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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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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: 9.7 x 6.3 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #720,063 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

48 of 51 people found the following review helpful By Steve Booth-Butterfield on April 7, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"Charisma" and Philip Rieff are not for everyone or for most. (Read the prior review from G. Lehman about the difficulty of the writing style to see this.) If you have not read widely, especially in the Bible, and the postmodern precursors like Freud, Nietzsche, or Weber then "Charisma" will likely strike you as an academic bore.

Rieff accomplishes what seems to be a postmodern impossibility: thinking "intellectually" about the Bible and theology. By "intellectually" I mean that secular, academic, scientific perspective of conceptualization, rationalization, and articulation of ideas that is foundational in higher education and "elite" groups. It's what professors and public intellectuals do. Within that class of people, the Bible and theology are most typically viewed as intellectual deadends of proven unworth that appeal to sweaty snakehandlers under the tent on a hot August night. Rieff demonstrates that it is possible and interesting to think like an "intellectual" about Biblical and theological concepts in much the same way he did with his recent work, "Sacred Order," (another Rieff book I'd highly recommend and with the same caveats as observed with G. Lehman).

"Charisma" traces the meaning of the term, "charisma," from its original theological roots to its current postmodern corrupted state, explaining along the way how this corruption occurred (primarily through the writings of the postmodern precursors like Weber), but more importantly, the intellectual, moral, and cultural implications of this corruption.
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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 10 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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