Miracles: Wonder and Meaning in World Religions

Miracles: Wonder and Meaning in World Religions

Miracles: Wonder and Meaning in World Religions

Miracles: Wonder and Meaning in World Religions


Despite the dominance of scientific explanation in the modern world, at the beginning of the twenty-first century faith in miracles remains strong, particularly in resurgent forms of traditional religion. In Miracles , David L. Weddle examines how five religious traditions- Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam- understand miracles, considering how they express popular enthusiasm for wondrous tales, how they provoke official regulation because of their potential to disrupt authority, and how they are denied by critics within each tradition who regard belief in miracles as an illusory distraction from moral responsibility.

In dynamic and accessible prose, Weddle shows us what miracles are, what they mean, and why, despite overwhelming scientific evidence, they are still significant today: belief in miracles sustains the hope that, if there is a reality that surpasses our ordinary lives, it is capable of exercising- from time to time- creative, liberating, enlightening, and healing power in our world.


The story of miracles begins with the miracle of story: the power of narrative to draw readers into alternative views of reality. As some theorists of religion argue, one of the creative achievements of religious faith is the construction of “religious worlds.” Among the most powerful tools in that enterprise is the miracle story. For many believers, miracle stories reveal the poverty of conventional views of reality and demonstrate that human existence is not confined to the repetitive predictability of material forces in their blind and pitiless operation. Stories of miracles are dispatches from beyond the horizon of the physical universe; they are intimations of the transcendent. The accounts of “signs and wonders” retold in religious traditions across the globe are a primal form of anecdotal evidence: raw, naïve, and dramatic. Stories of miracles make belief in divine agency or infinite consciousness seem reasonable, even empirical. To enter imaginatively into their narratives is to begin to consider the wonders they recount as real possibilities for human life. For that reason, stories of miraculous healings strengthen the faith of the sick, accounts of casting out demons encourage those oppressed by injustice to imagine themselves freed, and stories of ascending masters inspire spirits to soar with hopes of liberation or resurrection.

Like other means of representing the transcendent, such as systems of doctrine or ritual performance, miracle stories contribute to the formation of many religious communities. The stories may seem to be little more than quaint tales, but when invested with meaning drawn from the communities in which they are treasured, they become “signs” pointing beyond themselves to transcendent power at work in this world producing novel and disruptive effects. Miracle stories, then, are central to the way some religious traditions construct their visions of reality because miracles are signifiers of what a tradition holds to be transcendent.

That word is admittedly vague, but it has the advantage of avoiding the problems associated with even less satisfactory categories, like “supernatural” or “sacred.” The English verb transcend derives from a combination of . . .

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