Great Spiritualists and Friends
Dr. James Hervey Hyslop (August 18, 1854 to June 17, 1920) was a professor of logic and ethics at Columbia University before becoming a full-time psychical researcher in 1902. In 1904, he organized the American Institute for Scientific Research, which was to be devoted to the study of abnormal psychology and psychical research. When Dr. Richard Hodgson, who headed the American branch of the Society for Psychical Research (ASPR), died in 1905, the ASPR became a section of Hyslop’s organization and Hyslop dropped the study of abnormal psychology from his objectives. Although initially skeptical, Hyslop came to believe in spirit communication and the survival of consciousness at death.
Born in Xenia, Ohio, Hyslop earned his B.A. at Wooster College in Ohio, then studied at the University of Leipzig for two years before receiving his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University in 1887 and his LL.D. from University of Wooster. He taught philosophy at Lake Forest University, Smith College, and Bucknell University before joining the faculty of Columbia in 1895. He authored three textbooks, Elements of Logic (1892), Elements of Ethics (1895), and Problems of Philosophy (1905).
Hyslop’s interest in psychical research came as a result of his friendship with Harvard professor William James and an 1888 sitting with Leonora Piper, the Boston medium being studied by James and Hodgson. He reported that his father, wife, and other deceased members of his family communicated with him through Mrs. Piper. He became an active member of the ASPR, working closely with Hodgson. He continued studying Mrs. Piper after Hodgson’s death while also studying a number of other prominent American mediums, primarily Minnie Meserve Soule, who was given the pseudonym “Mrs. Chenoweth” and Mrs. Willis M. Cleaveland, who went under the pseudonym “Mrs. Smead.”
While Hyslop was still teaching at Columbia, James Cattell, a fellow professor, sneered at Hyslop’s interest in psychical research. When Hyslop published articles that strongly supported non-mechanistic theories, Cattell tried to have him fired. In his defense, Hyslop, noting scientific efforts to find a species of useless fish to support Darwin’s theory, asked “why it is so noble and respectable to find whence man came, and so suspicious and dishonorable to ask and ascertain whither he goes?”
He later wrote: “The academic world is blind to the needs of the hour and has isolated itself as in aristocratic seclusion from contact with the life of those who are ruling the tendencies of the future. It is left, as it apparently has always been, to the outside world to find leaven for the regeneration, and if any spiritual ideal be discovered it must be in the little beacon lights that shine out from the residual and neglected phenomena of mind which promise as wide an extension in psychological knowledge as the new discoveries in the material world have produced in physical science.”
Hyslop moved from skeptic to scientific observer to propagandist. He was not one to sit safely on the fence. “Personally I regard the fact of survival after death as scientifically proved,” he wrote. “I agree that this opinion is not upheld in scientific quarters. But this is neither our fault nor the fault of the facts. Evolution was not believed until long after it was proved. The fault lay with those who were too ignorant or too stubborn to accept the facts. History shows that every intelligent man who has gone into this investigation, if he gave it adequate examination at all, has come out believing in spirits; this circumstance places the burden or proof on the shoulders of the skeptic.”
One of the more interesting cases investigated by Hyslop was that of “Doris,” an apparent case of multiple personalities. He came to the conclusion that it was a case of spirit obsession. “What the doctrine involves is a reinterpretation of secondary and multiple personality,” he wrote. “It does not set the doctrine aside, as most critics will be disposed to think. Obsession is simply superimposed upon secondary personality or dissociation, or interfused with it, but it is not necessarily substituted for it.”
Anticipating or reacting to the scoffs of mainstream psychology on his views concerning spirits and obsession, Hyslop wrote: “I regard the existence of discarnate spirits as scientifically proved, and I no longer refer to the skeptic as having any right to speak on the subject. Any man who does not accept the existence of discarnate spirits and the proof of it is either ignorant of a moral coward.”
Hyslop’s books on psychical research include Science and a Future Life (1905), Enigmas of Psychic Research (1906), Borderland of Psychic Research (1906), Psychic Research and the Resurrection (1908), Psychic Research and Survival (1913), Life After Death (1918) and Contact with the Other World (1919).
Following his death in 1920, Hyslop purportedly began communicating through a number of different mediums. The evidence was gathered by Gertrude O. Tubby, who had served Hyslop as Secretary of the ASPR for many years. She compiled her research in a 1929 book titled James H. Hyslop – X. “[Hyslop] apparently seized the earliest opportunity; that is, five hours after his death, when Miss Tubby, making an ostensibly casual friendly call on Mrs. C. G. Sanders of New York, was given highly pertinent and evidential information, the medium being uninformed of Dr. Hyslop’s death,” wrote Weston D. Bayley, M.D. in the preface of the book. “Continuing from then until the present time the same communicator has utilized practically every available opportunity to establish his identity as having survived the destruction of his frail and outworn physical body.”