Spiritual, but Not Religious: Understanding Unchurched America

Spiritual, but Not Religious: Understanding Unchurched America

Spiritual, but Not Religious: Understanding Unchurched America

Spiritual, but Not Religious: Understanding Unchurched America

Synopsis

Nearly 40% of all Americans have no connection with organized religion. Yet many of these people, even though they might never step inside a house of worship, live profoundly spiritual lives. But what is the nature and value of unchurched spirituality in America? Is it a recent phenomenon, a New Age fad that will soon fade, or a long-standing and essential aspect of the American experience? In Spiritual But Not Religious, Robert Fuller offers fascinating answers to these questions. He shows that alternative spiritual practices have a long and rich history in America, dating back to the colonial period, when church membership rarely exceeded 17% and interest in astrology, numerology, magic, and witchcraft ran high. Fuller traces such unchurched traditions into the mid-nineteenth century, when Americans responded enthusiastically to new philosophies such as Swedenborgianism, Transcendentalism, and mesmerism, right up to the current interest in meditation, channeling, divination, and a host of other unconventional spiritual practices. Throughout, Fuller argues that far from the flighty and narcissistic dilettantes they are often made out to be, unchurched spiritual seekers embrace a mature and dynamic set of basic beliefs. They focus on inner sources of spirituality and on this world rather than the afterlife; they believe in the accessibility of God and in the mind's untapped powers; they see a fundamental unity between science and religion and an equality between genders and races; and they are more willing to test their beliefs and change them when they prove untenable. Timely, sweeping in its scope, and informed by a clear historical understanding, Spiritual But Not Religious offers fresh perspective on the growing numbers of Americans who find their spirituality outside the church.

Excerpt

The Civil War brought a temporary halt to the growth of unchurched spirituality. Political discord and the carnage of war siphoned away much of the enthusiasm for religious innovation. But, by the mid-1880s, when some measure of normalcy had returned to American life, it was inevitable that the nation would regain its spiritual vitality. Transcendentalism, Swedenborgianism, mesmerism, Unitarianism, Universalism, and spiritualism had sewn the seeds of religious experimentation and these seeds had fallen on fertile cultural soil. Many Americans styled themselves as progressive thinkers. Their commitment to modern ways of thinking made a retreat to old-fashioned church religion impossible. Yet most were equally unwilling to settle for a purely scientific account of the universe. They needed a new religious outlook that would demonstrate the existence of something beyond physical reality. The period between 1885 and 1910 witnessed the flowering of religious philosophies that met this cultural need. These new religious movements were metaphysical in nature, focusing attention on a more-than-physical reality . . .

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