Accepted paper:

Finding proof versus destabilizing certainties in two religious contexts in the Netherlands


Kim Knibbe (Groningen University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper will describe and analyze the practices of a spiritualist group with a strong emphasis on finding 'proof' of the reality of the other side. To develop a theoretical approach, this case will be compared to a religious context where the goal is to destabilize the Catholic dogma's.

Paper long abstract:

This paper is based ons several years of ethnographic research with a spiritualist medium and a spiritualist group in the Netherlands. These are part of larger networks that have been linking up with what is generally referred to as New Age. These spiritualist networks, however, have a much longer history in the Netherlands. When spiritualism was introduced int he 19th century in the Netherlands, it attracted the elites, nowadays the public is usually of a lower middle class and lower class background. Within the spiritualist groups, people gather to practice their paranormal abilties. More public events such as healings and seances often attract a wider public. In both cases, even the most committed members feel the need to maintain an attitude of doubt and uncertainty, but in the service of finding certainty, modelled on the hard sciences. The practices are characterized by an attitude that I call ' sceptical positivism'. The emphasis within these networks is on finding ' proof' of the other side. This quest for certainty will be compared to another religious context, dominated by a discourse of liberal Catholicism,where the emphasis is on learning to deal with uncertainty (see Knibbe 2008). This uncertainty is experienced as liberating. This comparison will be the basis for developing a theoretical approach that departs from Jackson's essay ' minima ethnographica' (1998) to approach both the quest for certainty and for uncertainty.

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Dealing with doubts, putting to test: the importance of uncertainty in vernacular religion