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Session Overview
S88: Life reform networks in transnational context: c. 1900-c. 1970
Thursday, 21/Jun/2018:
9:00am - 10:30am

Session Chair: Steven J. Sutcliffe
Location: Unitobler, F022
Lerchenweg 36

Session Abstract

Speaker 1: Title of Contribution
Bernadett Bigalke: Colon hygiene, breathing and Vegetarian diet as religious practices: David Ammann as missionary for Mazdaznan in Leipzig around 1900
Speaker 2: Title of Contribution
Steven Sutcliffe: Diet and Life Reform: the Scottish Vegetarian Dugald Semple (1884-1964)
Speaker 3: Title of Contribution
Stefan Rindlisbacher: The Swiss life reformer Werner Zimmermann as a popularizer of spiritual body practices: Meditation, deep breathing and karezza
Speaker 4: Title of Contribution
Eva Locher: Body and Self – Life reform after 1950 as (religious) counselling?

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Vegetarian diet, breathing and colon hygiene as religious practices: David Ammann as missionary for Mazdaznan in Leipzig around 1900

Bernadett Bigalke

Leipzig University, Germany

Around 1907 a Swiss German farmer and re-migrant from the US settled with his family in Leipzig, Kingdom of Saxony and became the main promoter of Mazdaznan. The self-claimed Neo-Zarathustrian group had to establish itself according to German association law and acted from then on in the busy city centre amongst many other bigger and smaller religious, therapeutic and life reform groups. They offered to followers and prospects knowledge and practical exercises in vegetarianism, breathing techniques and bowel hygiene. This was embedded in a religious worldview with references to Asian wisdom and secret revelations.

My presentation will contextualize Mazdaznan within the context of the broader new Thought Movement having emerged in the US since the 1890ies. New thought and Mazdaznan are textbook examples for the scientific boundary work on the categories “religion” and “culture”.

In a second step Mazdaznan will be examined with the focus on processes of adjustment into the second (German) context. What sort of ideas and practices have been transmitted, which not? How have they been integrated into the new structural and cultural context? What sort of ties existed to the US-American organization?

The analyses will take into account the period between 1907 and 1914. It starts with the relocation of family Ammann from California to Leipzig and ends with the official banning of the Family from Saxony as “unwanted foreigners” shortly before World War I broke out.

The Swiss life reformer Werner Zimmermann as a popularizer of spiritual body practices: Meditation, deep breathing and karezza

Stefan Rindlisbacher

University of Fribourg, Switzerland

The life reform (“Lebensreform”) included a great variety of ideas and practices for transforming everyday life. Many of these reform efforts were concerned with the body as for example the alcohol and tobacco abstinence or different diets like vegetarianism or veganism. The naturopaths treated the human body with "natural healing factors" such as light, air and water, but also with diets, sports and relaxation. For the nudists, nudity was an important prerequisite to strengthen and harden the body. Nude bathing should also weaken the sexual desire and allow a casual interaction between men and women.

The rise of life reform in the early 20th century was due to the rapid development of scientific disciplines such as physiology, evolutionary biology and psychology in the 19th century. The research on the physical and mental functioning of the body radically changed the perception of men. On the one hand, life reformers adapted the new body knowledge and popularized it for a non-academic audience. On the other hand, they interpreted the scientific findings differently than many scientists and linked them with philosophical and religious elements. They criticized the one-sided emphasis on the measurable physiological processes of the body as a "materialistic" dead end. The “re-enchantment”, as they saw it, came through the adaptation of spiritual body practices of non-European philosophies and religions.

In the presentation I will concentrate on the Swiss reform teacher, life reformer and publicist Werner Zimmermann (1893-1982). With dozens of publications and hundreds of lectures throughout Europe, North America and Japan, Zimmermann was one of the most networked players in the Swiss life reform movement. In his main work Erlösende Erziehung (1922), Zimmermann developed a comprehensive reform program, which was enthusiastically received by young adults in particular. In his journal TAO (1924-1937), he not only dealt with Taoism, but also presented various aspects of Asian religiosity. In addition to nutritional reform, alcohol abstinence, nudism, physical exercises such as deep breathing and meditation, he also campaigned strongly for a sexual reform. In publications such as Liebe (1922), Liebesklarheit (1927) and Leuchtende Liebe (1945) Zimmermann propagated free love and sex magic practices. These included, among others, the Tantric sexual practice Karezza. He gained international fame through his translations of Alice Bunker Stockham's (1833-1912) Karezza: Ethics of Marriage (1897) and John William Lloyd's (1857-1940) The Karezza Method, or Magnetation: The Art of Connoial Love (1931).

Diet and Life Reform: the Scottish Vegetarian Dugald Semple (1884-1964)

Steven J. Sutcliffe

University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom

Dugald Semple was a journalist, photographer and “back to the land” colonist from the rising bourgeoisie who lived and worked in the rural west of Scotland beyond the spread of urban Glasgow, then the second largest city in the UK. Semple was a conscientious objector, vegetarian and “simple lifer” inspired by Tolstoy, Thoreau and Gandhi. This paper focuses on the vegetarian (and occasionally vegan) diet he advocated in his local newspaper columns and recipe books. I argue that Semple’s vegetarianism is understood primarily in ‘vitalistic’ terms which emphasise the special properties available through eating food that is not ‘butcher meat’: especially raw and uncooked foods, or ‘sunfoods’. The value of this dietary regime is derived from its association with the natural and the rural against the industrial and the urban. Following the right diet was not only a matter of material but of symbolic consumption; as such, diet served as an encapsulation of the values of ‘life reform’ or Lebensreform. This case study illustrates how food served as a medium not only for the expression of local practices but for the transnational exchange of ‘life reform’ representations which I show by tracing Semple’s connections with Lebensreformers in London, Oslo and Zurich between 1916 and 1953.

Body and Self - Life reform after 1950 as (religious) counselling?

Eva Locher

University of Fribourg, Switzerland

The life reform movement (“Lebensreform”) sought to optimize individual health and personal well-being through a profound change of everyday life and personal lifestyle, but its main objective was also to bring social change and eventually to reform the entire society. While various orientations, currents and practices can be put under the term “life reform”, scholars usually place vegetarianism, naturism and naturopathy at the core of the life reform movement. It emerged around 1900 and lasted throughout the entire 20th century. Although the historical context has changed dramatically over time, the key ideas of its reasoning and the relentless search for alternatives in individual and social life have sustained. In Switzerland, many individuals, associations and magazines that had evolved in the early 20th century were still active after 1950. Even more, the Swiss life reform movement then experienced a considerable growth.

In my presentation, I argue that life reform was attractive for individuals experiencing personal crisis or sickness. They entrusted themselves to the knowledge and power of life reform as it provided for example nutrition and respiration rules, propagated body practices such as massages, gymnastics and sunbaths and told adherents how to cure sickness or to keep their bodies and minds in shape and good health. The support individuals gained by following the life reform movement eventually had a religious dimension as the movement offered orientation and answers to their quest of meaning.

In my contribution, I present practitioners of life reform in Switzerland in the second half of the 20th century who acted as counsellors. In their guidebooks, they popularized elements of Mazdaznan and Yoga and combined those with their own methods in order to teach how to lead a meaningful life. In many cases, the advising reformers – whom historical research often characterizes as “prophets” – had suffered from a personal crisis earlier in their life and then transformed their individual experiences into counselling knowledge by publishing guidebooks or articles in the wide-ranging magazines of the movement. My case study illustrates how life reform inseparably linked the body and the self and how the respective practices often also had a religious meaning.

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