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Title: The re-enchantment of British culture and the transformation of Spiritualism from theological discourse to media spectacle
Author: Woollatt, David Lloyd
ISNI:       0000 0004 6349 1900
Awarding Body: University of Winchester
Current Institution: University of Winchester
Date of Award: 2015
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This research constitutes the analysis of a previously unstudied area, the transformation of Spiritualism from a theological belief system to a media spectacle in contemporary British culture. Exploring modern Spiritualism’s theological framework, pointing to its communal belief structure, practices and Seven-Principle doctrine this research articulates its position within society today, exploring notions of re-enchantment where the contemporary individual has become disconnected from formal religious institutions but still possesses a yearning for spiritual nourishment. During early forms of Spiriualism a first-person genuine experience was fundamental to the way in which the spectators framed meaning around what they were viewing. The loss of first person aspect provides a fundamental stance from which to interrogate the shifts that have occurred to Spiritualism as a result of its contemporary representations. Critically the study examines the representation of Spiritualism within the media, particularly on television, where mass audiences experience Spiritualism through the ghost hunting programme. Using existing postmodernist theoretical approaches, most significantly Baudrillard and the theory of Simulacrum (1994), alongside theories of media spectacle led by Kellner (2003) Darley (2000) and King (2005), this study adopts a qualitative approach to examine this contemporary Spiritualist media phenomenon, using textual analysis to review primary media texts, current literature in the field, magazines and newspapers, and a textual analysis approach to explore the key media representations of Spiritualism within Most Haunted as a primary text. It is argued that through the technologisation and media coding of Spiritualism, it has become framed by existing forms of media production, and now only exists, and can only be understood as a hyperreal text that prioritises spectacle. The traditional Spiritualist theological belief system has been reduced to an empty set of orchestrated on-screen motifs, severed from their authentic meaning that take only the aesthetic form of Spiritualism but offer none of the authentic communal experiences that pervade both traditional and contemporary first person experiences. The textual analysis of Most Haunted confirms the media simulation of Spiritualism but simultaneously reveals the programme’s construction of the conventions for all future representations of ‘media spiritualism’. The séance, communion with spirit and notions of mediumship are reduced to stylishly edited scenes that play on filmic conventions. Most significantly the thesis establishes that the ghost hunting programme has become a space for ghostly ‘visitations’ of Victorian devices of Spiritualism. Practices that were once located in the darkened nineteenth century parlour have been ‘repatriated’ into the darkened locations of media investigations that operate as moments of retrospective hallucination, thus the removal of the theological is complete, the on-screen entertainment and spectacle, devoid of understandings of the communion with spirit has displaced the Spiritualist doctrine.
Supervisor: Stuart, Elizabeth ; Mason, Fran Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: T700 American studies ; V690 Theology & religious studies not elsewhere classified