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About Robert H. Abzug
Robert H. Abzug has taught at the University of Texas at Austin since 1978, and is currently Audre and Bernard Rapoport Regents Chair of Jewish Studies and Professor of History and American Studies. He is the founding Director of the University's Schusterman Center for Jewish Studies (2007-). He also held the Eric Voegelin Visiting Professorship at the University of Munich in 1990-91.
All of Abzug's work centers on the evolution of moral and ethical sensibilities in American society. Two of his books deal with religion and pre-Civil War reform, two others on America and the Holocaust, and two address the intertwined histories of American spiritual life and psychology: A biography of the psychologist Rollo May to be published by Oxford University Press and a recently published abridged edition of William James's The Varieties of Religious Experience for Bedford/St. Martin's.
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Robert Abzug's definitive biography traces May's epic life from humble origins in the Protestant heartland of the Midwest to his longtime practice in New York City and his participation in the therapeutic culture of California. May's books--Love and Will, Man's Search for Himself, The Courage to Create, and others--as well as his championing of non-medical therapeutic practice and introduction of Existential psychotherapy to America marked important contributions to the profession. Most of all, May's compelling prose reached millions of readers from all walks of life, finding their place, as Noah Adams noted in his NPR eulogy, "on a hippy's bookshelf." And May was one of the founders of the humanistic psychology movement that has shaped the very vocabulary with which many Americans describe their emotional and spiritual lives.
Based on full and uncensored access to May's papers and original oral interviews, Psyche and Soul in America reveals his turbulent inner life, his religious crises, and their influence on his contribution to the world of psychotherapy and the culture beyond. It adds new and intimate dimensions to an important aspect of America's romance with therapy, as the site for the exploration of spiritual strivings and moral dilemmas unmet for many by traditional religion.
Cosmos Crumbling brilliantly reassesses the religious roots of these antebellum reform movements through a series of penetrating profiles of key men and women who sought to remake their worlds in sacred terms. Filled with vivid anecdotes and penetrating analysis, the book presents a genealogy of reform cosmology that begins with the American Revolution and ends with "the woman question," the issue that drove a wedge between traditional evangelical reformers and the more radical reformers who questioned the very foundations of the conventional Christian cosmos. Here is the story of Declaration of Independence signer Benjamin Rush, and his lifelong odyssey to bring together his unorthodox Christian ideals and his revolutionary republicanism. Other portraits highlight the guiding role of religion in the careers of the tireless abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, the evangelical minister Lyman Beecher, his daughter, influential educational reformer Catharine Beecher, and of Angelina and Sarah Grimké, and Lydia Maria Child, fearless women who made enormous strides in reimagining the spiritual and moral power of women and their place in society. There is also an intriguing chapter on leaders of the body reforms, including phrenologist Orson Squire Fowler, who began his career reading the heads of his fellow students at Amherst College for small change, and William Andrus Alcott, who advocated a bland vegetarian diet, cold water bathing, and a profusion of daily rituals to guide his followers through their every waking moment.
Arguing that we cannot understand American reform movements unless we understand the sacred significance reformers bestowed on the worldly arenas of politics, society, and the economy, Abzug presents these men and women in their own words, placing their cherished ideals and their often heated squabbles within the context of their millennial and sometimes apocalyptic sense of America's role in the cosmic drama. Tracing the lasting impact of what began as a peculiarly Protestant, largely New England, style of social action on the uniquely American traditions of activism that flourish today, Cosmos Crumbling is a signal contribution to our understanding of the myriad ways in which the quest for enlightenment and salvation continues to shape American politics.