The Serpent's Gift: Gnostic Reflections on the Study of Religion

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9780226453804: The Serpent's Gift: Gnostic Reflections on the Study of Religion

“Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field.” With those words in Genesis, God condemns the serpent for tempting Adam and Eve, and the serpent has shouldered the blame ever since. But how would the study of religion change if we looked at the Fall from the snake’s point of view? Would he appear as a bringer of wisdom, more generous than the God who wishes to keep his creation ignorant? 

Inspired by the early Gnostics who took that startling view, Jeffrey J. Kripal uses the serpent as a starting point for a groundbreaking reconsideration of religious studies and its methods. In a series of related essays, he moves beyond both rational and faith-based approaches to religion, exploring the erotics of the gospels and the sexualities of Jesus, John, and Mary Magdalene. He considers Feuerbach’s Gnosticism, the untapped mystical potential of comparative religion, and even the modern mythology of the X-Men. 

Ultimately, The Serpent’s Gift is a provocative call for a complete reorientation of religious studies, aimed at a larger understanding of the world, the self, and the divine.

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From the Inside Flap:

As recent domestic and geopolitical events have become increasingly dominated by intolerant forms of religious thought and action, the critical study of religion continues to find itself largely ignored in the public square. Caught between those who assert that its principal purpose is to reflect the perspectives of those who believe and those who assert that its only proper place is to expose these same worldviews as deceptive social and economic mechanisms of power, the discipline has generally failed to find a truly audible voice. Rejecting both of these conservative and liberal modes of knowing as insufficient to the radical subject that is religion, Jeffrey J. Kripal offers in this book another possibility, that of the serpent’s gift. 

Such a gift hisses a form of gnosis, that is, a deeply critical approach to religion that is at the same time profoundly engaged with the altered states of consciousness and energy that are naively literalized by the proponents of faith and too quickly dismissed by the proponents of pure reason. Kripal does not simply describe such a gnosis. He performs and transmits it through four meditations on the sexualities of Jesus, the mystical humanism of Ludwig Feuerbach, the gnostic potentials of the comparative method, and the American mythologies of the comic book. From the erotics of the gospels to the mutant powers of the superhero, The Serpent’s Gift promises its readers both an intellectual exile from our present religious and sexual ignorance and a transfigured hope in the spiritual potentials of the human species.

About the Author:

Jeffrey J. Kripal is the J. Newton Rayzor Professor in and chair of the Department of Religious Studies at Rice University. He is the author of Kali’s Child: The Mystical and the Erotic in the Life and Teachings of Ramakrishna and Roads of Excess, Palaces of Wisdom: Eroticism and Reflexivity in the Study of Mysticism, both published by the University of Chicago Press.

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