What is Spiritualism?

Spiritualism accepts the existence of both the body and the spirit, and while attributing all physiological activities to the body, perceives that the functions of the soul are under the control and disposition of the spirit. According to spiritualists, it is the substance which is called the spirit and on which ideas are based. This substance, which we call “ana (the ego),” has a separate, independent existence from the body. Compared to others schools, spiritualists are clearer in their consideration of the spirit. Plato stressed the existence and permanence of the spirit, although his words are associated with reincarnation; Aristotle regarded the spirit as the most essential element of human existence, that which separates humankind from other kinds of beings. Even though they use different concepts or descriptions, Descartes, Berkeley, and Leibniz expressed almost the same considerations. All of them admitted the existence of a substance in human existence which is other than the body and which thinks, wills, and perceives.

TranquilityHumans undergo constant physical changes from the time they come into the world, but every person remains himself or herself. Therefore, there must be an essence in every human being which determines his or her identity and nature, and this is what we call the spirit. Malebranche adds to this consideration: The spirit and the body have interactive relations and reciprocal effects upon each other. In accordance with the laws God has established, when the spirit manifests will or wills something, some movements occur in the body; any movement in the body produces effects on the spirit. The real or ultimate cause of both interactions is the Divine Will (this seems to have been inspired by the approach of the Muslim Ash’aris[1]). The apparent interactions of the spirit and body are normal human activities which occur within the framework of the Divine unchanging laws of life and which never ignore human free will. Since both the spirit and body act in accordance with these Divine laws, there is an exact order and harmony in human “natural” existence and life or in the activities of the spirit and body.


[1] ‘Ash’aris constitute one of the two main branches of Ahl al-Sunna wa’l-Jama’a. The founder of this branch is Abu’l-Hasan al-‘Ash’ari (d. 936). Although they accept the role of human free will in human actions, the free will consists of an inner tendency. It is God Who creates all human actions. They also maintain that things do not have attributes essential to and originating in them. For example, fire does not burn as an indispensable attribute; rather, God always creates the attribute of burning in fire so long as He wills it to burn, and if He does not will it to burn, fire cannot burn. Therefore, the universe, with whatever is in it, is under God’s direct disposal and control. (Tr.)

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