Robert Coles The Secular Mind

ISBN 13: 9780691058054

The Secular Mind

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Does the business of daily living distance us from life's mysteries? Do most Americans value spiritual thinking more as a hobby than as an all-encompassing approach to life? Will the concept of the soul be defunct after the next few generations? Child psychiatrist and best-selling author Robert Coles offers a profound meditation on how secular culture has settled into the hearts and minds of Americans. This book is a sweeping essay on the shift from religious control over Western society to the scientific dominance of the mind. Interwoven into the story is Coles's personal quest for understanding how the sense of the sacred has stood firm in the lives of individuals--both the famous and everyday people whom he has known--even as they have struggled with doubt.


As a student, Coles questioned Paul Tillich on the meaning of the "secular mind," and his fascination with the perceived opposition between secular and sacred intensified over the years. This book recounts conversations Coles has had with such figures as Anna Freud, Karen Horney, William Carlos Williams, Walker Percy, and Dorothy Day. Their words dramatize the frustration and the joy of living in both the secular and sacred realms. Coles masterfully draws on a variety of literary sources that trace the relationship of the sacred and the secular: the stories of Abraham and Moses, the writings of St. Paul, Augustine, Kierkegaard, Darwin, and Freud, and the fiction of George Eliot, Hardy, Meredith, Flannery O'Connor, and Huxley. Ever since biblical times, Coles shows us, the relationship between these two realms has thrived on conflict and accommodation.


Coles also notes that psychoanalysis was first viewed as a rival to religion in terms of getting a handle on inner truths. He provocatively demonstrates how psychoanalysis has either been incorporated into the thinking of many religious denominations or become a type of religion in itself. How will people in the next millennium deal with advances in chemistry and neurology? Will these sciences surpass psychoanalysis in controlling how we think and feel? This book is for anyone who has wondered about the fate of the soul and our ability to seek out the sacred in our constantly changing world.

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Review:

Robert Coles employs a gestalt method for describing contemporary spirituality in The Secular Mind, a memoirish meditation on the replacement of religion by science as the determining force of Western intellectual culture. The book offers a wide range of reflections on its eponymous topic, inspired by conversations Coles had with such figures as Paul Tillich, William Carlos Williams, Dorothy Day, and Walker Percy--all of whom felt conflicted about feeling comfortable living in both the secular and sacred realms. Coles also offers lively readings of the Bible, Darwin, Kierkegaard, Freud, and others, to demonstrate ancient and modern definitions of secular culture.

Coles's basic historical point is not very controversial: "Once an alternative to entrenched religious life ... secularity became an aspect of individualism, as societies became less and less dominated by church life, more and more capitalistic in nature." More interesting are his thoughts on the future of secularism. He predicts that the mind's curiosity will ultimately master the brain's most complex functions (including emotion and creativity). Yet for all his confidence in the power of psychopharmacology, Coles avers that the scientific victory will never be complete. There will always be need of "an 'otherness' to address through words become acts of appeal, of worried alarm, of lively and grateful expectation: please, oh please, let things go this way, and not in that direction." This "introspective, moral pause," Coles writes, is the secular mind's "very own kind of sanctity." --Michael Joseph Gross

From the Inside Flap:

"It's a pleasure to be in the presence of a man so smart and yet still capable of being rendered speechless by a student's sincere philosophical concerns. There are no conclusions here, but following Coles's considerations is worth the effort."--Ron Charles, The Christian Science Monitor

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9780691088624: The Secular Mind

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ISBN 10:  0691088624 ISBN 13:  9780691088624
Publisher: Princeton University Press, 2001
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