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Out Now: Speaking with the Dead

Published onMay 28, 2024
Out Now: Speaking with the Dead
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About the Book

If you tried speaking with a dead person and they gave you a clear response, how would you react? Mediums develop their minds and bodies to communicate messages from the deceased to their living loved ones, and in Speaking with the Dead, anthropologist Matt Tomlinson describes his experiences training as a medium with a Spiritualist congregation in Canberra, Australia. The book is written in a first-person narrative style that brings “extrahuman” relationships to life, showing what it is like to learn and practice mediumship: the strategic suspension of skepticism; the wobbly first attempts; the embarrassing failures; and the moments, both unsettling and enthralling, when someone tells you that yes indeed, you’ve just described her grandfather who died in 1978.

Speaking with the Dead brims with stories of talented mediums and Tomlinson is not interested in proving or disproving mediumship, preferring instead to illustrate how mediums bring their practices to life. In contrast to the popular image of mediums as shameless frauds, Tomlinson describes earnest and committed seekers from a wide range of backgrounds who often struggle to understand their own experiences. Their profits are therapeutic rather than financial. And they worry about endings as much as anyone else: the passing of physical lives, the closure of beloved churches. Speaking with the Dead is ultimately a book about the lively side of death, grounded in Spiritualists’ conviction that life is eternal and your social network extends to the astral plane. It is a close examination of how mediumship works culturally, which is to say, how mediums and audiences work together to create senses of transcendent connection.

About the Author

Matt Tomlinson is an anthropologist from New Jersey who studies ritual, language, and politics. His research on Christian politics in Fiji was published in two books, In God’s Image: The Metaculture of Fijian Christianity (California, 2009) and Ritual Textuality: Pattern and Motion in Performance (Oxford, 2014). He has engaged in innovative intellectual conversations with Indigenous scholars in the Pacific, as seen in the volume (co-edited with Ty P. Kāwika Tengan)  New Mana: Transformations of a Classic Concept in Pacific Languages and Cultures (ANU, 2016) and God Is Samoan: Dialogues between Culture and Theology in the Pacific (Hawai‘i, 2020). He is Professor of Anthropology in the School of Culture, History and Language at the Australian National University, and has also taught at Bowdoin College, Monash University, and the University of Oslo.

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