 on the cultural and scientific context in which Spiritualism had developed changed: competitors like Theosophy and Psychic Research emerged while at the same time technological innovations and new theories in the sciences seemed to support the convictions Spiritualists held.

In the talk, Sawicki will explore this period of change by looking at two public disputes in the German Empire - one of them with a transatlantic dimension: In 1877 the Leipzig astrophysicist K. F. Zollner (1834-1882) took part in seances with the American professional spiritualist medium Henry Slade. Professor Zollner accepted the phenomena he had witnessed as authentic and attributed them to the intervention of intelligent beings from the 4th dimension. He also presented his experience in the seances as proofs of the correctness of his own theories and related it to religious questions. A stormy dispute in German academia and press developed. News about the Zollner case spread even to the US, and it was re-assessed by the University of Pennsylvaniaís Seybert Commission on Spiritualism (1884/87). The mathematician Georg Cantor (1845-1918) was involved in a similarly spectacular dispute, when in 1904 he publicly asserted that some of his theories had been communicated to him directly by God.

Sawicki will compare these two cases and contextualize them with regard to the eraís competing cultures of science. Were Zollner and Cantor academic outsiders, and if they were - why? Which religious beliefs did they hold - and did these influence their scientific theories? In which respects is this a typically German case? Or can we see similarities to debates in the English-speaking world?

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