The Stepchildren of Science

Psychical Research and Parapsychology in Germany, c. 1870-1939


Leading the reader through the darkened séance rooms and laboratories of Imperial and inter-war Germany, The Stepchildren of Science casts light on the emergence of psychical research and parapsychology in the German context. It looks, in particular, at the role of the psychiatrist Albert von Schrenck-Notzing - a figure who fashioned himself as both propagandist and Grand Seignior of German parapsychology - in shaping these nascent disciplines. In contrast to other recent studies in which occultism is seen as a means of dealing with or creating “the modern”, this book considers the epistemological, cultural and social issues that arose from psychical researchers’ and parapsychologists’ claims to scientific legitimacy. Focusing on the boundary disputes between these researchers and the spiritualists, occultists, psychologists and scientists with whom they competed for authority over the paranormal, The Stepchildren of Science demonstrates that in the German context both proponents and opponents alike understood psychical research and parapsychology as border sciences.
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EUR €90.00USD $122.00

Review Quotes

“Wolffram […] certainly created a vibrant account for the reader. The result is a history that draws together the many uses, contests, and embellishments of a phenomenon that was at once mysterious and potent. As a survey of how such a protean idea permeated German society, this book will not only attract historians of science or the occult, but many other historians interested in the manufacture and power of ideas.” - Sean Dyde, in: Metascience 20, 2011, pp. 403-5
“The author paints a fascinating picture of psychical research and related topics in Imperial and Weimar Germany, and the story she tells has many resonances even today. Without a fuller knowledge of the background and sources, which probably no-one in the UK has, it is difficult to see how this account could be bettered.” in: Magonia Review of Books Online, February 2010
“Wolffram sets herself the daunting task of extricating the development of psychical research in Germany from 1870-1939 from both the fictional depiction of the parapsychologist and the myth of the Nazi regime steeped in occultism. She succeeds admirably. […] This is an enlightening look at a pivotal time in science and in Germany.” in: SciTech Book News, March 2010
The Stepchildren of Science is a solid consideration of late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century German debates on science… unique among recent work… advanced undergraduates, graduate students, and scholars interested in laboratory history, discipline formation, and scientific authority – as well as those researching the occult – will find this book useful.” in: Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences (2010)
“Heather Wolffram has now ventured further into this still little-known territory. She has published the first detailed study, and the first book in English, on psychical research and parapsychology in Germany… rich, wide-ranging material is skilfully unfolded and analysed… [The] Stepchildren of Science will be an indispensable guide for those who wish to walk into this shady zone.” in: German History (2010)

Table of contents

List of Images
List of Abbreviations
The Emergence of Psychical Research in Imperial Germany
Hypnotism, Lay Medicine and Psychical Research at the Fin de Siècle
In the Laboratory of the Geisterbaron: Experimental Parapsychology in Germany
An Holistic Science: Philosophical Renewal and Official Response
Parapsychology in the Courtroom: Occult Trials, Expertise and Authority during the Weimar Republic
Parapsychology on the Couch: The Psychology of Occult Belief in Germany


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