The New Metaphysicals


The New Metaphysicals

Spirituality and the American Religious Imagination

University of Chicago Press. June 2010

WINNER, 2010 PROSE Award  in Religious Studies

WINNER 2011 Distinguished Book Award, American Sociological Association Section on Religion

Read my interview with Nathan Schneider and the discussion about the book on the SSRC’s Immanent Frame


“Truly distinctive and distinguished. Bender captures the subtlety of the religious voices, practices, and struggles of those she terms contemporary metaphysicals living amid shifting economic realities, modern assumptions about science and progress, and related entanglements. This is a remarkable book simply for recording these fascinating practitioners and helping readers understand their categories of practice and experience in all their complexity. But her work does far more than merely record; it offers a compelling examination of how we may think anew about these categories and the people—metaphysicals and scholars alike—for whom they matter. Hilarious and humane all at once: it’s a rare mix, and Bender hits the mark again and again.”

R. Marie Griffith, Harvard Divinity School


“The classic ethnographic impulse is to challenge our scholarly understandings by observing everyday understandings in action. In The New Metaphysicals Courtney Bender instead reveals their complex mutual constitution in our common and standard portrayals of American mysticism as without history or structure. Bender’s brilliant use of the tools of practice theory conveys a sense of long-term yet loose structure. Her thick yet elegant descriptions of the institutions, discourses, and practices that create contemporary American mysticism provide a model for the study of religious traditions. And her reassertion of a more structured and culture-full version of practice theory is a must read for ethnographers of any subject.”

David Smilde, University of Georgia