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The Secular Mind [Paperback]

By Robert Coles (Author)
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Item description for The Secular Mind by Robert Coles...

Child psychiatrist and bestselling author Coles offers a profound meditation on how secular culture has settled into the hearts and minds of Americans.

Publishers Description

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.

Citations And Professional Reviews
The Secular Mind by Robert Coles has been reviewed by professional book reviewers and journalists at the following establishments -

  • Wilson Public Library Catalog - 12/31/2008 page 85
  • Wilson Public Library Catalog - 01/01/2004 page 96

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Item Specifications...

Studio: Princeton University Press
Pages   200
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 9" Width: 6" Height: 0.46"
Weight:   0.66 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Feb 18, 2001
Publisher   Princeton University Press
ISBN  0691088624  
ISBN13  9780691088624  

Availability  58 units.
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More About Robert Coles

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Robert Coles, M.D. is a child psychiatrist and the James Agee Professor of Social Ethics at Harvard University. He is a founding member of the Center of Documentary Studies at Duke University. The author of numerous books, he wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning, multi-volume works The Inner Lives of
Children and Children of Crisis. He is also the Editor of the documentary magazine Double Take.

Robert Coles currently resides in Concord, in the state of Massachusetts.

Robert Coles has published or released items in the following series...
  1. Modern Spiritual Masters
  2. Radcliffe Biography Series

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > Health, Mind & Body > Psychology & Counseling > History
2Books > Subjects > Medicine > Specialties > Psychiatry > Psychiatry
3Books > Subjects > Medicine > Specialties > Psychiatry
4Books > Subjects > Nonfiction > Philosophy > Consciousness & Thought
5Books > Subjects > Nonfiction > Social Sciences > Anthropology > Cultural
6Books > Subjects > Nonfiction > Social Sciences > General
7Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Reference > Bible > General
8Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Theology > General
9Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Theology > Philosophy

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Reviews - What do customers think about The Secular Mind?

disappointing esp. at end  Mar 8, 2002
I like Robert Coles' work - he's been an important influence on decades of Harvard undergraduates, of which I was one. This book was useful in some of his reflections - esp. of Walker Percy & Flannery O'Connor and their strategies for exposing the grande folie of the secular mind in an age when the sacred is often ignored, or even its presence not known of. But the end section, "looking ahead," revealed the underlying flaw of his somewhat rambling book - (were these speeches? they read like it - but there's no evidence in the book these were lectures). He seems to have bought into the "promise" of biology, through psychopharmacology, to reveal human truths and expose our mystery, as it were. So his book reads as an elegy for the sacred, bowing to the human mind here where not before (Freud, Communism, etc.) But, he brought up biology in the first place, in the context of how we once thought state-control (fascism and communism) would forever crush the human spirit - and it did not. What happened to his argument in the case of biology? My own thought, is that he has chosen to make his home at Harvard, which is the nerve-center of the secular mind in this country. He seems to have no self-awareness of this, so accepts scientific biology (Harvard Med School stuff) as the final word -the death-knell of the sacred. This left me feeling very unsatisfied - some defender of the sacred here, he does not earn the high ground to diagnose "the secular mind".
quirky insight into fundamental questions  Jul 25, 2001
I am a Robert Coles fan. I remember him as the most inspiring lecturer at Harvard with his quiet and sincere voice. That said I have found most of his writing a disappointment. Finally, with "The Secular Mind" Coles has written a book that is accessible; it may not be as stirring as his lectures (which might show just how important his actual voice is), but at least with this book the reader can get a sense of the quirky and exciting way Coles strives to address the most basic human questions.

The reason this book succeeds more than his others is, I think, because it retains much of the spirit of his lectures. Coles takes a few simple questions: what is the difference between the religious life and the secular life? When, how and why has the secular way of thinking become more dominant in the last two hundred years? How do we deal with these changes given our shared desire for faith and purpose? Coles then consider how many thinkers he respects, including William Carlos Williams, Anna Freud, Dorthy Day, and Walker Percy, have responded to these questions. Part of what is unique about Coles is that he had the chutzpah to seek out and spend plenty of time with these thinkers. The result is a book that is intimate as well as profound.

But this book is not without its faults. I don't understand why Coles insists on making his books so inaccessible. For one thing, this book lacks any kind of index. And then there are his sentences. He can't resist the parenthetical. At every turn there is a clause within a clause. This sentence about George Elliot is typical: "She was, of course, decades ahead of Freud, in her acknowledgement, that way, of the unconscious, its raw power constantly assertive, no matter our notion of ourselves as in (conscious) control of what we say or do." (p. 65)

On balance, Coles is an interesting thinker, willing to raise the most profound personal questions about faith and purpose, and this book is a nice taste of his way of talking and thinking.

2nd Grade theo-psychology  Jun 28, 2000
Mr. Cole seems to know little or nothing about what the religious mind really is. He limits and trivializes the "religious mind" to going to church and saying our prayers. As if religion has no place in the other, "secular" world. I read the whole book in hopes that Mr Coles would make one interesting point. How disapointing
Rambling disappointment  Sep 2, 1999
I'm a big Robert Coles fan, so perhaps my expectations were too high for this book. It purports to chart the "fate of the our constantly changing world," but instead seems to drift from chapter to chapter and even from paragraph to paragraph without direction. His favorite method of introducing the reader to legendary figures in politics, literature and the arts does not work here; he doesn't devote enough time to putting flesh on them (e.g. Kierkegaard, Darwin, Freud, Eliot, O'Connor). Re-read Harvard Diary instead.
Obvious Not Secular  Aug 21, 1999
Dr. Cole's 'The Secular Mind' is not as secular as either the cover or jacket summary would lead one to believe. While thought provoking, this is strickly subtle theology. I had hoped for more. Of course, in all fairness, I could have missed a not-so-obvious point.

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