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The Serpent's Gift: Gnostic Reflections on the Study of Religion

4.7 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0226453811
ISBN-10: 0226453812
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Editorial Reviews


“In The Serpent’s Gift, Jeffrey Kripal provocatively advances a practice he names ‘academic gnosticism.’ Through such a method, he seeks to move beyond some of the obstinate binaries that have preoccupied, and sometimes thwarted, scholars of religion. This lively, accessible, and delightfully transgressive book also explores how the academic study of religion itself is implicated in, indeed emerges out of, some of the heretical subject matters it tries objectively to understand. In making conscious a culturally repressed, religious unconscious by means of his ‘mystical humanism,’ Kripal has once again succeeded in getting students of religion to think about (and with) old things in new and daring ways.”--Jeremy Zwelling, Wesleyan University

(Jeremy Zwelling 2006-07-18)

“A trickster-guide, Jeffrey Kripal lures his readers through mirrored doors and ironic tunnels into the inner chambers of the study of religion. There he conducts a disconcerting initiation. The mysteries of his religious studies are an antidote to the imperial certainty, the bombastic piety, of too much religion. This shimmering serpent gives with its fangs.”--Mark D. Jordan, Asa Griggs Candler Professor, Emory University

(Mark D. Jordan 2006-07-18)

"Kripal's writing glows with insight and enriches our understanding of humanity's gnostic dignity. Highly recommended."
(Library Journal 2007-03-01)

"A fascinating meditation on gnosticism, sexuality, religious studies, and life in general. It will intrigue, challenge, provoke, and (possibly) alarm or offend the reader, but all for the sake of an important quest for a new way of thinking through and drawing together, our currently disparate studies of religion, mysticism, theology, and human and divine realities. . . . Each essay is well written and inviting, and most useful reading; cumulatively, they make the case that excluded, silenced, lost perspectives need to be heard in twenty-first century academe and also in our spiritual quests."
(Francis X. Clooney Harvard Divinity Bulletin)

"[Kripal's] trademark mix of autobiography and rigorous scholarship gives his writings a style all their own. His irenic style matches his approach: he reaches out to all sides rather than setting one side against another. . . . In any future course on the study of religions, I would assign The Serpent's Gift."
(Robert A. Segal History of Religions) --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From the Inside Flap

As recent domestic and geopolitical events have become increasingly dominated by intolerant forms of religious thought and action, the critical study of religion continues to find itself largely ignored in the public square. Caught between those who assert that its principal purpose is to reflect the perspectives of those who believe and those who assert that its only proper place is to expose these same worldviews as deceptive social and economic mechanisms of power, the discipline has generally failed to find a truly audible voice. Rejecting both of these conservative and liberal modes of knowing as insufficient to the radical subject that is religion, Jeffrey J. Kripal offers in this book another possibility, that of the serpent’s gift. 

Such a gift hisses a form of gnosis, that is, a deeply critical approach to religion that is at the same time profoundly engaged with the altered states of consciousness and energy that are naively literalized by the proponents of faith and too quickly dismissed by the proponents of pure reason. Kripal does not simply describe such a gnosis. He performs and transmits it through four meditations on the sexualities of Jesus, the mystical humanism of Ludwig Feuerbach, the gnostic potentials of the comparative method, and the American mythologies of the comic book. From the erotics of the gospels to the mutant powers of the superhero, The Serpent’s Gift promises its readers both an intellectual exile from our present religious and sexual ignorance and a transfigured hope in the spiritual potentials of the human species.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 232 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press (December 15, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226453812
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226453811
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,173,247 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
I highly recommend this book to anyone with a serious interest in studying and understanding religion. Kripal steers a course between accepting religion on its own terms or reducing it to merely a delusion; instead he offers a vision of religious studies as a form of gnostic or mystical practice capable of revealing the largely untapped human potential for extra-ordinary capabilities. Essays on the sexuality of Jesus, the seminal work of Feurerbach on religion as psychological projection, the universalism of Ramakrishna, and the allegoric interpretation of the X-Men are tied together by this overriding theme, but each alone is a goldmine of thought-provoking insights on religion and the study of religion.

An important and rewarding book for the educated reader, although those with less exposure to current academic debates (i.e., post-modernism) will have to work a bit to get the most out of it. (My main reason for giving it four stars vs. five.) Kripal's proposal of a "mystical humanism" is persuasive and important; a book well worth spending time on.

--Alan F. Zundel, The HeartAwake Center
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is not an easy work to process, nor should it be. Upon reading The Serpent's Gift now for the second time, I feel I'm only beginning to understand it, and this is a good thing. Questioning at this level requires work; and yes, such questions prompt more questions in turn, ones that likely have no answers, but the rewards are concurrent with the effort. The search is truly enlivening, the depth is the destination, and I appreciate Kripal's voice as my guide.
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Format: Paperback
Jeffrey J. Kripal is a wonderful, engaging writer with a sense of humor and a talent for telling stories--and retelling stories--so they take on so much more meaning.

The central hypothesis of this book--which is a collection of four major essays--is that the study of Comparative Religion almost necessarily forces the student's mind beyond the superficial facts of the various religions studied into a kind of mystical view of an elusive "truth" beyond all religion. This is "gnosis," and it's been an theme in religion, mysticism and heresy since before the time of Jesus.

I REALLY resonated with this book. That central hypothesis is something that I personally experienced in my own study of religion, first as a Catholic seminarian and monk and then as a student and friend of the renowned religions scholar Joseph Campbell. In a book I wrote about my experience of knowing Campbell, titled The Myth of the Great Secret, I argued almost exactly the same thing as Kripal. I used Campbell's elusive, but pregnant phrase "The New Myth" for this vision of religion beyond religion. Kripal uses the historical term "Gnosticism."

What is certainly true is that looking at the great religions from the viewpoint of an external observer, over and above any particular belief, makes you see that all the elements of religion are metaphors and practices for transforming consciousness and bestowing vision. Understanding the nature of religion totally transforms what religion seems to be. Myth is not falsehood, it is wisdom and poetry, but it is not fact either. This certainly changes how one thinks about the Western religions of Judaism, Islam and Christianity with all their insistence on historicity. The whole world is starting to wake up.
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