Cover image for Boredom and the religious imagination
Boredom and the religious imagination
Raposa, Michael L.
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Publication Information:
Charlottesville : University Press of Virginia, 1999.
Physical Description:
xiii, 199 pages ; 22 cm.

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BL625.92 .R36 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Boredom matters, writes Michael Raposa, because it represents a threat to spiritual life. Boredom can undermine prayer and meditation and signal the failure of religious imagination. If you engage it seriously, however, it can also be the starting point for philosophical reflection and spiritual insight. It can serve as a prelude to the discovery or rebirth of religious meaning.

Boredom, then, is a paradox, surprisingly complex and ambiguous. Being bored with someone or something can represent a trivial matter--being bored with one's clothes or a magazine article--or a matter of significant consequence--being bored with one's marriage or the music one loves to play. Boredom can signify a moral failure or the presence of virtue. Appreciating the value of boredom does not require that one welcome, much less celebrate, its occurrence. Raposa simply invites us to pay attention to boredom's many possible lessons.

The principal methods Raposa employs are philosophical. Drawing on Peirce's idea that all experience is interpreted experience, Raposa sees boredom as a failure of interpretation, an inability to read signs in life as religiously meaningful. The Gospel of Mark depicts a prayerful and passionate Jesus juxtaposed with his drowsy disciples in Gethsemane. Their failure to discern what is happening in their midst, Raposa suggests, is a powerful example of what medieval Christian theologians called acedia, their term for boredom with the rituals of spiritual devotion. But these descriptions of acedia bear a striking resemblance to mystical accounts of the "dark night," a terrifying but necessary stage in the mystic's spiritual journey.

Drawing on this notion and others from eastern and western religious traditions, Raposa asks us to see boredom playing an ambivalent role in spiritual life, often serving as a metaphorical midwife for the birth of religious knowledge. His subject, he admits, seems tongue-in-cheek at first, but a stunning depth is quickly revealed. His lucid, witty, and intelligent discussion offers a path to the kind of meaning that is a fundamental desideratum in human experience.

Author Notes

Michael L. Raposa is Professor of Religion at Lehigh University

Reviews 2

Library Journal Review

Bored? Distracted? Feeling empty? Readers will find a discussion here that deals with this common experience. Raposa's (religious studies, Lehigh Univ.) writing is motivated by the observation that in certain instances boredom matters. He offers the reflections of a philosopher, at midlife, who has confronted boredom and who wants to think aloud about these encounters. Drawing upon a diverse selection of Christian and Western material, from Aquinas's reflection on spiritual sluggishness (acedia), through Dante's "dark wood," to William James's consideration of the "sick soul"Äas well as a variety of insights from Jewish, Hindu, and Buddhist traditionsÄhe supplies a conceptual map to highlight boredom as religiously significant. He also considers the value of various rituals and meditative practices in empowering the imagination. While some of the discussion is heavy philosophically, most readers will find the content rewarding enough to make the effort worth it; they might even find Raposa's strategies for alleviating or avoiding boredom to be useful. Recommended for public libraries.ÄLeroy Hommerding, Citrus Cty. Lib. Sys., Inverness, FL (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Raposa (Lehigh Univ. and author of Peirce's Philosophy of Religion, CH Apr'90) first developed an interest in boredom and religious imagination at Sacred Heart University; he nurtured it at Lehigh and the University of Virginia and published an essay in The Journal of the American Academy of Religion in 1985. That essay is prolegomena for this book in the "Studies in Religion and Culture" series. Raposa covers the literature of a wide range of related terms: "acedia," "ennui," "apatheia," "detachment," "indifference," William James' "anhedonia," Kierkegaard's "sickness unto death," Heidegger's "attunement," Buddhist "detachment," Rahner's "pure openness and receptivity," and Peirce's "musement," all of which have disinterest rather than boredom in common. For Raposa, boredom is a semiotic problem--the difficulty of bored persons to read signs in life and interpret information as meaningful or interesting. Raposa is heavily indebted to Peirce. His analysis covers distraction, ritual, habit, meditation, imagination, and waiting in the semiotic process. This is not a straightforward phenomenology of boredom, imagination, and religious meaning. Raposa's abrupt shifts in thought and multivalent use of terms are highly suggestive but often hard to follow. Recommended for the topic's intrinsic interest and Raposa's unique semiotic treatment. Upper-division undergraduates and above. J. H. Ware; Austin College

Table of Contents

Prefacep. ix
Introductionp. 1
1 Portraying Acediap. 11
2 Killing Time: Strategies of Diversionp. 41
3 Nothing Matters: The Logic of Indifferencep. 72
4 Ritual, Redundancy, and the Religious Imaginationp. 105
5 Boredom, Semiosis, and Spiritual Exercisesp. 136
Postlude: On Waitingp. 167
Notesp. 175
Indexp. 197