Review: Fits, Trances, and Visions

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Fits, Trances, and Visions: Experiencing Religion and Explaining Experience from Wesley to James, by Ann Taves. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999.

Ann Taves, author of Fits, Trances, and Visions, holds a Ph.D. in History of Christianity and American Religion from the University of Chicago. In her book she discusses the religious experiences of fits, trances, visions, etc. in the church from the Enlightenment to the beginning of the twentieth century. Taves discusses these religious experiences using psychology, religion and popular public opinion of the time.

Fits, Trances, and Visions examines the differing views that the church and the scientific community had on the religious experiences that were rising out of the religious revivals of the Enlightenment and later periods. Examples outlining biblical support and opposition as well as scientific support and opposition for these extraordinary experiences are given to the reader for a broad understanding of why some church denominations supported these out-of-body experiences and why some did not.

One example of a conflict that the church was going through, and a major subject of Taves’ book, is enthusiasm versus formalism Many religious leaders of this time were caught in the middle of a debate as to the validity of these religious experiences; leaders included Chauncy, Edwards, and Hume (p. 46). Enthusiasm and formalism were the two extremes of thought that separated the ones who firmly believed in the reality of these supernatural experiences and those who did not. A few specific examples of these experiences would include speaking in tongues, having dreams, seeing visions, and hearing audible voices (p. 18). Some opponents to these religious experiences attributed these manifestations as being the result of scare tactics by preachers, a general excitement of congregations, and even nervous system diseases (p. 121).

Ann Taves brings together the religious views on these experiences as well as the psychological explanations for these experiences in a way that gives the reader an understanding of the cultural view of these experiences and the influence that both science and the church had on their acceptance or disapproval. This work can be used today as a guide to modern questions about religious views of supernatural experiences, their histories, and how they came to be accepted among some religious groups and rejected by others.

Reviewed by Virginia Dyer, Evangel University student

Paperback, 449 pages. $34.95 list price. Order from amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com

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Filed under Reviews, Spirituality

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