Engaged Spirituality: Social Change and American Religion

Engaged Spirituality: Social Change and American Religion

Engaged Spirituality: Social Change and American Religion

Engaged Spirituality: Social Change and American Religion

Synopsis

In Engaged Spirituality, Gregory C. Stanczak challenges this assumption, arguing that spirituality plays an important social role as well. Based on more than one hundred interviews with individuals of diverse faith traditions, the book shows how prayer, meditation, and ritual provide foundations for activism. Among the stories, a Buddhist monk in Los Angeles intimately describes the physical sensations of strength and compassion that sweep her body when she recites the Buddha's name in times of selfless service, and a Protestant reverend explains how the calm serenity that she feels during retreats allows her to direct her multi-service agency in San Francisco to creative successes that were previously unimaginable.

In an age when Madonna studies Kabbalah and the internet is bringing Buddhism to the white middle-class, it is clear that formal religious affiliations are no longer enough. Stanczak's critical examination of spirituality provides us with a way of discussing the factors that impel individuals into social activism and forces us to rethink the question of how "religion" and "spirituality" might be defined.

Excerpt

“I don't think I've ever been asked that,” Ann confessed with a puzzled tone in her voice. She knitted her forehead and repositioned herself in her chair. “You would think I would have, but.…” Ann had devoted her early adult years to a Catholic religious order, but in the 1970s, like many of the other nuns that she served with, she came to a long-thought-out conclusion that her talents and her dreams could be better developed outside of her order. This transition involved fits and starts along different paths. For years during the 1980s she worked with nuclear freeze activists, where she utilized and thrived upon her political passions, but she still did not experience the fulfillment or extensive sense of community that her order had provided. Eventually she settled into a longer term career in Catholic social services in northern California. Her entire adult life had been a mix of unwavering social action and deep religious devotion, both to varying degrees at varying times. Yet it had taken years before someone had asked her specifically about the deeply rooted biographical turning points that generated her life of conviction and dedication. By the end of our interview, during which we both experienced emotional highs and lows as her story unfolded, Ann confessed that revisiting childhood memories and the emotional junctures of compassion and caring somehow felt cathartic, therapeutic, and even spiritual. And all it took was one simple question that too often remains unasked.

This book emerged out of an extensive research project constructed to identify and examine unasked questions about the connection between spirituality and social change. In the spring of 2001, the Ford Foundation selected the Center for Religion and Civic Culture to explore these questions among mainstream American religious traditions. “Mainstream” in this sense includes all religious traditions that are not, for lack of a better term, new age spiritualities. This initially included Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Protestants, and Catholics. A parallel project that focused on alternative spiritual traditions and practices . . .

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