POSTPONED: Cathy Gutierrez (Sweet Briar College), "Unnatural Selection: Eugenics and the Spirit World"

November 19, 2013
Thursday, February 13, 2014 - 4:30pm
165 Thompson Library

**PLEASE NOTE: Due to inclement weather on the East Coast, Professor Gutierrez will be unable to lecture tomorrow; the talk has, however, been rescheduled for Thursday, April 10, at 4:30 p.m. in 165 Thompson.**

 

Professor Cathy Gutierrez will deliver the fourth lecture in the 2013-2014 At-Large Lectures on Religion series. She is Professor of Religion at Sweet Briar College. Her lecture, like all others in the Center for the Study of Religion-sponsored series, is free and open to all. There will be a brief question-and-answer session and a reception following the lecture.

 

Abstract: Spiritualism was at the vanguard of progressive politics in the nineteenth century and adherents believed firmly that science and religion were destined to be allies in proving a bountiful universe peopled with the spirits of the dead.   Advocating both women’s rights and marriage reform, Spiritualists worked to change the conditions of this world according to the example set by heaven.  

     With the publication of On the Origin of Species in 1859, Spiritualists as well as other progressive religious leaders embraced the watershed moment in biology and made eugenics part of their program of improvement.  While often quite strident, Spiritualist eugenics were not proposing a racialized dystopia that restricted the freedoms of others but rather a utopian vision where the careful breeding of people would result in more spiritual creatures for the future.  I will trace the development of American spiritual eugenics through early free love thinkers who modeled their ideas on Plato’s Republic through Victoria Woodhull’s eugenics program which took its inspiration largely from the Oneida Community.  While the American government would eventually enact laws and programs in the 1930s designed to limit the reproductive rights of poor whites, the early versions of spiritual eugenics were bound up with women’s freedom and children’s health.     
     I will argue that Darwin’s theory, best known for causing a permanent rift between science and Biblical literalist Protestants, was embraced by progressive religions and even put into practice by those who believed that science would prove religion’s claims and that religion could create better people scientifically. 
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