Article ID: CBB441549303

Physiology, Vitalism, and the Contest for Body and Soul in the Antebellum United States (2023)


In the early nineteenth century, physiology became an increasingly popular and powerful science in the United States. Religious controversy over the nature of human vitality animated much of this interest. On one side of these debates stood Protestant apologists who wedded an immaterialist vitalism to their belief in an immaterial, immortal soul — and therefore to their dreams of a Christian republic. On the other side, religious skeptics argued for a materialist vitalism that excluded anything immaterial from human life, aspiring thereby to eliminate religious interference in the progress of science and society. Both sides hoped that by claiming physiology for their vision of human nature they might direct the future of religion in the US. Ultimately, they failed to realize these ambitions, but their contest posed a dilemma late nineteenth-century physiologists felt compelled to solve: how should they comprehend the relationship between life, body, and soul? Eager to undertake laboratory work and leave metaphysical questions behind, these researchers solved the problem by restricting their work to the body while leaving spiritual matters to preachers. In attempting to escape the vitalism and soul questions, late nineteenth-century Americans thus created a division of labor that shaped the history of medicine and religion for the following century.

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Authors & Contributors
Alfonso-Goldfarb, Ana Maria
Altschuler, Sari B.
Amaral, Maria Thereza Cera Galvão do
Boury, Dominique
Calder, Dale R.
Cochran, Philip A.
Archives of Natural History
Journal of the History of the Neurosciences
Science in Context
História, Ciências, Saúde---Manguinhos
History of Psychiatry
New York, City University of
University of California, Santa Cruz
Johns Hopkins University Press
Palgrave Macmillan
University of Chicago Press
Medicine and religion
Experimental biology
Encyclopedias and dictionaries
Bordeu, Théophile de
Haller, Albrecht von
Barthez, Paul Joseph
Beckett, Samuel
Bichat, Marie François Xavier
Feijóo y Montenegro, Benito Jerónimo
Time Periods
18th century
19th century
17th century
20th century, early
20th century, late
20th century
United States
Great Britain
Minnesota (U.S.)
Université de Montpellier
Oxford University

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