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Hearing Things: Religion, Illusion, and the American Enlightenment Paperback – December 30, 2002


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The narrator in the hymn "Amazing Grace" speaks of finding God in terms of sensory experience: "Was blind but now I see." This innovative study narrates a fall from sensory grace. According to Schmidt, a historian of American religion at Princeton University, Christians once inhabited a rich soundscape, what critic Marshall McLuhan called "the magical world of the ear." They heard heavenly voices, conversed with spirits and debated demons, and when they were called to preach, the voice of the Lord was loud and clear. The occasional prophet excepted, few people today seriously advance such bold claims. Who silenced the angels? For an answer, Schmidt turns back to the 18th and 19th centuries to look at Enlightenment philosophers and traveling ventriloquists, at acoustic engineers, anatomists and alienists, each of whom demonstrated in his own way the structures that undergirded claims of the miraculous. In later years, mystics and psychical researchers co-opted rationalist claims, and asserted that mechanical devices such as telephones and telegraphs were authentic means for communicating with spirits. But they proved to be lonely voices in an increasingly disenchanted sound stage. This densely argued, fascinating story features a panorama of colorful characters, from the Swedish mystic Emanuel Swedenborg to the traveling showman William Frederick Pinchbeck and his Pig of Knowledge. Schmidt's study offers an important chapter in the genealogy of the modern religious imagination. (Sept.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Beautifully and appropriately illustrated, this is a sensitive portrait of hearing's place in the history of the critical study of religion. An insightful account of the Enlightenment's distrust of hearing, it offers a fascinating tour of sound technologies developed since the early modern period and of the interplay among mysticism, science, technology, entertainment, and politics, regarded from the perspective of the ear and the supposed complicity of hearing with faith and illusion. Schmidt ends with the striking image of the poststructuralist critic as ventriloquist, and readers are well advised to take his synesthetic advice--watch the lips--to heart. By doing that in his readings of Swedenborg, Thoreau, Paine, Jefferson, and a raft of American revivalists, Schmidt not only reveals critical dimensions of American history that we have seen before but also increases the likelihood that a general audience will hear them, perhaps for the first time. Steven Schroeder
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Hearing Things: Religion, Illusion, and the American Enlightenment
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