Wiles Colloquium 2009

The Monist Century 1845-1945: Science, Secularism and Worldview

 Queen’s University Belfast, 2nd & 3rd October, 2009

The theory that all spirit and matter were united in a single originary substance gained adherents across the globe during the second half of the nineteenth century. This philosophy of monism found a gifted advocate in the guise of German biologist and Darwin interpreter, Ernst Haeckel, who heralded it as a new scientific “worldview”. Self-described monists formed associations and, with varying degrees of anticlerical invective, undertook to substitute their worldview for the dualistic Christian faith.

The colloquium brings together a group of international scholars, recognised for their work in charting linkages between the histories of science, religion, politics and ideas. Each panel will consist of short summaries followed by the discussion of pre-circulated papers that will be made available to registered participants via a secure website.

To register or for more information, please contact Dr Todd Weir (t.weir@qub.ac.uk).

The gläserne Frau (“visible woman”) created in 1935 for the German Hygiene Museum Dresden captures the monist preconceptions of the age. The human body is completely penetrated by the gaze of natural science yet its arms are raised in exultation. Unlike a classical supplicant pointing to the radiant sun or godhead, the object of worship here is the human itself. This monist humanism that links science and religion is echoed in the text emblazoned on the wall of the 1935 exhibition: “People wonder at the roaring sea, the flowing waters, the view of the heavens and forget in all this wonderment of things the miracle that they themselves are.” (© German Hygiene Museum Dresden).  

There is a growing literature – largely written by historians of science – on the theory, proponents and organisation of naturalistic monism. However, there has yet to be a systematic study of the extent and the wider ramifications of monist thought. The aim of the upcoming colloquium is to investigate the thesis that monism formed an essential epistemological framework for numerous religious, political and cultural movements that helped define the century between the 1840s and the destruction of the National Socialist regime in 1945.