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310 LETTERS IN CANADA 1998 human dignity. Beiner regards these radical philosophers as having greatly enriched our intellectual world; but they should not be valued for the influence which they have had in social and cultural life. I do not understand this point. Marx and Nietzsche must be read by way of the impact and effects which they have had in history. Beiner may not be able to return 'spirit' and moral commitment to contemporary philosophy, if he makes a distinction (as he appears to do) between spirited philosophizing takmg place in a secluded private domain, and dry, responsible theorizing geared towards the actions of citizens. Nevertheless, the author does draw attention to the opaqueness of the relation between theory and practice in our day. And given that this book is very readable and erudite, it definitely helps us perceive the problem more clearly. (DIETER MISGELO) William Closson James. Locations of the Sacred: Essays on Religion, Literature, and Canadian Culture Wilfrid Laurier University Press. xviii, 270 . $39.95 This collection of essays is an important contribution to the small but growing body of work on religion and literature in Canada. William Closson James interprets religion very broadly as the sacred, numinous, or transcendent, 'liberating it from the binding and restrictive codes of doctrine.' And he extends his analysis beyond the literary texts to the experience of nature as sacred and the importance of transcendence in our secular culture. His critical approach is interdisciplinary, humanistic, evaluative, and narrative - a kind of 'principled eclecticism.' The first half of the book grounds the term f sacred' theoretically and 'relocates' it outside of traditional Christian metaphysics, in literary examples of 'secular transcendence' and narrative experiences of nature as numinous. In chapter 1, James contests the dominant theory of 'the Protestant voice' in Canadian fiction (in traditional analyses of, for example, Davies, MacLennan, and Laurence), and in chapter 2 relocates the sacred in a 'this-worldly transcendence' exemplified in ten novelists from Callaghan to Clark Blaise. The next three chapters revision a 'natural theology' in Canadian literature, demonstrate the lintrinsic sacrality of nature' through the questnarrative of an archetypal canoe trip, and explore the Belcher Islands Massacre as an Inuit attempt to relocate the sacred as a bridge between indigenous and Christian religions. The second half of the book delineates the locations of the sacred in a number of modem English-Canadian novels. Close readings of The Second Scroll, The Watch That Ends the Night, and Such Is My Beloved illustrate their struggles with orthodox theologies and their relocation of spirituality in personal experiences of transcendence. James compares Surfacing and Bear HUMANITIES 311 as initiation narratives that .. explore the sacrality of nature through a legitimate, because limited, appropriation ofNative religious symbols.Tom York's spiritual biography, And Sleep in the Woods, exemplifies the quest paradigm, which is parodically revisioned and feminized in Aritha Van Herk's No Fixed Address. Finally, a lengthy chapter onJoy Kagawa's fiction demonstrates the sacred syncretism that redeems the sufferings ofJapanese Canadians. James concludes that, despite the exclusive demands that Western religious traditions have made on our society, 'religious dimorphism' is the characteristic practice of most Canadians locating the sacred in nature and culture. This eclectic and compartmentalized spirituality - personat individual, and 'cobbled together from various sources' - is the present and the future of religious experience in Canada. James honestly provides, and only partially rebuts, the inevitable criticisms ofsuch a volurne. He notes that the theologian-critic David Jasper castigates such humanistic attempts to redefine the absolutes of 'the entire theological enterprise' in vague terms like 'otherness' and 'alterity' as 'religion (and literature) without commitment.' And in james's book, virtually everything in human experience of culture and nature can now qualify as religion, not just the numinous and transcendent but also the negative and transitory. James also anticipates (and only partly refutes) the reader's scepticism about the mythologizing of canoe trips as 'a frivolous and pointless exercise,' and about the inevitable Eurocentrism of even his sensitive analysis of the Belcher Islands Massacre. He strenuously attempts to provide a coherent argument that links these disparate essays (more than half of which were previously published during the last eighteen years...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 310-311
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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