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Unsettled Minds: Psychology and the American Search for Spiritual Assurance, 1830-1940

Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: 1
Pages: 278
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  • Book Info
    Unsettled Minds
    Book Description:

    This book examines how nineteenth- and twentieth-century American believers rejected older, often evangelical, theological traditions and turned to scientific psychologies to formulate new ideas about mind and spirit and new practices for spiritual growth. Christopher G. White looks in particular at how a group of liberal believers-including William James and G. Stanley Hall-turned away from traditional Christian orthodoxies and built a revised religious identity based on new psychological motifs and therapies.Unsettled Mindsis the first book to explain the dramatic rise of new spiritualities of the mind, spiritualities that, by the early twenty-first century, were turning eagerly to scientific and clinical psychological studies to reimagine religion and the problems of religious uncertainty.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94272-1
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    What is the fate of young people who try earnestly to believe but find themselves exhausted or bewildered by their parents’ religions? Can these unsettled young believers eventually recover something comforting or useful from their childhood faiths? Can those who have given up altogether on older theologies, seeking not to reform but obliterate them, find new ways of achieving religious certainty or assurance? How? Out of what raw materials can wholly new views on issues of crucial importance, issues such as the meaning of the moral life, the nature and possibilities of human nature, and the problem, so unsolvable, of...

  6. 1 Minds Intensely Unsettled
    (pp. 13-38)

    In 1841, at a Congregational church near Granville, Massachusetts, a regrettable incident occurred. A lecturer then touring New England, a man named Nelson Sizer, said he could see into people’s hearts. He offered to be blindfolded, which he was, and two men stepped forward as volunteers. Sizer touched their bodies and heads, running his hands through their hair and around their ears, alighting on particular locations, the significance of which was known only to him. The congregation waited silently. When done, he announced that the first man was “a harmonious, careful, upright man,” an assessment that appeared to please the...

  7. 2 Fragments of Truth
    (pp. 39-74)

    Not many of those comforted spiritually by psychological sciences such as phrenology could have guessed that these sciences, when fully developed, contained possibilities more dreadful than those that had been foisted upon them by older, ironclad orthodoxies. And so, for a while, in part because scientific psychology offered such powerful liberations, believers ignored their concerns about its hazards and risks. But such ignorance was not possible forever. A second generation of religious liberals, growing up in an age of science, both understood psychology’s possibilities better and felt more intensely its spiritual dangers. As they extended the range and power of...

  8. 3 Nervous Energies
    (pp. 75-103)

    Except in the minds of the most materialistic scientists, a fully stimulus-response self never came into existence. For everyone else, including, as we have seen, James and Hall, the self also incorporated dimly perceived freedoms, unmeasurable choices, transcendent elements, and unpredictable states that came and quickly evaporated. These inscrutable parts of the self had always existed, but interest in them quickened when physiological accounts of the self were tested and made operational in European and American universities. The inscrutable parts of the self that are best known, such as the unconscious, have been analyzed elsewhere; and in any case, the...

  9. 4 Neuromuscular Christians
    (pp. 104-133)

    The impulse to borrow from physiological discourses was by no means exhausted by believers pondering modern moral problems and nervous and spiritual health. This impulse led also to other, more dramatic transformations, producing, in particular, innovative metaphors for spiritual development and practical ways of cultivating religious experiences through embodied activities in the world. One result of these changes was a new Christian style, muscular Christianity, which became powerful in the decades around the turn of the twentieth century. Muscular Christians and many others linked problems related to nervous depletion and religious unbelief to the functioning of a crucial human faculty...

  10. 5 “A Multitude of Superstitions and Crudities”
    (pp. 134-157)

    There is little doubt that, in the nineteenth century, American religious liberals used psychological ideas and methods with remarkable adroitness. Those who were confounded by evangelical styles used these new ideas to devise better ways of both mapping the spiritual self and understanding its nervous and spiritual powers. Many used new psychologies to see more clearly the inner self, how it manifested itself in the body, and what the study of bodily processes told believers about spiritual and moral well-being. But it was not until the twentieth century that American religious liberals created what became the most influential way of...

  11. 6 Suggestive Explanations
    (pp. 158-195)

    For the most part it was consciousness or will-oriented psychologies that helped religious liberals rethink different dimensions of the moral and religious life. In the early decades of the twentieth century, however, as dynamic psychologies and notions of the unconscious became prevalent in American culture, ways of thinking about spiritual matters changed. The unconscious became a powerful source of imaginative reflections about the transcendent parts of human nature. Here was another category, like nervous energies, that believers used to imagine a place for spirit in an otherwise physiological self. Even so, and even though liberals and others embraced the unconscious...

  12. Epilogue: Intensely Unsettled—Again
    (pp. 196-212)

    There are several possible endings to this story. One is that, in the end, believers mishandled the sharp edge tools of science and abetted secularization in its different American forms. In fact, this has become a conventional way of thinking about this period and about religious liberals in particular, as I pointed out in my introduction. Though I find this way of thinking about science and liberal religion problematic, there is no question that science unsettled American believers and prompted or helped sustain intellectual journeys out of old-time religions. Some individuals left their childhood faiths behind forever. But as I...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 213-248)
  14. Index
    (pp. 249-266)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 267-267)