“The Monist Century 1845-1945: Science, Secularism and Worldview,” October

2 and 3, 2009 at Queen’s University Belfast.

This colloquium investigates the religious, scientific and political dimensions of naturalistic monism, particularly in Germany, but also in international perspective. During the second half of the nineteenth century increasing numbers of Europeans gave credence to the theory that all spirit and matter were united in a single originary substance. This philosophy of monism found a gifted advocate in the guise of German biologist and Darwin interpreter, Ernst Haeckel, who heralded it as a new scientific “worldview”. Self-described monists formed associations and, with varying degrees of anticlerical invective, undertook to substitute their worldview for the dualistic Christian faith.

There is a growing literature – largely written by historians of science – on the theory, proponents and organisation of naturalistic monism. However, there has yet to be a systematic study of the extent and the wider ramifications of monist thought. The aim of the upcoming conference is to investigate the thesis that, as an essential epistemological framework for numerous religious, political and cultural movements, monism helped define the century between the 1840s and the destruction of the National Socialist regime in 1945.

Registered participants will be given access to the secure website containing the pre-circulated papers. To register for more information, please send an email to Dr. Todd Weir ([email protected]).

Colloquium website:


The colloquium has been made possible with the generous support of the Wiles Trust and the German History Society.


The Monist Century 1845-1945: Science, Secularism and Worldview

Queen’s University Belfast, October 2 and 3, 2009

Friday, October 2, 2009

10- 10.45 AM

  • Opening remarks (Dr. Todd Weir, Belfast)

11-12.30 Panel I: Monism in the 1840s

  • Alexander von Humboldt and monism (Prof. Nicolaas Rupke, Göttingen)
  • Monism and liberal Protestant theology (Prof. Frederick Gregory, University of Florida)

1.45 – 4 Panel II: Monism and natural science

  • Monist conceptions of evolutionary biology: Ernst Haeckel and Auguste Forel (Prof. Olaf Breidbach, Jena)
  • Monism and morphology at the turn of the twentieth century (Prof. Sander Gliboff, Univ. of Indiana)
  • Monism and the unity of science (Prof. Paul Ziche, Utrecht)

4.15-5.45 Panel III: Monism as aesthetics and ethics

  • Evolutionary monism and aesthetics (Prof. Bernhard Kleeberg, Constance)
  • Haeckel’s monist conception of ethics. Differences between the ‘German Darwin’ and the English original (Prof. Eve-Marie Engels, Tübingen)

Saturday, October 3

9.30-11 Panel IV: Between naturalistic and spiritualistic monism

  • Spinozism: From Pantheism to Scientific Materialism, (Prof. Tracie Matysik, UT Austin)
  • Monism and suffering: Theosophy’s mediation of secularism and religion (Prof. Gauri Viswanathan, Columbia Univ., New York)

11.15-12.45 Panel V: Monism and political worldviews

  • Socialism and theosophy as examples of evolutionary monistic theorizing (Prof. Mark Bevir, UC Berkeley)
  • Monism and National Socialism (To be confirmed)

2-4.00 Panel VI: Geographical Comparisons:

  • Monism in Imperial Russia and the early Soviet Union (Prof. Mark Bassin, Birmingham)
  • Monism in Britain: Biologists and the Rationalist Press Association (Prof. Peter Bowler, Belfast)
  • Monism and dialectical materialism in the Soviet Union and East Germany (Dr. Igor Polianski, Ulm)


  • Concluding remarks, followed by discussion (Prof. David Livingstone, QUB)