Lives in Spirit: Precursors and Dilemmas of a Secular Western Mysticism, by HARRY T. HUNT. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2003, 357pp.; $68.50 USD (cloth), $22.95 USD (paper).
Through the disciplinary prisms of philosophy, history, sociology and especially psychoanalysis, Harry Hunt explores the ways in which a spirituality oriented to this world, rather than an idealized other world, developed in the lives of notable individuals and, through their contacts and writings, subsequently affected a wide circle of persons and groups.
Throughout the book, spirituality is treated as an essential human aspect that is nonetheless shaped by childhood experiences and the culture in which the individual is immersed. A this-world spiritual quest is predicated to be spurred by either individuals' own mystical experiences or their sustained spiritual searches for meaning, quests that are in turn partly reactions to the secularized world around them. Using the work of A.H. Amaas on the synthesis of spiritual development and psychoanalytic object-relations theories, Hunt postulates that such individuals' essential selves and childhood experiences are apt to create some unresolved conflicts for their adult behavior.
A this-worldly mysticism is depicted as being rather individualistic and isolationist in emphasis. Hence, a this-worldly mysticism may be less likely to generate prophetic movements than an other-worldly mysticism, since the latter is better fitted to lead to formation of groups supporting a cohesive vision. However, Hunt argues that a this-worldly spiritual quest, when communicated by an influential person, can at least strongly influence the thoughts and actions of networks of other leading figures sharing similar sociocultural or psychic characteristics. In exploring these premises, Hunt focuses on analyzing the lives and writings of those he terms "precursors" and "exemplars" of a modern this-worldly mysticism, leading figures who have influenced the growth of contemporary New Age spirituality.
Chapters in the first two sections of the volume are devoted to describing the historical prototypes and more recent theories of how spiritual experiences, psychology, and culture can interrelate. Sociologists may be most interested in the chapter on how the theories of Max Weber and Ernst Troeltsch explain why a this-world spirituality would become predominant in the contemporary western world. In the subsequent three sections, each chapter dwells...