The Good Death Roundtable: Investigating Spiritualism—Scientific Quests to Colonize Hysterical Women and Psychic Mediums

Spiritualism is the American-born religion that believes in communication with spirits of the dead. Although its wide-ranging influences is often censored from official histories, Spiritualism was once a seminal force in Western culture, affecting late nineteenth-century art, science, technology, entertainment, and social reform. Join Shannon Taggart, artist and author of SÉANCE, for a discussion about the practice of Spiritualism, both past and present.

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the female bodies of hysterics and Spiritualist mediums were understood as being untethered from the laws of physiology, capable of extraordinary physical and mental feats. Join us as author Asti Hustvedt discusses some of the ways in which male scientists attempted to investigate these bewildering female bodies. Shannon Taggart will introduce Asti’s talk with a short exploration of Spiritualism’s séance protocols that include physical restraints, customized clothing, and bodily examinations.

About The Good Death Roundtable series:
The Good Death Roundtable is a forum that aims to foster a better relationship with our mortality. This fall’s series on Spiritualism will focus on the history and origins of the religion, how it functions in the twenty-first century, and its long-lasting cultural ramifications. By exploring this Victorian religious practice, we gain a better understanding of how the desire to speak to the dead gave way to a cultivated relationship with death and dying. In addition to bringing death out of the taboo, The Good Death Roundtable asks us to consider mortality with an open perspective in hopes that a better relationship to it leads to a fullness of life.

Shannon Taggart is an artist based in Brooklyn, NY. Her images have been exhibited and featured internationally including the publications TIME, New York Times Magazine, Discover, and Newsweek. Her work has been recognized by Nikon; the Inge Morath Foundation; and Magnum Photos, American Photography, and the Alexia Foundation for World Peace. From 2014–2016, she was artist- and programmer-in-residence at the Morbid Anatomy Museum. Her book SÉANCE—a part-documentary, part-ghost story 18-years in the making—is supported with a commentary on her experiences, a foreword by Dan Aykroyd, creator of Ghostbusters (1984) and fourth-generation Spiritualist, and illustrated essays from curator Andreas Fischer and artist Tony Oursler, will be released by Fulgur Press/D.A.P. in October 2019.

Asti Hustvedt is an independent scholar who has written extensively on hysteria and literature, most notably Medical Muses, a study of three young female hysterics who shaped our early notions of psychology. She has a Ph.D. in French literature from New York University, is a member of Phi Beta Kappa, and the recipient of numerous grants and awards, including a Phi Beta Kappa Fellowship. She is the editor of The Decadent Reader: Fiction, Fantasy and Perversions from Fin-de-Siècle France and has published many translations. She lives in New York City.


Please note, this class is held on our second floor. At this time, we do not have an elevator. Please email with any questions or concerns regarding accessibility, or any other questions regarding this workshop.