The Good Death Roundtable: Spiritualism, the Science of Crime and Early Forensics

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.

Author Cathy Gutierrez will join us for an illustrated presentation demonstrating Spiritualism’s connection to the birth of forensic science. Cathy’s latest book, The Deviant and the Dead: Spiritualism and the Sciences of Crime, sheds light on Caesare Lombroso, father of modern criminology and avid Spiritualist, and how he formulated his theory of criminals by attending sĂ©ances and studying mediums. We will discover how ancient Greek wisdom, Neanderthal skulls, and mediumship all coalesced into the birth of forensics. Shannon Taggart will introduce Cathy’s talk with a short overview outlining Spiritualism’s deep connections with nineteenth-century science, and its efforts to merge scientific inquiry with the religious experience.

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.

Cathy Gutierrez recently concluded a two-year fellowship as a Scholar-in-Residence at the New York Public Library where she focused on her new work, The Deviant and the Dead: Spiritualism and the Sciences of Crime. She currently works as an instructional designer for Helix Education in addition to teaching. She was a Professor of Religion at Sweet Briar College for eighteen years. Her primary research interests are nineteenth-century Spiritualism and the history of esotericism, particularly where they intersect with ideas of consciousness. She has published on the Free Love movement in America, Theosophy, millennialism, and the Freemasons. Her monograph, Plato’s Ghost: Spiritualism in the American Renaissance (Oxford University Press 2009), examines the American legacy of Neoplatonism in popular religious expressions and she is the editor of several collections including the Brill Handbook of Spiritualism and Channeling (2015).


Please note, this class is held on our third 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.