Paradise haunts the Biblical West. At once the place of origin and exile, utopia and final destination, it has shaped our poetic and religious imagination and informed literary and theological accounts of man’s relation with his creator, with language and history. For Kant, Paradise was the inaugural moment for the rise and progress of reason as the agency of human history, slowly but certainly driving humanity away from error and superstition. Nietzsche described it more somberly as the very embodiment of the conflict between humanity and its beliefs.In Earthly Paradise, Milad Doueihi contemplates key moments in the philosophical reception and uses of Paradise, marked by the rise of critical and historical methods in the Early Modern period. How do modern debates around the nature of evil, free will, and the origin of language grow out of the philosophical interpretations of Paradise as the site of human history? How do the reflections of Spinoza, Pierre Bayle, Leibniz, and their contemporaries inform our current ideas about the Biblical narrative of the Fall? Is Paradise the source of human error or an utopian vision of humanity itself?
One of the classics of modern spirituality, Encounters with Silence is one of Karl Rahner’s most lucid and powerful books. A book of meditations about man’s relation with God, it is not a work of dry theology, but rather a book of prayerful reflections on love, knowledge, and faith, obedience, everyday routines, life with our friends and neighbors, our work and vocation, and human goodness. The immense success of this moving work is a tribute to its practicality and the ability of the great theologian to speak simply and yet profoundly to ordinary men and women seeking an inspiring guide to the inner life, one that never forsakes the world of reality. The book is cast in the form of a dialogue with God that moves from humble but concerned inquiry to joyful contemplation.
“You will come again because the fact that you have already come must continue to be revealed ever more clearly. It must become progressively manifest to the world that the heart of all things is already transformed, because you have taken them all to your heart. . . . The false appearance of our world, the shabby pretense that it has not been liberated . . . must be more and more thoroughly rooted out and destroyed. . . . And your coming is neither past nor future, but the present, which has only to reach its fulfillment. Now it is still the one single hour of your advent.” (from the book)
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.
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