Tag Archives: princeton university press

Spiritual Marketplace

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Spiritual Marketplace: Baby Boomers and the Remaking of American Religion by Wade Clark Roof, from Princeton University Press.

Wade Clark Roof Spiritual Marketplace

This volume is dedicated to examining the distinctive features of religiosity among the Baby Boomers, whom the author identifies as the “lead cohort” or “lead generation” of the late 20th and early 21st century US. (52, 294) In particular, Roof is focused on developments in the 1990s, as a sequel to his earlier study Generation of Seekers (1993). Roof’s professes the following thesis: “the boundaries of popular religious communities are now being redrawn, encouraged by the quests of the large, post-World War II generations, and facilitated by the rise of an expanded spiritual marketplace.” (10) Although that statement uses the phrase “popular religious communities,” Roof’s focus throughout Spiritual Marketplace is on “lived religion,” a term which he takes from David D. Hall. (295) Roof observes that the virtue of the term is to prioritize the “comprehensive religious expression of the actor” without setting it in opposition to elite or institutional forms. (328, n. 22)

Roof has a tendency to use rhetoric stressing the novelty of the Boomer developments, but he does admit that “the changes of which we write are nothing new.” (294) Religious boundaries are always in the process of being redrawn, and in this book, he attempts the difficult task of describing the manner in which they are changing during the very time he is writing about them. To do so, he uses a wide range of secondary sources from the late 20th century, but grounds his observations with both statistical and anecdotal data developed through a panel study conducted between the years 1988 and 1997, consisting of repeated interviews of subjects by phone, supplemented by selected in-person interviews. (315-6)

The phrase “Spiritual Marketplace” is the book title and the title of its third chapter, and it also appears in Roof’s explicit thesis statement. Nevertheless, the metaphors and features of commerce are less evident in this treatment than in, for example, Finke and Stark’s Churching of America. While claiming some common ground with Finke and Stark, Roof distinguishes his approach from theirs, characterizing their emphasis on the marketing capacity of religions as “supply-side thinking.” (332, n. 5) To the extent that Roof sees a marketplace, it is not so much one of competition among producers and vendors, as it is one of choices for consumers. He attempts to expose qualitative shifts in religious demand, rather than supply. His analytical categories for the marketplace are “the social world, producers, the audience, and cultural objects,” of which all but “producers” he represents as demand factors, and then producer behavior as largely driven by demand. (80, 75) Not coincidentally, this perspective is one that Boomer Roof attributes to the whole of his generation: they identify themselves via “lifestyle and consumption” more than vocation or adhesion. (49)

On a related note, I found that Roof naturalizes the “generational cohort” idea in a way that obscures the instrumentality of mass media and the agency of commercial and cultural campaigns directed at creating, sustaining, and managing cohort identity. Although he admits that “greater reliance on mass media and the cultural industries” are features of the changes in the Boomer generation, he persists in treating cultural changes as though they were disinterested and undirected effects, most prominently through a tectonic metaphor of change. (10, 50) (It’s also odd that he calls Boomers in their forties “young adults” on page 28.)

If the “marketplace” of the title is a little more nebulous than I was expecting it to be, the “spiritual” is considerably more articulated. Roof takes the often-inchoate contemporary appeals to “spirituality” very seriously, insisting that although spirituality “remains more of a buzzword than a topic attracting serious analysis,” it still adumbrates genuine impulses within the collective mentality of the Boomer generation. (33, 295-6) Breaking down “spirituality” into more intelligible ideas, Roof takes the “twin notions of quest and reflexivity” as his keynotes to Boomer religious change. (296, 16, 74-76) Both of these features suggest heightened levels of individualism, and Roof points out that such individualism does not preclude collective engagement or the desire for it, but that it may demand new forms of organization, and new objects around which to organize. (144, 163) Even so, he cites Kosmin and Lachman’s conclusion that “For most, religion…is more of a private commitment than a shared experience.” (156) His analytical perspective enables Roof to provide an unusually perceptive take on Sheila Larson from Bellah’s Habits of the Heart, noting how earlier commenters had reified “Sheilasim” without considering that it might reflect her gender and family situation, transition in her own life, and the possibility of such transition culminating in a greater spirituality of a more conventionally recognizable sort. (146-9) (He had earlier suggested “a gender-based alienation as one theme in today’s spiritual quest culture,” on p. 23) Roof also offers helpful remarks on the positive spiritual value of doubt in quest culture. (19, 46-8)

It follows from his treatment of the “spiritual” that Roof is not only attentive to the “spiritual not religious” conundrum, but he actually uses it as the basis for a typology of subcultures, which he arranges on the two axes of spirituality and religiosity of self-identification. (178) He arrives at five subcultures, which he characterizes at some length:

1. Spiritual AND Religious: “Born-again Christians” (including Evangelicals, Pentecostals and Charismatics) who emphasize individual transformation in Christian faith.

