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Umbrella Project

DFG - Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft Uni Siegen Uni Freiburg Humboldt Berlin Uni Fribourg Uni Basel Uni Strasbourg IGPP


DFG Research Project


Occult phenomena at the intersections of science, media history, and cultural transfer (1770-1970)




The dynamics of contemporary media cultures and knowledge-driven societies find their roots in the interaction among groups that today are largely isolated from one another. Dialogues and exchanges among the likes of physicists and occultists, artists and spiritualists, authors and engineers, and philosophers and physicians are responsible for the innovations and impulses that gave rise to our contemporary society. Spiritualism in particular gave expression to concepts of telekinesis that came to fruition in technical media such as the telegraph, the wireless, and later in telephone, radio and television.


With support from the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, DFG), this project reconsiders the place of the occult within the development of science, media and modernity. In so doing, we question the 'classical' narrative of modernity that (1) dismissed occultism and its scientific investigations as pseudoscientific, anti-modern, or primitive; (2) interprets the rise of science and technology as the rational triumph over supernatural concepts of the occult and supernatural; and (3) acts on the assumption that in the late nineteenth century scientific and occult activities were strictly distinct and opposed fields of activity.


The intent of this project is to reveal the neglected role non-hegemonic styles of reason played in the nineteenth and twentieth century when emerging technical media “remediated” society. Our goal is to reconsider quarrels over occult phenomena to develop a new perspective on the history of knowledge and society in the twentieth century. This is not a counter-history of modernity, but rather an examination of the exchange and interference among 'hegemonic' and 'nonhegemonic' factors within a given history.

Three central concerns dominate this project:

1. Occultism and media archeology: The influence that occult conceptions in media history had upon scientific and technical innovations.

2. Inter-continental and -cultural transfer: The reception of occult phenomena and their influence upon media development between regions and cultures

3. Science and professionalization: The interaction of culture, science, occultism, and society, as well as the role of media-based public spheres, in the professionalization of non-hegemonic cultures and styles of reasoning.