Society for Psychical Research

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The Society for Psychical Research was established early in 1882 by a number of well-known persons.

The SPR’s first president was Henry Sidgwick, professor of moral philosophy at Trinity College, Cambridge, a man of great standing in intellectual circles. His chief associates in the early stages were Frederic Myers, a classical scholar with wide-ranging interests, and the brilliant Edmund Gurney, who was to develop a pioneering interest in hypnotism and psychological automatisms. Other prominent figures were the physicists William Barrett and Lord Rayleigh; Arthur Balfour, philosopher and Britain’s prime minister in the years 1902-1905; his brother Gerald Balfour, classical scholar and philosopher; and Eleanor Sidgwick, the Balfours’ sister (and wife of Henry Sidgwick), a mathematician and later principal of Newnham College, Cambridge.[1]

Several were also of the London Lodge of the Theosophical Society: Professor F. W. H. Myers, William Stainton Moses and C. C. Massey.

The preliminary announcement of the new society declared that "the present is an opportune time for making an organized and systematic attempt to investigate that large group of debatable phenomena designated by such terms as mesmeric, psychical, and spiritualistic." Committees were to be appointed to investigate and report upon such subjects as telepathy, hypnotism, trance, clairvoyance, sensitives, apparitions, etc. The announcement stated that "the aim of the Society will be to approach these various problems without prejudice or prepossession of any kind, and in the same spirit of exact and unimpassioned inquiry which has enabled science to solve so many problems, once not less obscure nor less hotly debated.[2]

Online resources

Articles and pamphlets


  1. "Our History" in SPR website.
  2. "The Society for Psychical Research and the Theosophical Phenomena: The Report of the S.P.R. on Madame Blavatsky" in Blavatsky Archives website. This essay was first published in Theosophy (Los Angeles, CA, USA), June, 1920, pp. 230-241 and July, 1920, pp. 257-270. A slightly edited and revised version was published as Chapter V, "The S.P.R. and The Theosophical Movement," pp. 59-74 and as Chapter VI, "The Report of the S.P.R.," pp. 75-93 in the book titled The Theosophical Movement 1875-1925: A History and a Survey (First edition, 1925).