2. Spiritual AND Religious: “Mainstream Believers” (Christian and not) with institutional traditions and liberal theologies.

3. Religious, NOT Spiritual: Dogmatists (Christian and not) with reactionary theologies and fundamentalist agendas.

4. Spiritual, NOT Religious: Metaphysical Believers and Spiritual Seekers in the “alternative” American traditions of New Thought and Theosophy; New Age, occult and ad hoc spiritualities (influential beyond adherents).

5. NEITHER Spiritual NOR Religious: Secularists, typically agnostic.

Roof forthrightly criticizes the idea of a monolithic “religious conservativism,” and the clear distinctions that he draws between Evangelical and fundamentalist Christians are a valuable feature of his typology. (230) Also, although he notes that the ideological content of the subcultures often trumps such identifiers as denominational affiliation, he also opposes the facile notion of “culture wars” dividing the nation into two camps, respectively characterized by fundamentalists and secularists. (259-261)

Roof’s data from the panel study gives him a valuable window which he exploits in order to view the relationship between changing family structures and religious participation and identification. I found it a little disappointing, though, that the role of Boomer fathers in the religious instruction of their children went completely unremarked. (Even if that role were negligible, it would be useful to know that.)

The notice that Roof affords to “therapeutic and post-therapeutic cultures” in the formation of American spirituality in the 1990s is quite welcome. But he errs in identifying the therapeutic modes of “twelve-step,” “self-help” and “recovery” as “successor movements” of the “human potential” movement. (39) All share some common roots in the secularized psychologies of the 20th century, but their genealogies are far from accurately reflected in Roof’s quick summary. There is no question, however, that they all contribute strongly to the “psychological religion” that capitalizes on spiritual reflexivity. (131-134)

In a further point of contrast to Finke and Stark, Roof seems to find something hopeful for religion in the prospect of ecumenical mixing, “common ground,” and moderate zones uniting subcultures and institutions. (292, 312) This difference may be a logical consequence of his focus on “lived religion” rather than institutional participation, but in light of the Finke and Stark critique, I find it difficult to see what Roof sees as “potentially…powerful” about “a substantial religious middle” created through the moral homogeneity of liberal mainline Christians and Born-agains. Perhaps he sees hope for “de-differentiation” at the social level, reflecting the wholeness that Boomer individuals seek for the self. (35, 61-63). [via]

When They Severed Earth from Sky

When They Severed Earth from Sky: How the Human Mind Shapes Myth by Elizabeth Wayland Barber and Paul T Barber, from Princeton University Press, is part of the collection at the Reading Room.

Elizabeth Wayland Barber Paul T Barber When They Severed Earth from Sky

“Why were Prometheus and Loki envisioned as chained to rocks? What was the Golden Calf? Why are mirrors believed to carry bad luck? How could anyone think that mortals like Perseus, Beowulf, and St. George actually fought dragons, since dragons don’t exist? Strange though they sound, however, these ‘myths’ did not begin as fiction.

This absorbing book shows that myths originally transmitted real information about real events and observations, preserving the information sometimes for millennia within nonliterate societies. Geologists’ interpretations of how a volcanic cataclysm long ago created Oregon’s Crater Lake, for example, is echoed point for point in the local myth of its origin. The Klamath tribe saw it happen and passed down the story—for nearly 8,000 years.

We, however, have been literate so long that we’ve forgotten how myths encode reality. Recent studies of how our brains work, applied to a wide range of data from the Pacific Northwest to ancient Egypt to modern stories reported in newspapers, have helped the Barbers deduce the characteristic principles by which such tales both develop and degrade through time. Myth is in fact a quite reasonable way to convey important messages orally over many generations—although reasoning back to the original events is possible only under rather specific conditions.

Our oldest written records date to 5,200 years ago, but we have been speaking and mythmaking for perhaps 100,000. This groundbreaking book points the way to restoring some of that lost history and teaching us about human storytelling.” — flap copy


Delphi: A History of the Center of the Ancient World by Michael Scott, from Princeton University Press, is a recent release that may be of interest [HT Corinthian Matters].

