Catholic Cults and Devotions: A Psychological Inquiry

By Michael P. Carroll | Go to book overview
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When the editors of the original Catholic Encyclopedia needed someone to write on popular devotions, they not-unexpectedly turned to Herbert Thurston. Athough the brief article that Thurston submitted (see Thurston I9I3f) was informative, Thurston was unable to recommend to his readers a general reference work that dealt with popular Catholic devotions. "There seems," he said in the bibliographical note at the end of the article, "to be no authoritative general work on [these] devotions." The best he could do was to refer readers to some of his own earlier articles in The Month and to a few works like earlier editions of Beringer ( 1925a; 1925b) that discussed the indulgences associated with different devotions. Not much has changed.

What Thurston called "popular devotions" were in all cases Catholic devotions with a transnational appeal. In the introduction to this book, I pointed out that these devotions have been ignored by psychoanalysts; in fact, they have also been ignored by almost all scholars interested in the study of religion. True, some scholars have occasionally described the practice of some particular devotion, like the Forty Hours or the Rosary, in some particular historical and social setting, and many of these studies have been cited in this book. But there have been no attempts to develop a systematic overview of these transnational devotions and no attempts to determine their general psychological appeal in any systematic way. Over the course of his own career, even Thurston seems to have lost interest in the subject.

Crehan ( 1953, 46), Thurston's biographer, notes that there is a fairly obvious difference between Thurston's early articles, written before the First World War, and those written later. Whereas his early articles emphasized the popular devotions that had always been widely practised throughout the Catholic world, his later articles were more and more concerned with mysticism and spiritualism, and with related phenomena (like levitation, inedia, telekinesis, and so on). These later articles are the ones for which Thurston is today best known. His Physical Phenomena of Mysticism ( 1952), a

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