19th Century Spiritualism: How proponents deploy particular arguments in order to maintain belief despite negative evidence
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In order to extend our understanding of the communicative practices involved in belief maintenance, the current paper examines how proponents of 19th century Spiritualism defended their beliefs despite apparent negative evidence. Previous research (Lamont, 2012) has demonstrated that particular arguments in relation to the evidence were deployed and so the current paper closely examines the arguments used and how they are constructed. A discourse analysis of articles from 19th century periodicals reveals those defending the truth of Spiritualism either dismiss negative evidence and argue that fraud was impossible, express that fraudulent manifestations did not mean that others were not genuine or establish that failures were the result of spirits. Writers also use extreme case formulations, avowals of prior scepticism and clinching arguments to construct these arguments effectively. The paper argues that discursive work on belief maintenance and social identification can be used to help the reshaping of public discourse.