01: Robert Wuthnow’s After Heaven: Spirituality in America Since the 1950s (University of California Press, $29.95) is an in-depth treatment of the many ways Americans have approached the spiritual life in recent years.
The Princeton sociologist draws a sharp line between the pre-60s period, which was characterized by a “spirituality of dwelling,” as it was tied to congregations, and the post-60s “spirituality of seeking” based on life experiences and experimentation. Wuthnow also examines the attempt to instill a spirituality of discipline, the changing meaning of the “soul,” and the meaning of the angel phenomenon. The author sees the future of spirituality not so much in “dwelling” or “seeking” but in the cultivation of spiritual practices (such as meditation, prayer and other disciplines) that draw on both congregational and personal resources and experiences.
02: Erik Davis’ new book Techgnosis (Harmony Books, $25) goes a long way in showing that occult, Gnostic, pagan, and New Age practices and beliefs particularly lend themselves to computer technology.
Davis, a veteran reporter on the frontiers of technology and alternative religions and cultures, focuses less on specific religious groups’ involvement in cyberspace than on the mystical visions and philosophies that he sees as undergirding the new technologies. Especially interesting are the sections on the techno- religions of the Extropians, who believe in completely transcending the human through technology; mysticism in Silicon Valley, and the “technopagan” use of magic, and UFO “cults” — from Star Trek to Heaven’s Gate.
03: Although the cost of the Encyclopedia Of Religion And Society (Alta Mira Press , 1630 North Main Street, Suite 367, Walnut Creek, CA 94596;$124.95) may be too much for many readers, the 608-page reference book is recommended for most libraries.
The volume, edited by William H. Swatos Jr., serves as a virtual who’s who and what’s what of contemporary religion. Scholarly in tone and written from a sociological perspective, the book provides brief but concise entries on most issues in religion today — ranging from Astrology to funerals to the Salvation Army, as well as biographical sketches on leading scholars and other religious figures.