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Religious Experience Reconsidered: A Building-Block Approach to the Study of Religion and Other Special Things Paperback – October 23, 2011


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Editorial Reviews

Review

Winner of the 2010 Distinguished Book Award, Society for the Scientific Study of Religion
One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2010

"Taves' masterful work shows us the way between the extremes of particularism and the errors of decontextualized essentialist analyses of experiences deemed religious."--Patrick McNamara, Institute for the Biocultural Study of Religion

"The theory that Taves proposes will rank among the very best because of its clarity and coherence of argument, its concise terms and substantive concepts, and its potential for stimulating research and writing in the field of religious studies. . . . This book is clearly written, intellectually stimulating, and theoretically exciting."--Choice

"[F]ascinating. . . . [A] superb achievement that connects the study of religion to other disciplines. . . . The book . . . will serve as a benchmark in the field of religious studies for many years to come."--Luke Penkett, Ministry Today

"Anyone remotely interested in the topic of religious experience will find this a worthwhile book. . . . [S]mart, fair, and well-informed theoretical reflections, like Taves', when theologically read, can at least help to sort out some of the issues involved and, if nothing else, provide cautionary reminders of the immense potential for human-driven idolatry, even sometimes in the name of worship of the true God."--Christian Smith, Books & Culture

"[T]his is a must-read volume for anyone serious about analyzing religious experience. Without being in any sense the final word, it definitely furthers the field."--James V. Spickard, Sociology of Religion

"[Taves's] book is valuable both as a survey of the state of the field for each of these topics and for offering a constructive proposal in each arena. Especially valuable is Taves's engagement with the literature on cognitive science, psychology, and neuroscience, as these fields are gaining influence in the academy as a whole and are increasingly becoming relevant to humanistic disciplines."--Stephen S. Bush, Journal of Religion

"By providing an inventive and relatively accessible set of . . . building blocks, [Taves] allows those of us who study religion and religious practices to do so within manageable, malleable and happily imaginative frameworks--something so important to many mired in the same old trough. Replete with charts and illustrations that clarify these building blocks even more, Taves' work is a particular boon to any interested in examining the 'specialness' of liturgical experiences with fresh eyes."--Edward Foley, Worship

"Taves speaks and thinks across a broad chasm: she labors skillfully, logically, and methodically to hammer out a set of analytical tools and theoretical vocabularies that will allow scholars of religion to converse with the sciences, in particular with cognitive scientists and neuroscientists."--Jennifer Scheper Hughes, Anglican and Episcopal History

"Taves' study is important in the discourse of the phenomenon of religion, but also in the conversation between faith and science. It clearly illustrates how difficult a task it is to study religion without losing the value of that which is believed and understood as being the sacred."--G. A. Duncan, Studia Historiae Ecclesiasticae

From the Back Cover

"Ann Taves's ambition in this lucid, elegantly structured, and prodigiously researched work is to render transparent the cultural, sociological, and psychological processes by which certain experiences are deemed religious--and she succeeds admirably. With its deft deployment--and creative integration--of recent theories of mind and culture, the social and the psychological, Religious Experience Reconsidered will quickly establish itself as an indispensable resource for those of us determined to think past the otiose boundary between 'inner' experience and 'outer' environment that so bedevils scholarship in religious studies. Historians, anthropologists, and psychologists of religion will find this a stimulating and generative work, a helpful conversation partner in their own researches."--Robert A. Orsi, author of Between Heaven and Earth: The Religious Worlds People Make and the Scholars Who Study Them

"Taves deals, at one and the same time, with two of the most pressing and contentious issues in the field of religious studies today: the viability of the term 'religion' as a category of critical scholarly inquiry, and the potential contributions and challenges of cognitive neuroscience to the humanistic study of religious experience. Religious Experience Reconsidered is an erudite, provocative, timely, and significant contribution to the theoretical underpinnings of the discipline of religious studies writ large."--Robert Sharf, University of California, Berkeley

"Taves offers a clear introduction to important debates and contested issues in the study of religious experience and a thoughtful and constructive position on these issues. Religious Experience Reconsidered makes an important contribution and should stimulate further discussion on this topic. I don't know of any other book like it."--Wayne Proudfoot, Columbia University

"This is a terrific book. The basic message is that cognitive science and neuroscience aren't scary but useful, and humanists can not only understand the ideas but see their relevance, engage with their authors, and contribute to their literature. Taves exemplifies the interdisciplinary spirit in which such work must take place."--Tanya Marie Luhrmann, Stanford University

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 232 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; Reprint edition (October 23, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 069114088X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691140889
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.1 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #319,248 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By scholar at large on March 8, 2012
Format: Paperback
It is so common in the academic world to pooh pooh talk of spiritual experience. People say that people just learn to speak these words to show that they're devout, or they say that sure, there's religious experience but it is far too complex and personal to study it. Ann Taves thinks we can and she lays out a way to think about doing so in this book. Is it tough to compare the way two different people experience what they call God? Sure--particularly if you aren't going to reduce God to a spot in the brain. But looking seriously at what kinds of psychological capacities might be recruited in the experiences Taves says are "deemed religious" is really interesting, because it helps us to understand more about who has these experiences, under what conditions, and towards what end. If every scholar of religious studies read this book, it would change the field and for the better. Anyone interested in what happens during spiritual experience can learn alot from this book, whether or not that person is religious.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By W. Cheung on February 21, 2012
Format: Paperback
The author thinks so. It is written for academics as a proposal of how religious experiences and indeed religions can be investigated scientifically and systematically. The underlying concept is that certain "experiences" are deemed "special". E.g. the sense of awe, altrerd conscious states during deep meditation, etc. But how such "experiences" are interpreted depend deeply on the social and cultural context. They can at times be deemed "religious" and be the basis of one's religious beliefs - only under the right circumstances. Such a process can be, according to author and quite rightly so, studied.

Perhaps, I guess - but only to a certain extent. My personal view is that at times certain religious beliefs can be so integrated to a person's psyche that they are no longer "special" and become an integral part of that person's everyday reality. In other words, some forms of religions are beyond the author's proposed approach of investigation. They nevertheless can be studied but in an etic and not emic way.

Saying that, the book overall is very insightful and should be read by those who are interested in religious experiences.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A challenging read with a practical examination of how we attribute religious ideas to what can be seen as special psychological experiences within cultural boundaries. Taves takes the taboo out of questioning anyone's religious or "special" experience by reframing the discussion across cultural, historical, biological, and neuroscientific points of view, allowing an integration of disciplines that address religious experience and avoiding any criticism of religion a such.
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Format: Paperback
An excellent rationale for treating religious experiences as having common ground with other human experiences, rather than regarding them as a category all their own.
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