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Restless Souls: The Making of American Spirituality

LEIGH ERIC SCHMIDT
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Pages: 360
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1ppw2r
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    Restless Souls
    Book Description:

    Yoga classes and Zen meditation, New-Age retreats and nature mysticism-all are part of an ongoing religious experimentation that has surprisingly deep roots in American history. Tracing out the country's Transcendentalist and cosmopolitan religious impulses over the last two centuries,Restless Soulsexplores America's abiding romance with spirituality as religion's better half. Now in its second edition, including a new preface, Leigh Eric Schmidt's fascinating book provides a rich account of how this open-road spirituality developed in American culture in the first place as well as a sweeping survey of the liberal religious movements that touted it and ensured its continued vitality.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95411-3
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. PREFACE TO THE SECOND EDITION
    (pp. xi-xxii)
  4. INTRODUCTION SPIRITUALITY IN THE MAKING
    (pp. 1-24)

    ONE DAY I WOKE UP and wondered: maybe today I should be a Christian, or would I rather be a Buddhist, or am I just aStar Trek freak?” So one woman playfully told a sociologist who studies contemporary American religion. Reports on the mushrooming growth of a culture of spiritual seeking have become a journalistic commonplace. As theUtne Readerasked in a cover story in 1998 called “Designer God,” “In a mix-and-match world, why not create your own religion?” Eclectic devotions, creedal crossings, consumer sampling, and individualistic expression are widely seen as the religious order of the day....

  5. CHAPTER ONE MYSTIC CLUB
    (pp. 25-62)

    A ONE-TIME SPY FOR THE DANISH military, Carl H. A. Bjerregaard (1845–1922) hastily left Denmark in 1873, a twenty-eight-year-old lieutenant absent without leave, and headed for New York. In the United States Bjerregaard started a new life, first as a factory worker in New Jersey, and then through employment at the Astor Library (soon to form the core of the New York Public Library). In Denmark he had briefly helped curate a natural history museum, so his joining the library staff in 1879 to classify books and recatalog them was not wholly out of character. Soon his military service...

  6. CHAPTER TWO SOLITUDE
    (pp. 63-100)

    I SAT IN MY SUNNY DOORWAY from sunrise till noon, rapt in a revery,” Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862) wrote of an experience at Walden Pond in the mid–1840s, “amidst the pine and hickories and sumachs, in undisturbed solitude and stillness.” Though “naturally no hermit” and happily entertaining various visitors in his makeshift home in the woods, Thoreau pronounced a distinct and enduring blessing upon isolation through his two-year experiment twenty miles outside Boston and a mile or so from the village of Concord. “I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time,” he confessed....

  7. CHAPTER THREE THE PIETY OF THE WORLD
    (pp. 101-142)

    THE PHENOMENAL POET had a phenomenal funeral,” Moncure Daniel Conway wrote of Walt Whitman’s memorial service in early April 1892, little more than a week after the poet’s death in Camden, New Jersey. Conway, a Virginia Methodist turned religious radical, had first sought out Whitman in the summer of 1855 after Ralph Waldo Emerson had handed him a copy of the newly publishedLeaves of Grasswith the portentous pronouncement: “Unto us a man is born.” Going on to produce his own SacredAnthologyof the scriptures of the world in 1874 and a memoir in old age calledMy...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR MEDITATION FOR AMERICANS
    (pp. 143-180)

    FELIX ADLER (1851–1933), a Reform Jew on his way to founding his own progressive religious organization known as the Society for Ethical Culture, had avidly digested the Transcendentalist writings of Theodore Parker and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Adler was among the coterie of intellectuals, alongside Thomas Wentworth Higginson and Octavius Brooks Frothingham, who energized the Free Religious Association during its salad days. At a meeting in 1876 he exhorted New England’s religious radicals to make good on their expansive vision for the nation: “O America! America! that hast broken the bonds of despotism, and given political liberty to the world,...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE FREEDOM AND SELF-SURRENDER
    (pp. 181-226)

    ALEXANDER RUSSELL WEBB (1846–1916) was one of the more unusual pilgrims that nineteenth-century America produced. Born in Hudson, New York, and “reared ‘under the drippings’ of an orthodox Presbyterian pulpit,” Webb worked as a journalist and editor in Missouri for many years before becoming the U.S. consul to the Philippines under President Grover Cleveland in 1887. For six years prior to taking up his diplomatic post in Manila, Webb had been “earnestly engaged in the study of Oriental religions and spiritual philosophies” and imagined the consulate as “an opportunity to read, study, and experiment along these lines.” Arriving as...

  10. CHAPTER SIX SEEKERS
    (pp. 227-268)

    OCTAVIUS FROTHINGHAM (1822–1895), the matchless chronicler of New England Transcendentalism, remarked inThe Radicalin 1870 that for inquirers of his generation the big question had become “What is religion?” It was not enough to gather adequate descriptions of specific religions, whether Unitarianism or Mormonism, in order to make sense of the religious world. Rather, the issues at hand cut deeper: What was the nature of religion itself? Did it still matter? Was it of “vital, practical, daily use to anybody”? These problems were entangled with the meaning of religion itself. It was a term, in Frothingham’s view, that...

  11. EPILOGUE BE GENTLE WITH YOURSELF
    (pp. 269-290)

    INHabits of the Heart(1985), a national best seller on how American individualism had “grown cancerous” and was laying waste to the country’s civic institutions and religious traditions, the sociologist Robert Bellah and his coauthors famously lamented “liberalized versions” of morality and spirituality. The overblown ideals of self-reliance and self-expression were seriously undermining the welfare of community, family, and congregation. “Finding oneself” and “leaving church,” from their perspective as public philosophers, had increasingly become complementary processes in contemporary American culture. They pointed to the self-accepting credo of “one ecology activist,” the Unitarian Cassie Cromwell, as a leading exhibit of...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 291-322)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 323-336)