The defining characteristic of the modern spiritualist movement is a belief that human beings can communicate with the spirits of the dead. Spiritualists assert that evidence of this ability is found in philosophy, science, the sacred texts of other world religions, natural law and previous contact between the living and the spirit world. While spiritualists do not subscribe to a fixed creed, they do embrace a collection of beliefs that the National Spiritualist Association of Churches calls the "Declaration of Principles."

Origins of Spiritualism

While spiritualists believe that humans have been conversing with the departed since the beginning of time, the modern spiritualist movement emerged in the mid-19th century in Hydesville, New York. Spiritualists contend that in 1848, the Fox family successfully identified and made contact with a spirit in their farmhouse after encountering a spate of paranormal activity. As news of this incident spread, the practice of holding séances for communicating with the dead became popular both in the United States and Europe. The practice enjoyed a wide following through the Victorian era, but its popularity had waned by the mid-20th century.

The Nature of God

Spiritualists assert that God, or the "Infinite Intelligence," comprises everything in existence. The Infinite Intelligence exists eternally and is embodied in the physical and spiritual world. Spiritualists believe that accurately understanding the divine will and living in harmony with it constitutes true spirituality. Human beings can connect with the Infinite Intelligence through prayer, meditation and acts of service. Spiritualists conclude that humans create their own happiness by staying in tune with the divine laws of the universe.

The Nature of Humanity

Spiritualists believe that human beings, as part of the physical world, contain a divine essence. That essence is actualized as consciousness -- the thoughts, emotions and internal perceptions of the individual. Spiritualists contend that the individual's consciousness survives death and passes into an afterlife on a higher plane. The degree to which the person pursued a life of kindness and service determines the quality of his or her afterlife. Spiritualists maintain that even if a person has not lived an altruistic life, atonement in the afterlife is still possible.

Spiritual Mediumship and Healing

Spiritualists believe that communication between humans and the spirit world has been proven scientifically and is fostered through the work of a medium. A medium, they maintain, has the ability to detect energies and vibrations from the spirit world and can demonstrate supernatural qualities such as clairvoyance, speaking in tongues, spiritual healing and divine revelation. Additionally, when a spirit communicates through a medium to the earthly plane, their contact is a charitable act of service to enlighten and benefit the living.