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

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Columbia University Press, 2003 - Religion - 402 pages
3 Reviews

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

User Review  - Not Available - Book Verdict

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

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

User Review  - Tommy Carlson - Goodreads

After my delight at Doubt: A History, I has high hopes for The End of the Soul, another scholarly work by the same author. Frankly, I just couldn't get through it. Its thesis is to examine how ... Read full review

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About the author (2003)

Elizabeth A. Castelli is associate professor of religion at Barnard College at Columbia University. She is the author of Imitating Paul: A Discourse of Power, coauthor of The Postmodern Bible, and editor of several books, including Women, Gender, and Religion: A Reader. She serves on the editorial board of the Journal of the American Academy of Religion and is the editor of a new journal, Postscripts: Sacred Texts and Contemporary Worlds. In 2003 and 2004 she was the senior research scholar at the Center for Religion and Media at New York University.

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