William James’s interest in psychical research is often treated as something of an anomaly. The fact that James took "that large group of debatable phenomena designated by such terms as ’mesmeric,’ ’psychical,’ and ’spiritualistic,’" seriously as a legitimate area of scientific inquiry seems slightly bemusing to our contemporary jaded ears. As a result, his writings collected in Essays in Psychical Research tend to be marginalized, even ignored by most serious James scholars. But American pragmatist communication theorist John Durham Peters, in his innovative philosophical and cultural history of communication, Speaking into the Air, provides the key to a new appreciation of this oft-neglected work by asserting that, for James, "the question of communication was one of our time’s questions of faith." By this Peters means that James’s investigations were not simply about whether communication with the dead via mediums was scientifically possible but also and more fundamentally about the desire for authentic person-to-person or soul-to-soul connection across distances. As Peters reads James, the question of communication is fundamentally a religious one, involving issues of hope, trust, faith, and interpretation; James’s "concern was never to rule out the possibility of contact with the inhuman– beast or God." Why? Because of the difference that it made, the effects that it had.

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