January 1, 2000 VNN5191 Comment on this story
Fits, Trances, And Visions
FROM NEW YORK TIMES
BOOK REVIEW, Jan 1 (VNN) Experiencing Religion and Explaining Experience From Wesley to James. Book by Ann Taves.
By WILLIAM R. EVERDELL
A historian of religion examines ecstasy in the presence of God.
Ann Taves's ''Fits, Trances, and Visions'' is as much a treat as it is a treatise, and not just for historians like herself. Taves, who teaches history in a theological institution, the Claremont School of Theology, and religion in a secular one, the Claremont Graduate University, has managed to assemble the facts and clarify the course of one of the longest, strongest threads in the American cultural quilt- religioius ecstacy.
...Though most of these phenomena seem to go back to those denominations of Protestant Christianity we label ''evangelical,'' other religious groups usually discovered similar sorts of experience within a generation of arriving here. To tell the truth, there are few religions in the world from which comparable experience and practices are categorically excluded; so perhaps it just takes America to bring them out. Much like ''shouting'' Methodists, ''New Light'' Presbyterians and Separate Baptists, Brooklyn Hindus expect to experience the spirit as they chant ''Hare Krishna!'' and the day of mass conversions to Sufi Islam may not be so distant.
...For citizens, the largest issue this book addresses is how minority believers (or unbelievers) have historically come to terms with a religious mainstream that is not their own. If the American religious tradition is so profoundly evangelical, is it possible to understand the tradition without being part of it on the one hand or condemning it on the other? History, not psychology, is the only way to come to terms with the question, because only history offers an account of the tradition that does not have to insist on trumping it. History can indeed be ironic about the past, but as Ann Taves proves, it does not have to be.
William R. Everdell, the author of ''The First Moderns'' and the forthcoming ''End of Kings,'' is working on a history of evangelicalism.
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