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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Good Examination, to be read along with Porterfield., March 14, 2005
Robert S. Ellwood wrote his volume on religion in the 1960's before his volume on the 1950's, but its clear from his other work that he has long been interested in underground and alternative religious movements, as well as documenting periods of intense religious ferment. And in most treatments of American Religious History, the 1960's serve a crucial turning point--although often this takes the form of a mantra-like recitation of the fact that official church attendance declined dramatically for the first time, with many assumptions and little investigation into what that might actually mean.

Ellwood's argument builds on the edifice of research constructed around historical theories of modernism and postmodernism. Foucault, Derrida, Lyotard, and many others have written on the transition or development of postmodernity, a condition in which the demands of subjects for change and unity both outstrip institutional abilities to satisfy them. Thus, an era of radical skepticism begins toward overarching metanarratives, such as universal progress, and the unity of all knowledge. As an example, Ellwood credits the radical ideological leveling of the "elite and marginalized" of the civil rights movement (a progressive, optimistic modernist movement itself) with undercutting modernism--calling for more change than "could be met by modernist means."

Or so the story goes. The 1960's, with its fracturing of New Deal Liberalism, the rise of both Liberal and Conservative Imperial Presidents, and the massive forced mobilization of allegedly "free" citizens to fight wars on behalf of the U.S. government, becomes this 'pressure cooker' for 1950's ideology to sprout new and inventive religious and cultural communities to replace older ones found wanting. Of course, the liberalization of the Catholic Church with Vatican II, and changes in domestic immigration laws made some of this change possible as well.

Ellwood follows a familiar strategy - "divide and explain." The 1960's are divided into four sub-eras---The '50s Under Pressure, Secular Hope, The Year of the Avatars (1967) and the Bitter Years.

As Ellwood rightly points out, the same years that saw declining church attendance, also saw an explosion of several important factors--the social gospel in action, especially in the Selma March, radical theology, entheogens, the Death of God movement, popular Gnosticism, and the first flowering of contemporary feminist and Pagan religion in the U.S. To this end, we must look not only at church attendance, but at the sometimes nascent but ultimately powerful and transformative cultural beginnings (or resurgences, since there has always been a personalist strain of religion among the American unchurched)

And that in fact is where Ellwood goes, discussing in depth the secularization thesis and Death of God theology (as the last outburst of religious modernism) as well as the growth and development of 'fringe' sects during those mid-60's years of 'secular hope'--Krshna Consciousness, Church of Satan, the Acid Church, other forms of chemical/entheogenic mysticism, and even the role of William Blake revivals.

At the end of the day, Ellwood sees several themes emerge from the 1960's--including a rediscovery of natural religion, a "discovery of the world" as the place of theology and practice, an ongoing quest in freedom, and the shift to a radically nonconformist paradigm. While some of Ellwood's points here are crystal clear, others need more demonstration. But it is clear that by all this, Ellwood does not mean a trend towards politically liberal religion. On the contrary, the most popular forms of Pentacostalism, or what he calls Political Christian 'Shamanism' (including Barry Goldwater's candidacy) and deconstructionist theology all have spawned reactionary movements in their own right. Whatever the final religious upshot is from the 1960's is, its' still undetermined.

This book is best read along with Amanda Porterfield's "The Transformation of American Religion"
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4 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Entheogens: Professional Listing, May 23, 1999
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This review is from: The Sixties Spiritual Awakening (Hardcover)
"The Sixties Spiritual Awakening" has been selected for listing in "Religion and Psychoactive Sacraments: An Entheogen Chrestomathy."
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The Sixties Spiritual Awakening
The Sixties Spiritual Awakening by Robert S. Ellwood (Hardcover - June 1, 1994)
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