Catherine L. Albanese, Editor AMERICAN SPIRITUALITIES: A Reader

When people today aver that they are "spiritual" but not "religious," they are invoking a distinction that is at once venerable and very modern. People of faith have long valued spirituality, which Albanese defines as "the personal, experiential element in religion... that, for those involved, signal[s] transcendence, sacrality, ultimacy, and/or a higher purposive wisdom that empowers by explaining and attesting life's meaning." The idea that such endeavors might be possible only outside of institutional contexts, however, is a relatively recent development. Albanese, a prolific scholar and past president of the American Academy of Religion, here presents representative selections from a wide range of texts and traditions, from the Puritans and Charles Colson to the Hare Krishnas and Shirley MacLaine. She imposes order on this dizzying pluralism by identifying four broad avenues along which individuals of different persuasions pursue their spiritual quests: the path of public and private ritual; the path of feeling and emotion; the path of prophecy and social action; and the path of metaphysics. Although essays introduce each of these sections, they do not engage either the analytical framework or the primary texts in sufficient depth and leave unanswered some fundamental questions. What, for example, makes American spirituality particularly American? The reader comes away with an increased appreciation for the variety of religious experience, but a still muddled understanding of what it all means. (Apr.)

Reviewed on: 04/09/2001
Release date: 04/01/2001
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