Spiritualism as a specific Anglo-American religious movement should not be confused with the general belief in ‘spiritualism’ and ‘dualism’, within a broader global and historical context. From the perspective of ‘spiritualism’ as a philosophical belief rather than a tangible religious movement, it is maintained, on a metaphysical level, that the world is composed of two fundamental elements: matter and spirit. The spiritual entities encompassed within this outlook are varied; including for example, the soul, afterlife, spirits of the dead and psychic mediumship.

It is important to note that few people positioned themselves as either strictly materialist or spiritualist in this period. For example, many notable nineteenth century scientists such as, William Crookes and Alfred Russel Wallace were not wholly materialist as we might anachronistically presume. Crookes was renowned for his scientific experiments on the medium Florence Cook and her full-form materialisation Katie King. Equally, Spiritualists, despite the alleged refusal of materialism, gave the utmost importance to the collecting of empirical and supposedly scientific evidence of spirit communication.

‘Dualism’ in theological terms is an outlook claiming that the world is influenced by opposing forces: good and evil. In a philosophical sense, this term refers to the relationship between the mind and the brain. According to ‘dualism’, the brain in not entirely made up of physical matter, but transcends physicality, being the incorporeal component of a person. From this perspective, the mind (soul) and brain (body) communicate with one another, yet they are not concretely linked. The soul triggers activity in the material brain and activity in the brain can impact the workings of the soul. Thus, when a person dies, their mind (soul – their essence) continues to exist.