Michael Scott Delphi from Princeton University Press

“The oracle and sanctuary of the Greek god Apollo at Delphi were known as the ‘omphalos’—the ‘center’ or ‘navel’—of the ancient world for more than 1000 years. Individuals, city leaders, and kings came from all over the Mediterranean and beyond to consult Delphi’s oracular priestess; to set up monuments to the gods in gold, ivory, bronze, marble, and stone; and to take part in athletic and musical competitions. This book provides the first comprehensive narrative history of this extraordinary sanctuary and city, from its founding to its modern rediscovery, to show more clearly than ever before why Delphi was one of the most important places in the ancient world for so long.

In this richly illustrated account, Michael Scott covers the whole history and nature of Delphi, from the literary and archaeological evidence surrounding the site, to its rise as a center of worship with a wide variety of religious practices, to the constant appeal of the oracle despite her cryptic prophecies. He describes how Delphi became a contested sacred site for Greeks and Romans and a storehouse for the treasures of rival city-states and foreign kings. He also examines the eventual decline of the site and how its meaning and importance have continued to be reshaped right up to the present. Finally, for the modern visitor to Delphi, he includes a brief guide that highlights key things to see and little-known treasures.

A unique window into the center of the ancient world, Delphi will appeal to general readers, tourists, students, and specialists.”


Eleusis: Archetypal Image of Mother and Daughter by Carl Kerényi, translated by Ralph Manheim, part of the Mythos / Bollingen series, a 1991 paperback from Princeton University Press, is part of the collection at the Reading Room.

Carl Kerényi Ralph Manheim Eleusis from Princeton University Press / Bollingen

“The Sanctuary of Eleusis, near Athens, was the center of a religious cult that endured for nearly two thousand years and whose initiates came from all parts of the civilized world. Looking at the tendency to ‘see visions,’ C. Kerényi examines the Mysteries of Eleusis from the standpoint not only of Greek myth but also of human nature. Kerényi holds that the yearly autumnal ‘mysteries’ were based on the ancient myth of Demeter’s search for her ravished daughter Persephone—a search that equates not only with woman’s quest for completion but also with every person’s pursuit of identity. As he explores what the content of the mysteries may have been for those who experienced them, he draws on the study of archaeology, objects of art, and religious history, and suggests rich parallels from other mysteries.” — back cover

From Ritual to Romance

From Ritual to Romance by Jessie L Weston, part of the Mythos / Bollingen series, a 1993 paperback from Princeton University Press, is part of the collection at the Reading Room.

Jessie L Weston From Ritual to Romance from Princeton University Press

“Acknowledged by T.S. Eliot as crucial to understanding ‘The Waste Land,’ Jessie Weston’s book has continued to attract readers interested in ancient religion, myth, and especially Arthurian legend. Here she reinterprets the saga of the Grail by exploring the legend’s Gnostic roots.

Drawing from J.G. Frazer, who studied ancient nature cults that associated the physical condition of the king with the productivity of the land, Weston considers how the legend of the Grail related to fertility rites—with the lance and the cup serving as a sexual symbols. She traces its origins to a Gnostic text that served as a link between ancient vegetation cults and the Celts and Christians who elaborated on the story. Conceiving of the grail saga as a literary outgrowth of ancient ritual, she seeks a Gnostic Christian interpretation that unites the quest for fertility with the striving for mystical oneness with God.” — back cover

The Mysteries

The Mysteries: Papers from the Eranos Yearbooks, edited by Joseph Campbell, the 1990 fifth paperback printing of Bollingen Series XXX Vol 2 from Princeton University Press, is part of the collection at the Reading Room.

