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The Story of Radio Mind

A Missionary’s Journey on Indigenous Land

At the dawn of the radio age in the 1920s, a settler-mystic living on northwest coast of British Columbia invented radio mind: Frederick Du Vernet—Anglican archbishop and self-declared scientist—announced a psychic channel by which minds could telepathically communicate across distance. Retelling Du Vernet’s imaginative experiment, Pamela Klassen shows us how agents of colonialism built metaphysical traditions on land they claimed to have conquered.
Following Du Vernet’s journey westward from Toronto to Ojibwe territory and across the young nation of Canada, Pamela Klassen examines how contests over the mediation of stories—via photography, maps, printing presses, and radio—lucidly reveal the spiritual work of colonial settlement. A city builder who bargained away Indigenous land to make way for the railroad, Du Vernet knew that he lived on the territory of Ts’msyen, Nisga’a, and Haida nations who had never ceded their land to the onrush of Canadian settlers. He condemned the devastating effects on Indigenous families of the residential schools run by his church while still serving that church. Testifying to the power of radio mind with evidence from the apostle Paul and the philosopher Henri Bergson, Du Vernet found a way to explain the world that he, his church and his country made.
Expanding approaches to religion and media studies to ask how sovereignty is made through stories, Klassen shows how the spiritual invention of colonial nations takes place at the same time that Indigenous peoples—including Indigenous Christians—resist colonial dispossession through stories and spirits of their own.

336 pages | 6 color plates, 57 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2018

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology

Folklore and Mythology

History: American History

Religion: American Religions, Comparative Studies and History of Religion


“Deeply researched and thoroughly engaging . . . . Klassen understands Du Vernet and his situation better than he did.” 

Reading Religion

"Pamela E.Klassen’s The Story of Radio Mind: A Missionary’s Journey on Indigenous Land is an important book that grapples with the close relationship between colonialism and Christianity and provides an insightful case study of Frederick Herbert Du Vernet (1860–1924), an Anglican archbishop and self-declared scientist and storyteller who worked on the Northwest Coast in the early 1900s. The Story of Radio Mind will be of interest to historians, geographers, religious and communication studies scholars, and anyone wanting to better understand the connections between missionary imperialism and Canadian nation-building."

BC Studies

“This book tells a tale of love and theft, and it does so with great skill. Every page crackles as it dials into some long-lost channel; radio mind is not only the book’s topic but also suggests its method for investigating the borderlands. Weird and wonderful things are to be found in this twilight zone of psychical research on the imperial margin. Frederick Du Vernet, a heterodox Anglican churchman and one of many philosopher-mystics to find the Pacific coast a happy habitat for spiritual musings, takes telepathic flight with his Pauline psychical research while Native activists whose land he sits on use the printing press to fight for their rights. This stylish and gripping ethnographic biography illuminates colonial contradictions and the spiritual and political resonance of media forms. In offering an affectionate but not exonerating look at a fascinating figure, the book itself participates in the long ambiguous arc toward reconciliation."

John Durham Peters, Yale University

The Story of Radio Mind is a stunning account. . .Klassen has written a truly innovative book of the intersecting worlds of religion, nationalism, indigeneity, and technology in the late-nineteenth to early-twentieth century. Klassen shows how Du Vernet was transformed by these intersections and how Du Vernet’s encounters with the ‘spiritual energies of the land on which he lived’ impacted his version of Christianity. This book will have wide-ranging appeal to scholars working across a range of fields, including religion, anthropology, and Native American Studies. The Story of Radio Mind contributes to and builds upon a rapidly growing conversation about missionary work and its global implications, while it is also rooted in the local Canadian history of Caledonia.”

Sarah Rivett, Princeton University

The Story of Radio Mind: A Missionary’s Journey on Indigenous Land is movingly and elegantly written, grounded in thorough and original research in the primary sources, and a powerful study with the makings of a real classic in the field. Klassen not only offers her readers a compelling story; she also layers stories upon stories, and shows us how these stories helped forge the settler colonial nation of Canada. . .Deftly wielding recent theoretical insights from religious studies, indigenous studies, anthropology, and cultural studies, she illuminates the complex and contested power of these stories as mediated through a diverse set of technologies: printing press, totem pole, map, radio, and the experimental psychic technology that her main subject, Archbishop Frederick DuVernet, called “radio mind.” Klassen has produced a book at once accessible, cutting-edge, and profound. . . The Story of Radio Mind is a gift, a major contribution not only to the world of scholarship, but also to all those who seek justice in all the messiness and ambiguities of a settler colonial world. . .Truly the work of a scholar at the top of her form.”

Tisa Wenger, Yale Divinity School

"The Story of Radio Mind is a scholarly musing about the spiritual dimensions of colonialism Klassen encountered in archives, on the land, and in the people she met as she physically retraced Du Vernet’s steps from Toronto to Manidoo Ziibi and Prince Rupert. She writes of encounters with archival documents as 'gifts,' describes the delight with which she engaged with the marginalia she found in the books of Du Vernet’s personal library, and ponders the enduring Indigenous presence that lies behind the streets of her home neighbourhood in Toronto. The tone she was able to strike throughout makes the book approachable and surely will resonate with non-specialist audiences."

The Ormsby Review

"The Story of Radio Mind is beautifully written, gently and appropriately reflexive, finely grained, and erudite."

Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
1          The Medium Is the Medicine
2          A Life on the Border
3          Testimonies, Protocols, and Spiritual Stories
4          Picturing the Soul on Manidoo Ziibi
5          Map Is Territory
6          Printing Presses in the Promised Land
7          Frequencies for Listening
8          Truths and Reconciliations

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