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Charisma: The Gift of Grace, and How It Has Been Taken Away from Us Hardcover – February 20, 2007

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"Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome: A Memoir of Humor and Healing"
A book for questioners, doubters, misfits, and seekers of all faiths. Learn more

Editorial Reviews


“Can a society really function without a sense of the sacred? In the absence of a shared sense of what we treasure, how can we keep our moral and cultural bearings? That Philip Rieff was a great scourge is plain. But it is not too much of an exaggeration to say that at his best he could also be a sacred messenger.”

–Elizabeth Lasch-Quinn, The New Republic

About the Author

Philip Rieff was born in Chicago in 1922 and received his doctorate from the University of Chicago in 1954. He taught at Brandeis University, the University of California at Berkeley, and Harvard University. For thirty years, until his retirement in 1992, he was the Benjamin Franklin Professor of Sociology and University Professor at the University of Pennsylvania. His books include Freud: The Mind of the Moralist and The Triumph of the Therapeutic. Rieff died in July 2006.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon (February 20, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375424520
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375424526
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,556,397 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on June 17, 2007
Format: Hardcover
CHARISMA: THE GIFT OF GRACE, AND HOW IT HAS BEEN TAKEN AWAY FROM US tells of the idea of charisma from its earliest recognition by Old Testament prophets to the first charismatic, Jesus of Nazareth, and how charisma became part of the Christian church's evolution. Rieff argues for a different understanding of the relationship between charisma and faith, examining traditional and modern perceptions and paving the way for a dialogue between believers on the topic. An intriguing discussion, CHARISMA should prove of interest to any serious religious collection.

Diane C. Donovan
California Bookwatch
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Format: Paperback
I share many assumptions with the author. When one is dying, a book that was not going to be a big step up on any career ladder is the perfect contemplation to match the art of dying. George Harrison had a death watch that he sang: Art Of Dying (2001 Digital Remaster) and Isn't It A Pity (2001 Digital Remaster). I like reading Nietzsche and Max Weber to watch myself finding a final act after being raised to be a holy Samson anachronism. When communication is so easy, grace is the flip of shocking realizations that apply in cross-cultural surfing in a curl you never would have believed in an old school.
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6 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Certain Bibliophile on August 9, 2012
Format: Paperback
This is one of the most bizarre books that I've read in a long time, and not only because it earnestly defends a point of view that can in many respects be called pre-modern, but because it does so in such a sophisticated way. Philip Rieff may be best known today for being the husband of Susan Sontag during the 1950s, and fathering David Rieff, who in turn became an established writer in his own right. He taught sociology at the University of Chicago (where he met and married Sontag after a very short courtship) and the University of Pennsylvania. He sustained a career-long attack on what he calls in this book and others "therapeutic culture," which he expounded upon in earlier books including "Freud: The Mind of the Moralist" and "The Triumph of the Therapeutic." This book wasn't written by Rieff. He knew out of the cultural mainstream his ideas were, and even admitted that this kind of book "wouldn't have a constituency." Two of his sociology students, Aaron Manson and Daniel Frank, cobbled together some of the notes that Rieff made and this book is the result.

Another peculiar thing about this book is that, despite its cover and accessible introduction, it is essentially a book-length response to the sociology of Max Weber, and essentially his writing on the concept of charisma, to which contributions were influential. Rieff thinks that culture is thoroughly interdictory - that is, that it is built around negative demands made on the people of that culture. (Think, for example, of the Decalogue, with its liberal use of "Thou Shall Nots.") In fact, life under Mosaic law is one of the examples that he discusses in particular detail. He calls cultures that recognize a common set of interdictory themes as "creedal cultures.
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8 of 16 people found the following review helpful By KMH on February 3, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I began this book with the most positive of expectations and willing to give the author every benefit and being sympathetic to his basic positions. The fundamental concept in this work is that a therapeutic society, presumably our current decadent condition, celebrates transgression in a demonstration of power and freedom that subsequently ends up debasing charisma and the sacred in our lives. A society of restraint, the ones that value "interdicts," as the foundation of the sacred, does the opposite and enhances charisma in our lives. The remainder of the work is an abstruse, barely readable meditation on this and its religious and sociological roots.

For those who compare Rieff to Kierkegaard or to Nietzsche, I would object. Those authors either have clear, logical structures, or are mercifully brief and cogent enough to reach an educated and motivated reader. There is an unpleasant, almost irascible quality to Rieff, as if he is insisting that you listen to him only on his own terms, and, if you do not get his paragraphs of run on sentences and obscure, idiosyncratic terminology, well that is just too damn bad. While the bedraggled man on the street corner proclaiming the "end is at hand" may suffer from such autism, I do not believe that the great prophets who proclaimed to ancient Israel that she had lost her way of grace and needed to bend to the will of God suffered this affliction.

In short, there are endless other more beneficial ways to devote your reading time than on this unpleasant and exasperating work.
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