Séance sitters, ghost hunters, spiritualists, and theosophists: esoteric belief and practice in the British parliamentary Labour Party, c1929–51
AbstractThis article explores esoteric identities and cultures in the British Parliamentary Labour Party c1929–51. The historiography of the Labour Party has tended to overemphasize the one-dimensional nature of ideological affiliation and identity amongst Labour Members of Parliament in this period along the lines of a rather simplistic left/right dichotomy. Moreover, some historians have suggested that after 1918 particular socialist traditions and currents had become marginalized or dissolved once the party had developed a clearly defined constitution and the experience of political power. The argument presented here is that a range of esoteric identities remained a feature of labour culture through to the general election of 1951 and beyond. Three currents highlight the complexity and fluidity of specific strands of labour/socialist identity; in particular, spiritualism, theosophy and belief in the supernormal and the fantastic. Spiritualism and esotericism attracted a range of Labour MPs and shaped their reaction to contemporary political problems and the purpose and direction of working-class politics. An examination of such individuals and beliefs raises some new questions and challenges existing assumptions relating to labour identities in mid-twentieth century Britain. Socialist spiritualists, ghost hunters, and theosophists viewed political identity, mobilization and practice as an activity that drew as much on the personal, the spiritual and ‘other-worldly’ as it did on the economic, social and material basis of society.
CitationGildart, K. (2018) 'Séance Sitters, Ghost Hunters, Spiritualists, and Theosophists: Esoteric Belief and Practice in the British Parliamentary Labour Party, c1929–51'. Twentieth Century British History, 29 (3) pp. 357-387. doi: 10.1093/tcbh/hwx053
PublisherOxford University Press
JournalTwentieth Century British History
DescriptionThis is an accepted manuscript of an article published by Oxford University Press in 20th Century British History on 25/10/2017, available online: https://doi.org/10.1093/tcbh/hwx053 The accepted version of the publication may differ from the final published version.
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