The Psychology of Buddhist Tantra – By Rob Preece

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  • 31

    Religious Studies Review

    VOLUME 33 NUMBER 1 JANUARY 2007

    An engaging, original, and insightful approach to theo-rizing the transnational face of twenty-first-century religion.Inspired by his study of rituals among Cuban expatriatesin Florida, Tweed suggests, Religions are confluences oforganic-cultural flows that intensify joy and confront suffer-ing by drawing on human and suprahuman forces to makehomes and cross boundaries. After a valuable overview ofthe nature and place of theory, the book rings the changeson a series of metaphors, primarily spatial (positioned sight-ing, crossing, dwelling) and hydrodynamic (confluences,flows, organic channels, and cultural currents). It uses whatI would call a logic of fractal analogy, applying the samemetaphors at various levels of analysis in order to runtogether a wide variety of Religious Studies concepts andreligious examples. For example, types of crossing includeterrestrial (pilgrimage, mission, communication, diaspora,exile, trade, slavery, economic mobility, elision of caste/class/race/gender boundaries, etc.), corporeal (rites ofpassage, illness, suffering, death, esthetic wonder, socialprescriptions, etc.), and cosmic (teleographies, transcen-dence, salvation, liberation, healing, shamanism, posses-sion, mediumship, etc.). This gets the comparative juicesflowing. Yet the proliferation of crossings and confluencesthreatens to undermine the theorys analytic purchase. Suchbroad tropes blur the distinctions between types of bound-aries that provide much of the leverage in other theoreticalwork (conceptual, temporal, geographical, corporeal, social,etc.). Fans of a scientific study of religion will see littlehope for falsifiable hypotheses here. But the aim of the the-ory is to illumine rather than to explain, and it does thiswell.

    Steven EnglerMount Royal College and Pontifcia Universidade Catlica

    de So Paulo

    Psychology of Religion

    THE PSYCHOLOGY OF BUDDHIST TANTRA

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    By RobPreece. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion Publications, 2006. Pp. 266.$18.95, ISBN 978-1-55939-263-1.

    Following on the heels of

    The Wisdom of Imperfection:the Challenge of Individuation in Buddhist Life

    , Preece,Tibetan Buddhist teacher and transpersonal psychothera-pist, offers another accessible, insightful, and engaginginterweaving of Buddhist and Jungian perspectives on psy-chospiritual transformation. Focusing specifically on TantricBuddhism, Preece utilizes Jungs psychological interpreta-tion of Western alchemical processes to illuminate the com-parable alchemical transformative strategies of TibetanBuddhist tantric practices and skillfully guides the contem-porary reader along the tantric path. Part one, The Ground,discusses some of the essential preliminary conditions, suchas the need for a stable psychological identity and the guid-ance of an experienced teacher, for beginning tantricpractice. Part two, The Vessel, explains how morality, self-discipline, meditative retreat, and the teacher aid in creating

    an important holding space or alchemical vessel withinwhich to transform the essential ingredients (the emotions,body, and subtle energies) of tantric practices. Part three,The Process, sketches different tantric practices, payingparticular attention to the psychological nature of deitypractice as a means of transformation. Part four, The Fruit,describes the completion of the alchemical/tantric processand discusses its implications for daily life. Concerned lesswith detailing tantric practices and philosophy than withelucidating the underlying psychological processes intrin-sic to tantric practice and the difficulties Westerners mightencounter when meeting this Eastern tradition, Preecedelivers a number of perceptive insights on the obstaclesencountered when traditional Asian practices are trans-planted onto modern Western psychological and culturalsoil. Recommended for the general reader.

    Ann GleigRice University

    PRIDE: THE SEVEN DEADLY SINS

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    By MichaelEric Dyson. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.Pp. xviii

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    142. $9.95, ISBN 978-0-19-531210-2.This volume is part of a series on the seven deadly sins

    cosponsored by the New York Public Library and OxfordUniversity Press. The author outlines how pride has beenunderstood philosophically and theologically, acknowledg-ing its complexity but focusing on Aristotles notion of prideas a motivating form of self-regard. His interest is primarilyin pride as a racial and national force. The overarchinghorizon controlling his assessment is how pride affects thewell-being of people. Dyson argues that to take pride inones person, ones achievements, ones moral worth . . . isto affirm and embrace the character of God reflected in onesown soul. He shows how this kind of pride is necessary forAfrican Americans in their struggles for justice. He thenapplies R. Niebuhrs critique of pride to post-9/11 Americannationalism, arguing that national pride has turned Ameri-cans into terrorists to other nations. Throughout, he offersan insightful study of a complex topic and a timely analysisand commentary on contemporary American society. Dysonmight have inquired further into how religious faiths canhelp to hold these various sides of pride together. Nonethe-less, this is an accessible, insightful, and important bookthat no library should be without. It will be useful for a widereadership, including undergraduate courses in ethics orAfrican American studies.

    Don SchweitzerSt. Andrews College, Canada

    WHY PSYCHOLOGY NEEDS THEOLOGY: ARADICAL-REFOMORMATION PERSPECTIVE

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    Editedby Alvin Dueck and Cameron Lee. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerd-mans, 2005. Pp. xx

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    206. $24.00, ISBN 0-8028-2907-4.In this edited volume, Fuller Theological Seminarys

    Dueck and Lee offer nine essays that address the relation-ship between Christian theology and psychological theory.

