The Heyman Center (Second Floor Common Room), Columbia University, New York
The development of neurology in the late 19th century inaugurated a historical moment when the brain came to be taken seriously not only as the organ of thought, but also as the lynchpin of a materialist ideology. God and consciousness, many believed, had been excised from the natural world. Yet a movement of self-proclaimed French “spiritualists,” including Henri Bergson, Alfred Fouillée, and Jean-Marie Guyau, told a different story. They demonstrated that theology and metaphysics were not simply compatible with but sustained neurology and physiological psychology. What was spirit (l’esprit)? And the intellectual movement that went by the name of spiritualism? This presentation explores the persistence of spirit within the experimental, quantitative, and pathological methods that lie at the origins of the modern neurosciences.
Larry McGrath is an Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Center for the Humanities at Wesleyan University. McGrath received a PhD in Intellectual History from the Humanities Center at Johns Hopkins University in 2015. His research examines the cultural resonances of religion, philosophy, nationalism, and the brain sciences from the late eighteenth century to the present. His various projects center around the cultural dissemination of the neurosciences, both in the history of modern Europe and in the contemporary social sciences. McGrath is currently writing a book, Making Spirit Matter: Neurology, Psychology, and Selfhood in Modern France.