The End of the Soul: Scientific Modernity, Atheism, and Anthropology in France

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Columbia University Press, Nov 1, 2005 - History - 402 pages
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On October 19, 1876 a group of leading French citizens, both men and women included, joined together to form an unusual group, The Society of Mutual Autopsy, with the aim of proving that souls do not exist. The idea was that, after death, they would dissect one another and (hopefully) show a direct relationship between brain shapes and sizes and the character, abilities and intelligence of individuals. This strange scientific pact, and indeed what we have come to think of as anthropology, which the group's members helped to develop, had its genesis in aggressive, evangelical atheism.

With this group as its focus, The End of the Soul is a study of science and atheism in France in late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It shows that anthropology grew in the context of an impassioned struggle between the forces of tradition, especially the Catholic faith, and those of a more freethinking modernism, and moreover that it became for many a secular religion. Among the adherents of this new faith discussed here are the novelist Emile Zola, the great statesman Leon Gambetta, the American birth control advocate Margaret Sanger, and Arthur Conan Doyle, whose Sherlock Holmes embodied the triumph of ratiocination over credulity.

Boldly argued, full of colorful characters and often bizarre battles over science and faith, this book represents a major contribution to the history of science and European intellectual history.

 

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The end of the soul: scientific modernity, atheism, and anthropology in France

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Poet and history professor Hecht (Nassau Community Coll.; The Next Ancient World) offers a solid contribution to the crowded story of anticlericalism in France, leading up to the separation of ... Read full review

Contents

IV
6
V
41
VI
91
VIII
135
X
168
XI
211
XII
257
XIII
296
XIV
306
XV
319
XVI
366
XVII
387
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About the author (2005)

Jennifer Michael Hecht is the author of Doubt: A History and two award-winning books of poetry, The Next Ancient World and Funny. She is a contributor to The New York Times and The Washington Post and is a fellow of the New York Institute for the Humanities.

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