Dates: July 2023-June 2024
Principal investigator: Dr Adam Powell (Durham University)
Co-investigators: Dr Josh Bullock (Kingston University) & Dr Caroline Starkey (Leeds University)
Funder: The International Network for the Study of Science and Belief in Society
Weekday Worldviews is the first sociological investigation of the relationships between worldviews and psychological wellbeing amongst those attending public psychic events in England. Hosted in pubs and working men’s clubs on weekday evenings, psychic nights frequently attract women in working-class areas and are quite common, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic. Revitalising a tradition made popular in the late 19th century, these mediumistic events see attendees receiving comforting messages from the dead, sometimes accompanied by physical manifestations (e.g., levitating objects). Theatrical mediumship shows have also gained popularity recently, e.g. Séance by theatre company Darkfield. Both types of ‘psychic’ events are billed as entertainment, but they ask audiences to suspend disbelief for the possibility of connection to the spirit world.
Although mediums have been studied by psychologists, anthropologists and historians, sociologists have mostly overlooked this socio-cultural phenomenon, while scholars more generally have failed to investigate the motives, markers, and derived meanings for those in the audiences of these events. Understanding the audience will shed needed light on how belief is cultivated in an era of declining institutional religion, questioning whether such decline creates a void filled by alternative spiritual experiences which affirm individual significance, filial connection, and agency and whether the firm binary of ‘science’ vs ‘spirituality’ is unrepresentative of lived reality.