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The Society for Psychical Research (SPR) was founded in 1882 by three dons of Trinity College, Cambridge, Edmund Gurney, Frederic William Henry Myers, and Henry Sidgwick, because of their interest in spiritualism.

The Society has a membership of 5,500 and an average revenue of 5.2 million pounds per year.Its headquarters is in Marloes Road, London.

The Society holds no corporate opinions: all opinions expressed are those of the individual members. It publishes the quarterly Journal of The Society for Psychical Research and irregular Proceedings, and holds an annual conference.

History[edit | edit source]

Its purpose was to encourage scientific research into psychic or paranormal phenomena in order to establish their truth. Research was initially aimed at six areas: telepathy, mesmerism and similar phenomena, mediums, apparitions, physical phenomena associated with séances and, finally, the history of all these phenomena. The Society is run by a President and a Council of twenty people. The organisation is divided between London and Cambridge, the London headquarters were initially at 14 Dean's Yard. An American branch of the Society was formed in 1885 as the ASPR, becoming an affiliate of the original SPR in 1890. Famous supporters of the society have included Alfred Lord Tennyson, Mark Twain, Lewis Carroll, Carl Jung, J. B. Rhine and Arthur Conan Doyle (who was shamefully duped on at least one occasion by tricksters).

The Society was especially active in the thirty years after it was founded, gaining fame for the Hodgson Report debunking Madame Blavatsky and the Theosophical Society in 1884. In 1997 Vernon Harrison, a member of the SPR, published an examination of the Hodgson Report. According to Harrison's examination, the Hodgson Report is not a scientific study, it "is flawed and untrustworthy" and "should be read with great caution, if not disregarded." (Harrison 1997) He concluded that Hodgson's case against Madame H. P. Blavatsky is not proven and stated:

I cannot exonerate the SPR committee from blame for publishing this thoroughly bad report. They seem to have done little more than rubber-stamp Hodgson's opinions; and no serious attempt was made to check his findings or even to read his report critically. If they had done so (...) the case would have been referred back for further study. Madame H. P. Blavatsky was the most important occultist ever to appear before the SPR for investigation; and never was opportunity so wasted. (Harrison 1997)

Most initial members were spiritualists but there was a core of 'professional' investigators - the Sidgwick Group, headed by Henry Sidgwick, a formation pre-dating the SPR by eight years. The Society was wracked by internal strife, a large part of the membership (the Spiritists) leaving as early as 1887 in opposition to the approach taken by the so-called intellectuals.

The presidents of the Society for Psychical Research
1882-1884   Henry Sidgwick (1838-1900), philosopher
1885-1887 Balfour Stewart (1827-1887), physicist
1888-1892   Henry Sidgwick (→ 1882)
1893 Arthur Balfour (1848-1930), later prime minister, originator of the well known Balfour Declaration
1894-1895 William James (1842-1910) American psychologist and philosopher
1896-1897 Sir William Crookes (1832-1919), physicist and chemicist
1900 Frederick William Henry Myers (1843-1901), philologist and philosopher
1901-1903 Sir Oliver Lodge (1851; †1940), physicist
1904 Sir William Fletcher Barrett (1845-1926), physicist
1905 Charles Richet (1850; †1935), French Physiologist und Nobel Prize winner
1906-1907 Gerald Balfour (1853-1945), politician
1908-1909 Eleanor Sidgwick (1845-1936), parapsychologist
1910 Henry Arthur Smith (1848-), Anwalt
1911 Andrew Lang (1844-1912)
1912 W. Boyd Carpenter (1841-1918), Bischof
1913 Henri Bergson (1859-1941) French philosopher; Nobel Prize for literatur 1927.
1914 Ferdinand Canning Scott Schiller (1864-1937), philosopher
1915-1916 George Gilbert Aime Murray (1866-1957), philologist
1917-1918 Lawrence Pearsall Jacks (1860-1955), professor of philosophy in Oxford
1919 John Strutt, 3rd Baron Rayleigh (1842-1919), physicist, Nobel Prize 1904
1920-1921 William McDougall (1871-1938), psychologist
1922 Thomas Walter Mitchell (1869; †1944), editor of the British journal of medical psychology
1923 Camille Flammarion (1842-1925), französischer Astronom
1924-1925 John George Piddington (1869-1952), businessman
1926-1927 Hans Driesch (1867-1941), German biologist and natural philosopher
1928-1929 Sir Lawrence Jones (1885-)
1930-1931 Walter Franklin Prince (1863-1934), gründete 1925 die Boston SPR
1932 Eleanor Sidgwick (→ 1908) und Oliver Lodge (→ 1901)
1933-1934 Edith Lyttelton (1865-1948), playwrite
1935-1936 Charlie Dunbar Broad (1887-1971), philosopher
1937-1938 John Strutt, 3rd Baron Rayleigh (→ 1919)
1939-1941 Henri Haberley Price (1899-)
1942-1944 Robert Henry Thouless (1894-), psychologist
1945-1946 George Tyrell (*1879; †1952), mathematician
1947-1948 William Henry Salter (1880-), lawyer
1949 Gardner Murphy (1895-1979), psychologist
1950-1951 Samuel George Soal (1889-1975), mathematician
1952 George Murray (→ 1915)
1953-1955 Frederick Stratton (1881-), astrophysicist, professor in Cambridge
1956-1958 Guy William Lambert (1889-), Diplomat
1958-1960 Charlie Dunbar Broad (→ 1935)
1960-1961 Henri Habberley Price (→ 1939)
1960-1963 Eric Robertson Dodds (1893-), professor of Greek studies in Birmingham and Oxford
1963-1965 Donald James West (1924-), psychiatrist and criminologist
1965-1969 Sir Alister Hardy (1896-1985), zoologist
1970 W. A. H. Rushton (1901-), physiologist, professor in Cambridge
1971-1974 Clement William Kennedy Mundle (1916-), philosopher
1974-1976 John Beloff (1920-2006), psychologist at the University of Edinburgh
1976-1979 Arthur J. Ellison (-2000)
1980 Joseph Banks Rhine (1895-1980)
1980 Louisa Ella Rhine (1891-)
1981-1983 Arthur J. Ellison (→ 1976)
??? ???
1992-1993 Alan Gauld
1993-1995 Archie Roy, professor of astronomy in Glasgow, founded the Scottish SPR in 1987
1996-1999 David Fontana, professor of psychology at Cardiff University
1999-2004 Bernard Carr, professor of mathematics and astronomy at London University
2004- John Poynton, Biologist

Remark concernng the persons in italics: Eleanor Sidgwick was the wife of Henry Sidgwick and the sister of both Arthur Balfour and Gerald Balfour.

Today[edit | edit source]

The Society still exists and states its principal aim as "understanding events and abilities commonly described as 'psychic' or 'paranormal' by promoting and supporting important research in this area." Of its initial aims, the most successful has been the gathering of data relating to the history of the paranormal - the SPR has built up an extensive library and archive, part of which is held at the University of Cambridge. The Journal (usually abbreviated JSPR) is peer reviewed and respected in the field of parapsychology.

The Society still has many well known figures among its members, including parapsychologists Dr.Susan Blackmore, Ciarán O' Keeffe, and Louie Savva. Investigators of spontaneous phenomena (hauntings, etc.) include Maurice Grosse and Guy Lyon Playfair who are best known for the Enfield Poltergeist.

References[edit | edit source]

External links[edit | edit source]

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