UPDATE: [American] Scientific Influences on Women's Religious Movements (10/13/07; NeMLA, 4/10/08 - 4/13/08)

full name / name of organization: 
Michael Cadwallader
contact email: 

Scientific Influences on Women's Religious Movements
39th Convention, Northeast Modern Language Association (NeMLA)
April 10-13, 2008
Buffalo, New York

The opposition of feminine religious feeling and masculine scientific
thought in the nineteenth century is a touchstone in many critical
narratives of the period. However, a number of nineteenth-century religions
founded by women, many beginning in the postbellum United States and
flourishing in the aftermath of the Civil War, challenge this critical
narrative of the dominance of sentimental thinking in women’s religious
movements. In a number of ways, the sentimental, overwrought women whom S.
Weir Mitchell hoped to send to bed founded religious movements that
appealed to the rising faith in scientific reasoning and methods as means
of supporting both traditional and non-traditional religious beliefs. Mary
Baker Eddy’s Christian Science, which boldly asserts that “science” based
on the unchanging Bible is more reliable than the rapid changes in
understanding that arose from contemporary efforts in biology or geology,
is a particularly clear example of this move in women’s religion. But Eddy
is not alone; the activities of the Society for Psychical Research, the
popularity of mind cure, an increase in sociological studies, and changes
in public health all point to women’s organizations that began from
religious principles and adopted the conventions of scientific inquiry to
change the culture and women’s place within it. Movements such as
Spiritualism, Christian Science, mind cure, and the social gospel movement
use scientific language and reason to define beliefs and practices, and
this engagement with the scientific (or pseudoscientific) both lent them
authority and broadened their appeal. These movements also employed popular
fiction to disperse their central ideas among the population until
practices such as séances, alternative healing, and settlement work became
widely acceptable, even when the religious and scientific thinking behind
these practices remained less well-known.

This panel seeks to examine those areas where writing by and about women’s
religious movements allows religion and science to bolster one another in
ways that challenge the common assertion that religion and science are
diametrically opposed forces in the nineteenth century. Papers could
address the practices and writings of participants in these movements,
contemporary works that investigate the movements, or popular writings
about the movements produced by outsiders attempting to capitalize on their

Email 300 to 500 word abstracts to Michael Cadwallader at
cadwallader_at_unc.edu by 13 October 2007.

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Received on Wed Oct 03 2007 - 11:50:21 EDT