  • Religious Studies Review

    VOLUME 33 NUMBER 1 JANUARY 2007

    32

    For over thirty years now, Fuller Theological Seminary hassponsored a lecture series whose intent is to integrate the-ology and psychology. N. Murphy, professor of Christianphilosophy at Fuller Theological Seminary, was the 2003lecturer, and the first three essays in this volume are derivedfrom her three lectures at the symposium. The latter are afurther extension of her work with G. Ellis in

    On the MoralNature of the Universe

    . The remaining six essays in the vol-ume respond to Murphys insightspart two of the book asextensions of her model and part three as alternatives to hermodel. One of Murphys main points is that all psychologicaltheories have their own implied theologies, and these theol-ogies, therefore, ought to be open to investigation and cri-tique. Indeed, psychology needs to draw on the resources oftheology and ethics if it is to address such questions as whatconditions make human beings flourish. To address thisquestion, Murphy turns to one strand of Christian thought:the Radical-Reformation tradition. Drawing particularlyfrom J. H. Yoder, S. Weil, and A. MacIntyre, Murphy wantsto emphasize self-renunciation, especially as reflected in thelove Jesus had for his enemies. In making her case for self-renunciation and noncoercion as reflected in the Radical-Reformation tradition, she cites contemporary psychologicalresearch on forgiveness and altruism as empirical evidence.This lively volume is for all who are interested in the rela-tionship between Christian theology and psychology. Thebook will likely yield more questions than answers, and oneis left wondering if an integration of theology and psychol-ogy ought to be a desired end at all or if it is even possible.

    Nathan Steven CarlinRice University

    PAUL TILLICH AND PSYCHOLOGY: HISTORICAND CONTEMPORARY EXPLORATIONS INTHEOLOGY, PSYCHOTHERAPY, AND ETHICS

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    ByTerry D. Cooper. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2006.Pp. vi

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    222. $30.00, ISBN 0-86554-993-1.Cooper is professor of psychology at St. Louis Commu-

    nity College at Meramec and Adjunct Professor of ReligiousStudies at Webster University. Cooper has been mentored byD. Browning, and this book is dedicated to Browning, whohelped Cooper connect theology and psychology. As the sub-title indicates, this book shows both the historic influenceand contemporary relevance of Tillichs thought for theol-ogy, psychotherapy, and ethics. Theological studentsinvested in psychology will find Coopers book commend-able because Cooper points out that Tillich, unlike manyother theologians, did not look askance toward psychologyindeed, Tillich contributed regularly to

    Pastoral Psychology

    ,perhaps the leading journal of the pastoral arts and sciencestoday. The three greatest strengths of this book include: 1)its engagement with Christian theology, especially the liter-ature of pastoral theology; 2) its historical treatment of theNew York Psychology Group; and 3) its treatment of Tillichscorpus. The basic point of the book is to show that Tillichsinsights are still relevant today (his insight, for example,

    that psychotherapy always has theological and ontologicalassumptions, whether stated or not). Cooper finds Tillichssearch for the universal dimensions of humanity to be arefreshing voice in contrast to the radical pluralism of con-temporary culture. But the book is not a simple celebrationof Tillichs thought. Cooper, following Browning, offers hisown criticisms of Tillich, such as the criticism that Tillichsconception of God as the Ground of Being does not match hisrich discussion of grace and acceptance. One criticism thatCooper does not mention, though, is that Tillichs theologyof sin centers around guilt and does not adequately addressshame. This book will make a great reading for seminariansand other graduate students interested in the theology ofculture, especially in conjunction with Cappss critique.

    Nathan Steven CarlinRice University

    GHOST HUNTERS: WILLIAM JAMES AND THESEARCH FOR SCIENTIFIC PROOF OF LIFE AFTERDEATH

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    By Deborah Blum. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.Pp. 371. $25.95, ISBN 1-5942-0090-4.

    The aim of

    Ghost Hunters

    is to reach a popular audienceregarding a largely unknown chapter in the life and careerof James, namely, his involvement with the Society for Psy-chical Research (SPR). This book is about the investigationof supernatural phenomena, carried out in a spirit of scien-tific inquiry by the SPR. The aim of James and his colleaguesat the SPR was to study ghost stories with an open mind.Nevertheless, they found their efforts opposed by nearlyeveryonethe established scientific community, who consid-ered them cranks, and religious leaders, who saw them asheretics. James and his fellow researchers staked their rep-utations and careers on a psychological quest, which even-tually destroyed some of the researchers who pursued it. Thestory reads like adventure journalism, with a rich cast ofcharacters. Blum teaches scientific journalism and obviouslyknows the journalistic rules of keeping the material simplefor the lay reader. Blum is scrupulous about drawing thereligious, empirical, and spiritual battle lines. Nonetheless,the book suffers from some serious weaknesses. Many ques-tions are left unanswered. Most damaging, it never reallydefines the aims of the SPR. Furthermore, Blum never raisesany of the larger issues. For instance, what is the largerconnection in the Victorian and Edwardian eras, in bothEngland and the United States, between religious senti-ments, rapid industrialization, and obsession with the here-after? Ultimately, the book sharpens but does not satisfy theappetite. Blum helps cement Jamess reputation as possiblythe greatest of American thinkers but provides scant insightinto his motivations and ideas.

    Philip S. MeckleyKansas Wesleyan University

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