A Luminous Brotherhood

Afro-Creole Spiritualism in Nineteenth-Century New Orleans

By Emily Suzanne Clark

280 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 6 halftones, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-4565-0
    Published: August 2018
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-2878-3
    Published: September 2016
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-2879-0
    Published: August 2016

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Awards & distinctions

2017 Francis B. Simkins Award, Southern Historical Association

Michael V.R. Thomason Book Award, Gulf South Historical Association

A CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title, 2017

In the midst of a nineteenth-century boom in spiritual experimentation, the Cercle Harmonique, a remarkable group of African-descended men, practiced Spiritualism in heavily Catholic New Orleans from just before the Civil War to the end of Reconstruction. In this first comprehensive history of the Cercle, Emily Suzanne Clark illuminates how highly diverse religious practices wind in significant ways through American life, culture, and history. Clark shows that the beliefs and practices of Spiritualism helped Afro-Creoles mediate the political and social changes in New Orleans, as free blacks suffered increasingly restrictive laws and then met with violent resistance to suffrage and racial equality.

Drawing on fascinating records of actual séance practices, the lives of the mediums, and larger citywide and national contexts, Clark reveals how the messages that the Cercle received from the spirit world offered its members rich religious experiences as well as a forum for political activism inspired by republican ideals. Messages from departed souls including François Rabelais, Abraham Lincoln, John Brown, Robert E. Lee, Emanuel Swedenborg, and even Confucius discussed government structures, the moral progress of humanity, and equality. The Afro-Creole Spiritualists were encouraged to continue struggling for justice in a new world where “bright” spirits would replace raced bodies.

About the Author

Emily Suzanne Clark is associate professor of religious studies at Gonzaga University.
For more information about Emily Suzanne Clark, visit the Author Page.


“Will appeal to scholars of American race, religion, and Reconstruction and other dedicated readers interested in unusual and creative responses to the experience of being southern and black in the aftermath of the Civil War.”--Publishers Weekly

“A smart, creative, fun, thought-provoking read. Highly recommended.”--Choice

“Aims to contextualize the Brotherhood historically, socially, and politically in ways that are informative and thought provoking not only to historians and scholars in religious studies, but across different disciplines. . . . An enormous contribution to an area of scholarship long identified as having been under-researched.”--Reading Religion

“An original accomplishment that highlights how racial politics in post-Civil War New Orleans shaped nineteenth-century séances. . . . Contributes substantially to the study of American Spiritualism within the history of American racisim.”--Journal of Southern Religion

“Adds to the historiography by detailing the work of [the Cercle Harmonique].”--American Historical Review

“Gives valuable insight into Afro-Creole thought in Louisiana.”--The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

Multimedia & Links

Visit the author's website at www.emilysuzanneclark.wordpress.com.

Follow the author on Twitter @clark_ems.