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The Odyssey Experience

The Odyssey Experience: Physical, Social, Psychological, and Spiritual Journeys

Neil J. Smelser
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: 1
Pages: 286
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  • Book Info
    The Odyssey Experience
    Book Description:

    This bold and innovative book traces the phenomenon of the "odyssey" experience as it shapes, informs, and defines our lives. Drawing on an astonishing range of examples, Neil J. Smelser focuses on how such experiences enhance our lives and provide us with meaning and dignity. The odyssey experience, as Smelser advances it, is generic, widespread, and recurring. It is a finite period of disengagement from the routines of life and immersion into a simpler, transitory, often collective, usually intense period of involvement that culminates in some kind of regeneration. By examining a variety of topics as part of a larger, overarching phenomenon, Smelser transforms their study from the particular to the comparative.The Odyssey Experiencethus reaches beyond a simple description of where and how transformations occur in daily life to offer a profound explanation for why they are there.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94342-1
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. ONE The Essentials of the Experience
    (pp. 1-27)

    This is a book both theoretical and empirical. It is about experiences that are widespread if not universal. These experiences are rooted in the necessities of the human condition—including movement in space and through time—and are found everywhere in mythology, religion, literary expression, the play of human imagination and experience, and cultural consciousness. They also make more informal appearances in private individual experiences, such as episodes of using drugs and alcohol, pursuing hobbies, watching movies and television, engaging in reverie, daydreaming and night dreaming. They pervade life from its most serious to its most frivolous aspects. I call...

  6. TWO Autobiographical Roots: Some Personal Odysseys
    (pp. 28-56)

    In the preface I indicated that the origins of this book are both autobiographical and scholarly. I do not know how to sort out these two origins, because they unfolded irregularly and built on one another. In this chapter I give an account of some of my life experiences. I have to say, however—and will elaborate later—that I did not, at the time they transpired, frame them in any way as odysseys or any other kind of generic experience, and did not regard them as directly comparable. My memories of these experiences are, I think, accurately and faithfully...

  7. THREE Religious Foundations and Their Derivatives
    (pp. 57-96)

    We begin with religion-based rites of passage because they are such an early, enduring, and well-analyzed form. Within that genre, the initiations into adolescence of traditional societies have provided the most fascination for anthropologists and for that reason have produced a flood of interpretations. After tracing a number of different historical manifestations of these rites, I will then turn to two other religion-based phenomena—pilgrimage and conversion—examining both their essences and variations. The chapter concludes with an account of two modern, secularized, but moral crusades, the Peace Corps and the 1964 Freedom Summer in Mississippi.

    Preliterate societies developed highly...

  8. FOUR Secularized and Commercialized Odysseys
    (pp. 97-154)

    The title of chapter 3, on religion-based transitions and journeys, and of this one, on secularized and commercialized ones, suggest an either-or contrast. As I noted at the end of the last chapter, that suggestion is misleading. The types fuse together. In chapter 3, I found myself compelled for reasons of continuity to include a number of secular episodes that had the ingredients of their religious cousins. In this chapter, the same overlap appears. For example, I will say some words about shamanism and religious healing by way of introducing the therapeutic process. This principle of fusion underlies a larger...

  9. FIVE Some Miscellaneous, More or Less Invented Experiences
    (pp. 155-179)

    By now the reader of these pages will have become aware of a pervasive difficulty I faced in organizing the chapter headings of this volume. Chapters 3 and 4 divided the world of odyssey experiences into religious and secular forms, but that division proved inexact. Chapter 3 included mainly religious illustrations, but I had to slide over into some mainly secularized cousins. Similarly, I include in chapter 6 what I call coercive illustrations, meaning the exploitation of odyssey experiences for political and social control. Yet many of the examples in earlier chapters—mainly rites of passage—have coercive or quasi-coercive...

  10. SIX Some Coercive Odyssey Experiences
    (pp. 180-205)

    At the outset I should confess an abiding ambivalence about including a chapter on coercive odysseys. Many of the outcomes (punishment, degradation, even torture) are usually regarded as negative or even evil, scarcely regenerative. Furthermore, at first glance, it seems a stretch to subsume processes as diverse as boot camp, prison correctional programs, tourism, and religious conversion under a common category. As I have considered the matter, however, I have concluded that the inclusion is a legitimate one, for three reasons: (1) the internal social and psychological characteristics of coercive experiences—and the processes by which these characteristics are ordered—...

  11. SEVEN Additional Theoretical Reflections
    (pp. 206-220)

    In this final chapter I will try to place the odyssey experience in a wider theoretical frame than I have done in the preceding chapters. I begin by noting that in pursuing theoretical questions one can discern two strategies that are opposite in some respects. The first is to lay out some general perspectives on human nature and society and then give meaning to, interpret, or explain an identified range of empirical phenomena consistent with those perspectives. The second is to start with empirical facts or regularities and tease out their broader theoretical significance.

    I will proceed along the second...

    (pp. 221-248)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 249-272)