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Spirituality: What It Is and Why It Matters 1st Edition

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ISBN-13: 978-0199738755
ISBN-10: 0199738750
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Editorial Reviews


"The single best book giving an objective look at the burgeoning interest in spirituality that exists in the English language." --Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor-in-chief of Tikkun

"We agree with Gottlieb when he affirms a piece of wisdom which traveled the world: 'Do your best and leave the rest to God'...Gottlieb puts his faith in grace and in the human capacity for transformation."--Spirituality & Practice

"Roger Gottlieb has created a piece of art in surveying the literature on how meditation and Yoga might help reduce pain and suffering, then switching to a heart-felt narration of struggles within his own family." -- Christopher Chapple, Loyola Marymount University

"This book validates and provides grounding for the wide range of discussions and claims around 'spirituality.' It is much needed in a time when many claim to be 'spiritual' rather than 'religious,' eschewing organized religion for individualized experiences of the sacred."--Stephanie Kaza, Professor of Environmental Studies, University of Vermont

"Gottlieb is an outstanding scholar whose work in areas related to spirituality is well known and much appreciated. This book is timely, perhaps overdue, given the extensive interest in 'things spiritual' in the broader culture, the intense concern for a more eclectic approach to 'the spiritual' in the larger culture, and the need for a single volume text that offers a survey of opinions, options and practices."--Bill J. Leonard, James and Marilyn Dunn Professor of Baptist Studies and Professor of Church History, Wake Forest University

"Spirituality is a concept that requires attention given its inconsistent yet ubiquitous employment in a full range of contemporary human endeavors. Gottlieb's judicious selection of representative examples of figures and practices will give readers some tools to help better understand and define spirituality without falsely representing it as a uniform phenomenon."--Diane L. Moore, Senior Lecturer on Religious Studies and Education, Senior Fellow at the Center for the Study of World Religions, and Director of the Religious Literacy Project and the Certificate in Religious Studies and Education, Harvard Divinity School

"Gottlieb s explorations are critical to our times, as new medical threats arise from superbugs, climate disasters, and accumulating environmental toxins." -- Stephanie Kaza, University of Vermont

About the Author

Roger S. Gottlieb is Professor of Philosophy at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (November 26, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199738750
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199738755
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 0.8 x 6.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,276,098 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Roger S. Gottlieb is professor of philosophy at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. He is the author or editor of seventeen books and more than 150 articles on environmentalism, religious life, contmporary spirituality, political philosophy, ethics, the Holocaust, feminism, and disability. He is internationally known for his work as a leading analyst and ex-ponent of religious environmentalism, for his passionate and moving account of spiri-tuality in an age of environmental crisis, and for his innovative and humane description of the role of religion in a democratic society. He is editor of six academic book series, on the editorial boards of several journals, contributing editor to Tikkun Magazine and a frequent internet presence on Huffington, Patheos, Tikkun Daily and other sites.

His two most recent books are both recipients of Nautilus Book Awards: for fiction, __Engaging Voices__ and for spirituality, __Spirituality: What it Is and Why it Matters__, which was also listed as one of Spirituality and Practice websites 'Best Books of the Year.'

Gottlieb's writings have appeared in top academic journals such as the Journal of Philosophy, Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Conservation Biology, and Ethics; in popular publications such as E Magazine online, The Boston Globe, and Orion Afield; and in anthologies celebrating the best of Jewish writing, environmental ethics, religious life, spirituality, the Holocaust, and disability. Widely respected for his unique range of interests, combination of personal and political passion, clarity of writing, and originality, he is probably the only American intellectual to be reviewed or interviewed in publications as disparate as San Francisco Chronicle, Environmental Ethics, the Boston Globe, Christianity Today, Philosophical Review, Journal of Harvard Divinity School, New Age Journal, Socialism and Democracy, Discover, Chronicle of Higher Education, Sierra Club Magazine, Shambhala Sun, and The American Prospect.

For the last fifteen years Gottlieb has concentrated on the religious, spiritual, and eth-ical dimensions of the environmental crisis and on the place of religion in a democratic society. His anthology This Sacred Earth: Religion, Nature, Environment is known inter-nationally as the first comprehensive collection on the topic. His 1999 book, A Spirituali-ty of Resistance: Finding a Peaceful Heart and Protecting the Earth was called by Prot-estant theologian John Cobb "a true spiritual guide for our day," and excerpted in Tikkun and Orion Afield. His 2002 book Joining Hands: Politics and Religion Together for Social Change received advance praise from Harvey Cox and Bill McKibben.

Gottlieb's recent work on religious environmentalism, A Greener Faith: Religious En-vironmentalism and our Planet's Future and The Oxford Handbook on Religion and Ecology establishes him as the leading commentator and exponent of this unprece-dented political, environmental, and religious movement. Bob Edgar, head of the Na-tional Council of Churches, said A Greener Faith provided "a bright picture of the faith community's capacity for caring for God's creation" and that following Gottlieb's lead would help us "go a long way toward being more effective stewards of our fragile pla-net." Carl Pope, Executive Director of the Sierra Club, called it a "seminal book examin-ing the emerging debate on environmental ethics among the world's great faith tradi-tions." Thomas Berry, one of the world's leading ecotheologians said it offers "superb insight and is a "most needed guide."

