A Luminous Brotherhood: Afro-Creole Spiritualism in Nineteenth-Century New Orleans

A Luminous Brotherhood: Afro-Creole Spiritualism in Nineteenth-Century New Orleans

by Emily Suzanne Clark

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In the midst of a nineteenth-century boom in spiritual experimentation, the Cercle Harmonique, a remarkable group of African-descended men, practiced Spiritualism in heavily Catholic New Orleans from just before the Civil War to the end of Reconstruction. In this first comprehensive history of the Cercle, Emily Suzanne Clark illuminates how highly diverse religious practices wind in significant ways through American life, culture, and history. Clark shows that the beliefs and practices of Spiritualism helped Afro-Creoles mediate the political and social changes in New Orleans, as free blacks suffered increasingly restrictive laws and then met with violent resistance to suffrage and racial equality.

Drawing on fascinating records of actual seance practices, the lives of the mediums, and larger citywide and national contexts, Clark reveals how the messages that the Cercle received from the spirit world offered its members rich religious experiences as well as a forum for political activism inspired by republican ideals. Messages from departed souls including Francois Rabelais, Abraham Lincoln, John Brown, Robert E. Lee, Emanuel Swedenborg, and even Confucius discussed government structures, the moral progress of humanity, and equality. The Afro-Creole Spiritualists were encouraged to continue struggling for justice in a new world where "bright" spirits would replace raced bodies.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781469628790
Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
Publication date: 08/26/2016
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 280
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Emily Suzanne Clark is associate professor of religious studies at Gonzaga University.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

One of the finest works I have read on nineteenth-century U.S. religion. While focusing on the Cercle Harmonique, Emily Suzanne Clark illuminates many hidden gems regarding religion and society during these decades. She takes us from the seance floor to the locality of New Orleans, from the nation to the Atlantic world. Clark shows how these African Americans were webbed into local and national politics, international intellectual ferment, and revolutionary plots of the past and the present. I found myself understanding how they could think about the cosmos, the Enlightenment, and their street corner all at the same time. When considering new ways to write about religion, race, politics, and culture in the nineteenth century, this book is at the top on my list.—Edward J. Blum, San Diego State University

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