The American Society for Psychical Research (ASPR) is an organization dedicated to education and research in parapsychology. The ASPR was founded in January 1885, in Boston, as a result of a visit to the United States by Sir William Fletcher Barrett of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) of London.
It attracted many eminent scientists and scholars, among them William James. At first the ASPR was structurally similar to the SPR, with committees to investigate thought transference (telepathy), hypnosis, apparitions, Mediumship, and other phenomena then considered paranormal.
An annual series of Proceedings was published. Initially, the ASPR operated independently of the SPR, but financial difficulties forced the society to become a branch of the SPR in 1890. In 1906, the ASPR was re-established as an independent organization, under the direction of James H. Hyslop, and moved to New York.
A journal—fittingly called the Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research—was introduced the following year. The Proceedings were continued as a regular publication, devoted to book-length studies. Walter Franklin Prince joined Hyslop at the ASPR in 1917, and when Hyslop died in 1920, Prince took over as research officer and editor of the Journal and Proceedings.
Both Hyslop and Prince were careful researchers, broad minded but not credulous about their work, and together they helped to set a high standard for the study of parapsychological phenomena, especially mediumship and other evidence for survival after death.
ASPR membership was diverse, however, and included a substantial faction of less scholarly bent. Many members were more attracted to Spiritualism than to the serious study of the paranormal, and this group wanted more attention given to the controversial medium Mina Stinson Crandon, better known as “Margery.”
When William McDougall, who had been elected president in 1920, was replaced by the spiritualist Frederick Edwards in 1923, many important members left and set up a new society, the Boston Society for Psychic Research, dedicated to the ASPR’s original principles.
They urged Prince to join them, and when Edwards was elected to a second ASPR term in 1925, Prince did so. “A dark chapter in the history of the American Society for Psychical Research (ASPR) is being written,” he commented at the time, “and it will be long in retrieving its former reputation.”
In fact, it was not until 1941, shortly before Crandon’s death, that the ASPR changed sufficiently for the Boston Society for Psychic Research to be reunited with it. Under the leadership of psychologist Gardner Murphy, the ASPR turned away from sittings with mediums and took up experimental tests of ESP of the sort pioneered in the later 1920s and the 1930s by J.B. Rhine.
Experimental research characterized the society from the 1940s onward, with investigations such as the connection between creativity and ESP and meditation and ESP, both pet interests of Murphy. Murphy served as president of the board of trustees from 1962 to 1971 and in the late 1960s was responsible for convincing an appeals court to award a substantial part of the estate of James Kidd to the ASPR.
The money went in part to fund research on deathbed apparitions by Karlis Osis, then new to the staff. The ASPR and Osis benefited also from money donated by Chester F. Carlson, the multimillionaire inventor of the Xerox process. Carlson had funded the early stages of Osis’s study of deathbed apparitions and helped to equip the ASPR’s laboratory, later named in his honour. He served on the society’s board of trustees from 1964 to 1968 and took an active interest in its affairs.
In 1966, he helped make it possible for the ASPR to buy a building on the Upper West Side of New York City. When he died in 1968, he left over $1 million to the endowment fund. Research during the 1960s and 1970s reflected Osis’s interest in survival after death.
There was a revival of studying spontaneous cases, although experimental work continued as well. After Murphy’s departure for health reasons in 1975, the ASPR began to decline, a process accentuated by Osis’s retirement in 1983. Osis was not replaced as director of research. The society’s primary mission shifted to education through the Journal, the Newsletter, lectures, and a library.
- American Society for Psychical Research (SPR)Web site. URL: https://www.aspr.com.
- Berg, Arthur S. Lives and Letters in American Parapsychology: A Biographical History, 1850–1987. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1988.
- Mauskopf, Seymour H. “The History of the American Society for Psychical Research: An Interpretation.” Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research (SPR)83 (1989): 7–32.
- Osis, Karlis. “The American Society for Psychical Research (SPR)1941–1985: A Personal View.” Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research (SPR)79 (1985): 501–29.