Gottlieb recent work includes __Engaging Voices: Tales of Morality and Meaning in an Age of Global Warming__, a collection of related but distinct short stories which explore the moral, political, emotional, and spiritual dilemmas provoked by the environmen-tal crisis; and asks how, in the face of powerful emotions and deeply contested views, we can live and talk to each other.

In January 2013 Oxford University Press published __Spirituality: What it Is and Why it Matters__. This book is a unique account of spirituality from traditional religion to the present that reveals the common thread that joins Mahayana Buddhism and Hasidic Judaism, the Sufi Rumi and the Catholic St. Thomas a Kempis, people of all faiths and those who are "spiritual but not religious." Roger S. Gottlieb argues that spirituality is the simple but extraordinarily difficult attempt to face life's rigors and disappointments by becoming more mindful, accepting, grateful, compassionate, and lovingly connected to others. These virtues oppose both the social ego's attachment and arrogance, and any habitual, unreflective religiosity; and the path towards them can be shared equally by people inspired by belief in one God or many, the divinity of nature or the sacredness of life.

As a speaker Gottlieb combines intense analytic intelligence, a personal and humorously engaging style, and an inspiring message of personal responsibility, social change, and spiritual vision. Audiences from universities, churches, synagogues, and community and environmental organizations have found him a riveting presenter whose message resonates long after his formal presentation is done and can lead people to act as well as think and feel.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Paul Wapner on January 21, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I have now read five of Gottlieb's books and, each time, I feel that I am learning from an insightful and authentic human being. SPIRITUALITY distills the kernels of spiritual wisdom from a number of traditions and explains how such wisdom can deepen our lives. The deepening happens as we wake-up to what is important, become more honest with ourselves, move from trivialities to meaning, and see the grace of life itself--with all its horror and beauty.

Gottlieb is analytical as much as he is poetic. Thus, he perceptively distinguishes spirituality from religion, and explains the contemporary surge of interest in spiritual practices. Furthermore, he elucidates the gifts of various traditions, spelling out the importance and meanings of, e.g., compassion, nonattachment, moral behavior, and joy as they compose the spiritual path. I found these parts clarifying.

My real love of the book forms around his poetic side as it relates his own challenges of living a life with more compassion, insight, and patience, and shares his understanding of how practices like prayer, meditation, and yoga "work." Gottlieb writes from the heart, and this enables the personal to inform the universal.

Books on spirituality often suffer because they fail to reconcile subjective experience with the naked realities of the world. Gottlieb finds and articulates threads of connection between our inner and outer lives--helping us to see how spirituality can enhance and, in turn, learn from, our battles with illness, environmental engagements, and political efforts. In this sense, Gottlieb integrates our interiority and external encounters, and demonstrates that spirituality is not found on one side or the other, but rather is cultivated as one lives through one's days with greater discernment, sensitivity to others, mindfulness, generosity, and an intuitive sense that our lives are ultimately a mystery for which we can be grateful.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Strong on theory, short on application. Gottlieb does better when elucidating the inner meaning of his subject than when making it relevant. He should trust that spiritual practices are relevant and let that be.
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Excellent book which reviews in depth the historical and contemporary differences between spirituality and religion. I strongly recommend this book.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Megan Sawyer on December 8, 2013
Format: Paperback
This is a poorly reasoned, scattered book that never finds it's focus.
Gottlieb is unable to create an objective overview of spirituality; he clearly has a bias against the Abrahamic faiths and does a poor job of concealing this. He frequently cites scriptures and thinkers from major religions, but places words outside of any meaningful context by grabbing only the smallest of snippets that can be compared.

Even then, his comparisons are weak at best (pg. 153- "The heavens declare the glory of God" is not the same idea as "if you allow no idle concerns to weigh on your heart, your whole life will be one perennial good season"). He earlier equates North American Native spiritual practices with Native people from the Amazon (because, clearly, all tribal religions are the same), but I suppose this isn't a problem for Gottlieb who prefers to ignore that there are, in fact, significant differences amongst the religious grounding for the spiritual practices he outlines. The baseless spirituality that Gottlieb proposes is anemic and self indulgent (much as he tries to deny it).

Furthermore, Gottlieb has many unhelpful and alarming things to say in regards to mental illness, at one point equating antidepressants to plastic surgery (!) (pg 157). This seems to come from a deep distrust of modern medicine (pg. 137, and most of the Spirituality and Healing chapter).

By the end of the book, I have a no better answer for what spirituality is than when I began, and I was genuinely curious. Apparently, spirituality is whatever you want it to be, which in my eyes seems to be nothing at all.

Sloppy, unfocused, not worth the read.
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