Joseph Campbell The Mysteries from Princeton University Press / Bollingen

“Since 1933, the Eranos Conferences have been held at Ascona in southern Switzerland. Distinguished scholars from Europe, Asia, and America have been invited to a ‘shared feast’ (eranos) and have lectured on themes chosen by the Director of Eranos, the late Olga Froebe-Kapteyn. The lectures originally appeared in the Eranos-Jahrbücher (Zurich) and selections translated into English have been published in Papers from the Eranos Yearbooks, of which this is the second volume. Thirteen scholars—including C. G. Jung, C. Kerényi, Walter F. Otto, and Hugo Rahner—are represented in this collection, which is drawn from the years 1936, 1939m 1940–41, 1942, and 1944. The volume is edited by Joseph Campbell and translated by Ralph Manheim and R.F.C. Hull.” — back cover

Essays included are:

  • Paul Masson-Oursel, “The Indian Theories of Redemption in the Frame of the Religions of Salvation”
  • Paul Masson-Oursel, “The Doctrine of Grace in the Religious Thought of India”
  • Walter F. Otto, “The Meaning of the Eleusinian Mysteries”
  • Carl Kerényi, “The Mysteries of the Kabeiroi”
  • Walter Wili, “The Orphic Mysteries and the Greek Spirit”
  • Paul Schmitt, “The Ancient Mysteries in the Society of Their Time, Their Transformation and Most Recent Echoes”
  • Georges Nagel, “The ‘Mysteries’ of Osiris in Ancient Egypt”
  • Jean de Manasce, “The Mysteries and the Religion of Iran”
  • Fritz Meier, “The Mystery of the Ka’ba: Symbol and Reality in Islamic Mysticism”
  • Max Pulver, “Jesus’ Round Dance and Crucifixion According to the Acts of St. John”
  • Hans Leisegang, “The Mystery of the Serpent”
  • Julius Baum, “Symbolic Representations of the Eucharist”
  • C G Jung, “Transformation Symbolism in the Mass”
  • Hugo Rahner, “The Christian Mystery and the Pagan Mysteries.”

The Homeric Hymn to Demeter

The Homeric Hymn to Demeter: Translation, Commentary, and Interpretative Essays, edited by Helene P Foley, 3rd printing of the 1994 paperback published by Princeton University Press, is part of the collection at the Reading Room.

Helene P Foley The Homeric Hymn to Demeter from Princeton University Press

“The Homeric Hymn to Demeter, composed in the late seventh or early sixth century B.C.E., is a key to understanding the psychological and religious world of ancient Greek women. The poem tells how Hades, lord of the underworld, abducted the goddess Persephone and how her grieving mother, Demeter, the goddess of grain, forced the gods to allow Persephone to return to her for part of each year. Helene Foley presents the Greek text and an annotated translation of the Hymn, together with selected essays by Helene Foley, Mary Louise Lord, Jean Rudhardt, Nancy Felson-Rubin and Harriet M. Deal, Marilyn Arthur Katz, and Nancy Chodorow. These essays give the reader a rich understanding of the Hymn’s structure and artistry, its role in the religious life of the ancient world, and its meaning for the modern world. The authors also study the Hymn in the context of early Greek epic and cosmology, examine its critical attitude to the institution of marriage, and analyze the dynamics of mother-daughter relations in the poem.” — back cover

Communities of Violence

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Communities of Violence: Persecution of Minorities in the Middle Ages by David Nirenberg from Princeton University Press:

David Nirenberg's Communities of Violence from Princeton University Press


Nirenberg particularizes and differentiates the forms of violence against various minorities in 14th-century Aragon. By recognizing immediate functions and motives, he calls into question received metanarratives on the topic of the persecution of religious minorities. He makes rich use of both Christian and Jewish archival resources, including correspondence, edicts, and judicial and financial records.

In his opening arguments, Nirenberg criticizes what he calls a “structuralist” approach to the topic of medieval persecutions, exemplified by Robert Moore (but also present in the works of Norman Cohn and Carlo Ginzburg). He recognizes and objects to both romanticized histories of Iberian convivencia (e.g. N. Roth) and lachrymose history (Ytzakh Baer).

He theorizes violence and aggression as “forms of association” which help to reify cultural and religious boundaries, and to facilitate forms of coexistence. As a result, he comes to assert the interdependence of violence and tolerance in the multi-religious environment of medieval Iberia (and by implication, throughout medieval Europe).

In the last chapter and epilogue, he presents his most intriguing efforts to problematize the approach to medieval persecutions as symptoms of mentalites evolved over a long duree. On the one hand, he provides a detailed account of the anti-Jewish riots of Holy Week, to emphasize the ritual and customary dimensions of persecuting violence. In this case, he tries to outline a somewhat symbiotic “marriage of enemies” being transacted between Christians and Jews. And then as something of a counterbalance, he discusses the pogroms of 1348 and their context. In this case, he addresses the sense of narrative discontinuity and transformation in exemplary violence, suggesting that on this basis it should not be considered a barometer of persistent changes. [via]



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