American Society for Psychical Research (ASPR) Organization founded in late 1884 in Boston under the auspices of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) of England, and dedicated to the advancement of psychical research (now called parapsychology). The society became formally active in 1885; astronomer Simon Newcomb was elected the first president. Other major figures in the formation of the society were English physicist Sir William Barrett, and Harvard philosopher William James. The early ASPR operated independently of the SPR, but organized itself along the same lines, with investigative committees to research and collect data on thought transference, telepathy, hypnosis, apparitions, mediumship, and other phenomena. Its membership included many scientists who considered psychical research of secondary interest. As a result, in 1889, less than five years after founding, the society was forced for financial reasons to dissolve and reorganize as the American Branch of the SPR. Richard Hodgson, a member of the SPR, moved to America and directed the branch’s activities until his death in 1905. In 1906 the American Branch was dissolved and the ASPR reestablished itself as an independent organization with headquarters in New York City. James H. Hyslop served as secretary until his death in 1920; most of the new leadership was comprised not of scientists, but of other professionals who had an avocational interest in psychical research and Spiritualism. During this period the ASPR suffered from a shortage of funds and did a modest amount of collective research. Hyslop was more interested in publishing, and devoted a great deal of time to fund-raising. Following Hyslop’s death the ASPR went through a strained and divisive period in which many members were extremely dissatisfied with the leadership’s neglect of experimental parapsychology in favour of mediumship and seance phenomena. The division was exacerbated by a controversy over a fraudulent medium known as “Margery” (Mina Stinson Crandon) of Boston, to whom the ASPR devoted much attention and money. In 1925 a group of academically oriented opponents of Margery split off and formed the Boston Society for Psychic Research, which did little but publish. In the 1941 ASPR elections, a “palace revolution” occurred and the key Margery supporters were voted out of office. The ASPR terminated official involvement with Margery, who died later the same year. The Boston group returned to the fold. Under the presidency of Hyslop’s son, George Hyslop, and the leadership provided by eminent psychologist Gardner Murphy, who became chairman of the Research Committee, the society reinstated research as its primary function. Prior to the “palace revolution,” the ASPR had been run to appeal to the lay public, not academics or scientists. The first sign of a change in this orientation occurred in 1938, when Murphy conducted the first systematic ESP experiments under the auspices of the ASPR, using American parapsychologist ]. B. Rhine’s ESP cards. Under the new administration, the organization returned fully to a scientific purpose. It benefited from the experimental work of Rhine, who saw parapsychology as an emerging scientific discipline, and from the academic approach of Murphy, who sought to integrate the paranormal with psychology and philosophy. Murphy’s stature as a psychologist-he served for a time as president of the American Psychological American Society for Psychical Research (ASPR) 15 Association-did attract Rhine, Margaret Mead, Henry James (son of William James), and other luminaries to the board of directors. However, he did not achieve the great integration he desired. From the 1940s until 1971, eight years before his death, Murphy served as key leader of the ASPR; he served as president from 1962 to 1971. In 1948 a “Medical Section” was established to research the integration of psychiatry and depth psychology to the paranormal; one outgrowth was the dream research of Montague Ullman and others. See Dreams. The Medical Section ceased operation in the 1950s, when a key member of the group, Jule Eisenbud, left New York for Denver. In the mid-1950s Murphy directed ASPR attention to spontaneous psi, which he thought would yield more information on the nature of psi than did laboratory experiments. He encouraged research on creativity, altered states and psi, meditation and transpersonal factors of psi, deathbed observations, and survival after death. Laboratory equipment to induce altered states was purchased in the 1960s. See Altered states of consciousness; Deathbed visions; Meditation. Membership and lecture attendance began to increase in the 1940s, and reached a peak in the 1960s and 1970s, fueled in part by the counterculture’s interest in the paranormal. Liberals, however, were squeezed out by conservatives, and membership and interest then began to decline. Without Murphy factions again developed in the ASPR, between “reductionists,” those who sought to define all phenomena as either ESP, PK, or chance, and more liberal researchers interested in out-of-body experiences, neardeath experiences, behavioral medicine, dreams, and reincarnation. The ASPR has sought a balance of interests. Scientific articles are published in a quarterly Journal, while informal articles appear in a quarterly ASPR Newsletter. The ASPR maintains one of the most comprehensive parapsychology libraries in the world, and offers symposia and lectures. Membership is international.
- Roger I. Anderson. “The Life and Work of James H. Hyslop.” The Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research 79 (April 1985): 167-200;
- Nandor Fodor. An Encyclopedia of Psychic Science. 1933. Secaucus, NJ: Citadel Press, 1966;
- James G. Matlock. “The ASPR in 1888.” ASPR Newsletter 14, no. 3 (July 1988): 23;
- James G. Matlock. “The ASPR in 1913.” ASPR Newsletter 14, no. 4 (October 1988): 29;
- James G. Matlock. “The ASPR in 1938.” ASPR Newsletter 15, no. 1 (Winter 1989): 8;
- Seymour H. Mauskopf. “The History of the American Society for Psychical Research: An Interpretation.” The Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research 83, no. 1 (January 1989): 7-32;
- Karlis Osis. “The American Society for Psychical Research 1941-1985: A Personal View.” The Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research 79, no. 4 (October 1985): 501-29.
Harper’s Encyclopedia of Mystical and Paranormal Experience – Written by Rosemary Ellen Guiley Copyright © 1991 by Rosemary Ellen Guiley.
Founded in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1885, the American Society for Psychical Research (ASPR) is the oldest organization in the United States to use scientific methodology to investige unexplained phenomena, such as telepathy and other forms of extrasensory perception. The ASPR maintains an extensive collection of books, unpublished manuscripts, reports, and letters related to its work. These materials date from the eighteenth century to the present. The first president of the ASPR was astronomer Simon Newcomb, and for a brief time it was a branch of the British Society for Psychical Research, which was founded in 1882. In the early twentieth century, however, it became an independent organization headquartered in New York City. In 1907 the group began publishing the Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, which is still published today. Its current members include scientists, psychologists, and university scholars from various disciplines; among its most prominent early members were physicist Sir William Barrett, scientist Sir Oliver Lodge, and psychologist William James.
- Barrett, Sir William;
- extrasensory perception;
- James, William;
- Lodge, Sir Oliver
The Greenhaven Encyclopedia of Paranormal Phenomena – written by Patricia D. Netzley © 2006 Gale, a part of Cengage Learning