What is?

Spiritism[1] is a spiritualistic philosophical doctrine established in France in the mid 19th Century by the French educator Hippolyte Léon Denizard Rivail (1804-1869), under the pseudonym Allan Kardec, reporting séances in which he observed a series of phenomena that he attributed to incorporeal intelligence (spirits). His assumption of spirit communication was validated by many contemporaries, among them many scientists and philosophers who attended séances and studied the phenomena. Spiritism has adherents in many countries throughout the world, including Spain, United States, Japan, Germany, France, England, Argentina, Portugal and especially Brazil, which has the largest proportion and the greatest number of followers (officially, 2.3 million).

Character of Spiritism

Many spiritists see themselves as not adhering to a religion, but to a philosophy with scientific inspirations and moral consequences. Allan Kardec refers to Spiritism in What is Spiritism?, a brief introductory pamphlet, as a  “(…) science which deals with the nature, origin and destiny of Spirits, as well as their relationship with the corporeal world.” Spiritists pray to God, who is seen as the ultimate cause, or source, of all things and beings. The Spiritist moral principles are in agreement with the ones taught by Jesus (according to Kardec), Francis of Assisi, Paul the Apostle, Buddha, Tolstoi and Gandhi. Spiritist philosophical inquiry is concerned with the study of moral aspects in the context of an eternal life in spiritual evolution through reincarnation. Sympathetic research on Spiritism by scientists can be found in the works of Sir William Crookes, Ernesto Bozzano, the Society for Psychical Research, William James, Alfred Russel Wallace, the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine winner Charles Richet, Prof. Ian Stevenson‘s group at University of Virginia, and Prof. Gary Schwartz at University of Arizona. Spiritism has no clergy, nor does it adopt or use at any of its meetings or during its practices the following: altars, images, candles, processions, sacraments, concession of indulgences, religious vestiments, alcoholic or hallucinogenic beverages, incense, tobacco, talismans, amulets, horoscopes, cartomancy, pyramids, crystals, or any other objects, rituals or external forms of worship.


The basic doctrine of Spiritism (“the Codification”) is defined in five books written and published by Allan Kardec during his life:

  1. The Spirits’ Book — Defines the guidelines of the doctrine, covering points like God, Spirit, Universe, Man, Society, Culture, Morals and Religion.
  2. The Book on Mediums — Details the “mechanics” of the spiritual world, the processes involved in channeling spirits, techniques to be developed by would-be mediums, etc.
  3. The Gospel According to Spiritism — Comments on the Gospels, highlighting passages that, according to Kardec, would show the ethical fundamentals shared by all religious and philosophical systems. This may be the first religious book to acknowledge the existence of life elsewhere in the Universe, based on Jesus’ saying “The houses in the realm of my father are many” (John, 14, 1-3).
  4. Heaven and Hell — A didactic series of interviews with spirits of deceased people intending to establish a correlation between the lives they lead and their conditions in the beyond.
  5. The Genesis According to Spiritism — Tries to reconcile religion and science, dealing with the three major points of friction between the two: the origin of the universe (and of life, as a consequence) and the concepts of miracle and premonition.

The five chief points of the doctrine are: (1) There is a God, defined as “The Supreme Intelligence and Primary Cause of everything”; (2) There are Spirits, all of whom are created simple and ignorant, but owning the power to gradually perfect themselves; (3) The natural method of this perfection process is reincarnation, through which the Spirit faces countless different situations, problems and obstacles, and needs to learn how to deal with them; (4) As part of Nature, Spirits can naturally communicate with living people, through a process called mediumship, as well as interfere in their lives; (5) All the Laws of Nature are Divine Laws because God is their author. They cover both the physical and moral laws. The central tenet of Spiritist doctrine is the belief in spiritual life. The spirit is eternal, and evolves through a series of incarnations in the material world. The true life is the spiritual one; life in the material world is just a short-termed stage, where the spirit has the opportunity to learn and develop its potentials. Reincarnation, in the context of Spiritist doctrine, is the process where the spirit, once free in the spiritual world, comes back to the world for further learning, always in a human body.

Web links

Downloable version of the works of Allan Kardec (Fr, En, Es, Pt): http://www.allan-kardec.com/



[1] Adapted from: Spiritism. (2009, May 8). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 10:03, May 16, 2009.


Sobre Adilson J. de Assis

Professor e pesquisador na Faculdade de Engenharia Química, Universidade Federal de Uberlândia. Interesses: História da Ciência e da Tecnologia; Filosofia da Ciência e da Tecnologia; Ciência e espiritualidade; Novas metodologias no ensino de engenharia.
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