Lofton tells me she shares with Jonathan Z. Smith the view that difference is the beginning of any good conversation. I am going to take her up on that notion and dwell here on a point of disagreement rather than those points, about the wild commingling of religion and consumption, upon which we agree. . . . I agree with Lofton that there is all too much about Oprah’s world and her devotees to make one wonder—at least from a certain highbrow academic standpoint—about “the intensity of their shallowness.” Call me an unreconstructed humanist, an overly hopeful liberal, but I doubt that banality is the sum of the matter, even for Oprah’s most frivolous (or lighthearted) fans.Read the rest of Oprah the Omnipotent.
Leigh Eric Schmidt
Leigh Eric Schmidt is the Charles Warren Professor of the History of Religion in America at Harvard Divinity School. He is the author of Restless Souls: The Making of American Spirituality (2005), Hearing Things: Religion, Illusion, and the American Enlightenment (2000), Consumer Rites: The Buying and Selling of American Holidays (1995), and Holy Fairs: Scottish Communions and American Revivals in the Early Modern Period (1989). His latest book is Heaven's Bride: The Unprintable Life of Ida C. Craddock, American Mystic, Scholar, Sexologist, Martyr, and Madwoman (Basic Books, 2010).
Posts by Leigh Eric Schmidt:
Buried in the middle of William James’s chapter on “The Sick Soul” in The Varieties of Religious Experience is the melancholy voice of one asylum patient. “There is no longer any past for me,” the inmate relates, “I can no longer find myself; I walk, but why?” It is a strange moment of existential despair—one brought on by the loss of the past—in a chapter filled with despondency, not least James’s own. “There is no longer any past for me . . . I walk, but why.”Read the rest of History and the historyless.
Not long ago, researchers wired up the atheist Richard Dawkins with a helmet that would create magnetic fields partially simulating the brain activity of temporal lobe epilepsy, which they linked to dramatic visionary religious experiences and to less dramatic feelings of sensed presences. It turns out, though, that hooking up a hardboiled atheist to a machine, known as the transcranial magnetic stimulator, produced no such experiences. “It was a great disappointment,” Dawkins related after 40 minutes on the machine. “Though I joked about the possibility, I of course never expected to end up believing in anything supernatural. But I did hope to share some of the feelings experienced by religious mystics when contemplating the mysteries of life and the cosmos.” As my own mind was being massaged with images of Richard Dawkins having his temporal lobes stimulated, an odd notion popped into my head: namely, when it comes to religion, history and culture trump neurology. [...]Read the rest of A religious history of American neuroscience.
That Charles Taylor’s massive book on the malaises and predicaments of secularity could be taken by so many distinguished intellectuals as a defining tome for our age comes as a surprise. At the very moment when it would have appeared that theories of secularization and disenchantment had finally exhausted their own mythological power to frame modernity, Taylor devotes his immense philosophical gifts to delineating and diagnosing the secular colossus. [...]Read the rest of That weird strange thing.