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A Luminous Brotherhood

Afro-Creole Spiritualism in Nineteenth-Century New Orleans

This book can be downloaded and read in iBooks on your Mac or iOS device.


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.

From Publishers Weekly

Jul 11, 2016 – Clark challenges the assumption that spiritualism is a northern Protestant movement focused on deceased family members and removed from politics by focusing on New Orleans's Cercle Harmonique. This small group of Afro-Creole Catholics kept meticulous records of their s ances during the early years of Reconstruction. Visited by local martyrs, national heroes (including Jefferson, Washington, and John Brown), and international figures (notably Robespierre and Napoleon), the group actively sought to bring about what they called "the Idea": brotherhood, harmony, and egalitarianism. A major step in progress towards that goal was the knowledge that spirits are not raced like bodies, as their spiritual visitors attested. Clark offers excellent context for understanding the social and political fights in New Orleans and fascinating details from their s ance records to show how the group's concern fit into political projects from the local to the transatlantic. Her chapter on the Cercle's antimaterialist view offers stunning parallels to modern concerns for religious believers. The work will appeal to scholars of American race, religion, and Reconstruction and other dedicated readers interested in unusual and creative responses to the experience of being southern and black in the aftermath of the Civil War.
A Luminous Brotherhood
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  • $19.99
  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: Religion & Spirituality
  • Published: Aug 26, 2016
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
  • Seller: Ingram DV LLC
  • Print Length: 280 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.5 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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