Restless Souls: The Making of American Spirituality from Emerson to Oprah

Leigh Eric Schmidt, Author . Harper San Francisco $26.95 (336p) ISBN 978-0-06-054566-6

Princeton religious historian Schmidt provides a sweeping and detailed look at the forefathers, and foremothers, of today's spirituality movement. From Emerson and the American Transcendentalists through early yoga exponents and up to media empress Oprah Winfrey, Schmidt labels, links and differentiates the strains of spiritual ferment and longing woven into American religious and cultural history. He claims the spiritual-but-not-religious crowd has always been here, often linked to progressive social and political activists via a social gospel. Having established the appreciable history of American spirituality, Schmidt's last chapter argues against the common critique of it as narcissistic and vapid. It is rather the changing expression of a broad American spiritual left that can counter today's dominant spiritual right. It's as grounded in history as any conservatism but also dynamic and capacious enough to accommodate different paths. Written following the rules of academia—with endnotes citing 19th-century journals and correspondence—yet highly accessible, Schmidt is sympathetic and scholarly about a wide variety of spiritual pilgrims and paths. This is recommended reading for anyone with an interest in American spirituality, and required reading for anyone who thinks spirituality was born after WWII with the baby boomers. (Sept.)

Reviewed on: 06/27/2005
Release date: 09/01/2005
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