June 06, 2012

What does it mean to have a spiritual practice in the contemporary world?

Andrew Cooper

Robert Bellah, who is widely considered to be North America's foremost sociologist of religion, has been featured previously in Tricycle. In the current issue of the magazine, contributing editor Linda Heuman reviews his long-anticipated magnum opus, Religion in Human Evolution. The book has generated high praise and enthusiastic endorsements from reviewers and scholars, including such intellectual heavyweights as Charles Taylor and Jurgen Habermas, and in scope and importance is being compared to the work of the greatest thinkers in the field, most notably that of Max Weber and Emile Durkheim. To give just one example, Hans Joas of the University of Chicago writes:

This book is the opus magnum of the greatest living sociologist of religion. Nobody since Max Weber has produced such an erudite and systematic comparative world history of religion in its earlier phases. Robert Bellah opens new vistas for the interdisciplinary study of religion and for global inter-religious dialogue.


In her essay on the book, Linda Heuman explores not only what the book is about but also what it means to live a spiritual life. Heuman writes:


Having a religion is not like carrying around a map of true or false propositions that we hold up against reality. Rather, meaning systems are embodied and contingent: what we can think or believe is utterly bounded by what we can say and do—and what we can think, say, and do all shape each other. And further, all these possibilities are shaped by our biology, society, and culture.

–Andrew Cooper, Features Editor


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