Synopses & Reviews
Yoga classes and Zen meditation, New Age seminars and holistic workshops, the Oprah Winfrey Show, and books by Deepak Chopra -- all are part of the religious experimentation that has surprisingly deep roots in American history. In fact, they represent only the most recent flowerings of a unique form of spirituality. By tracing our spiritual heritage along its many colorful highways and eccentric byways, Restless Souls profiles a rich spirituality that is distinctively American.
Since the 1960s, our expanded and enhanced spiritual explorations have changed us from a nation of church goers into a culture of seekers. But the American fascination with mystical experience and churchless spirituality goes back much further than the psychedelic era. In Restless Souls, historian Leigh Schmidtdeftly traces this American romance with the interior life from the likes of transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson to television host Oprah Winfrey, from poet Walt Whitman to Senator Barak Obama, from questing psychologist William James to Zen basketball coach Phil Jackson. Were taken from pioneer Johnny Appleseed to translator of Sufi poetry Coleman Barks, from theosophist Madame Blavatsky to meditation guru Ram Dass, and then to many more.
This book places the most recent spiritual upsurge in the context of a broader cultural and intellectual history. In contrast to prevailing fears about the conservative influence of religion in America, Restless Souls depicts a vibrantly open American spirituality and serves as a timely reminder of the ample religious resources of the liberal tradition.
"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.)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
is an accessible though scholarly survey of a vibrant part of American spiritual heritage; it brings to the fore the substantive struggles in which 'the primacy of individual experience is joined to a whole web of spiritual practice and social commitments.'" Jane Lampman, Christian Science Monitor
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About the Author
Leigh Eric Schmidt is professor of religion at Princeton University and the coauthor with Edwin S. Gaustad of The Religious History of America. Widely published as a cultural historian, essayist, and reviewer, he has won prizes from the American Studies Association, the American Society of Church History, and the American Academy of Religion. He lives with his wife and two children in Princeton, New Jersey.