Peter J. Adams Book Description



How to Talk About Spiritual Encounters

New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2020   (327 pages)     ISBN:  9783030452070     9783030452087


This book develops a new and innovative way of understanding how language is used when people describe their spiritual and mystical encounters. Early chapters provide overviews of the nature of spiritual encounters, how commonly they occur, and the role of language. The book then develops a unique way of understanding the dynamics of talking about spirituality, using original research to support this perspective. In particular, Peter J. Adams explores how this characteristically vague way of speaking can be viewed as an intentional and not an incidental aspect of such communications because certain types of vagueness have the capacity to engage the imaginative participation of receptive listeners. This expressive vagueness is achieved by embedding missing bits, or “gaps,” in the flow of what is described and these in turn provide sites for listeners to insert their own content. Later chapters focus on practical ways people (including helping professionals) can improve their skills in talking about their spiritual encounters. All content is situated in café conversations between four people each of whom is, in their own way, concerned with the challenges they face in converting the content of their encounters into words.

Where to Find

Palgrave Macmillan:   Publisher’s Link  
Amazon:   Paperback        Kindle   
Others:   Ebay         MightyApe


Richard Egan (Dunedin School of Medicine, University of Otago, New Zealand, 2020)

Peter Adams has written an excellent, accessible, interesting and evidence informed book on spiritual encounters – a topic that is not easy! While we have a growing number of books in the spirituality genre, few if any, have the academic depth of this one. Yet at the same time, Peter has written an entertaining narrative exploring, in quite some detail, spiritual encounters. He does it with a well-proven Socratic approach; Peter sets up the main character (Bernard, a retired medical doctor) in a café, were he meets five different characters, where they have wide-ranging conversations about spirituality. The beauty of this approach is it allows the author to work through ideas with various types of people and points of view as scepticism, religious, science, therapeutic and naive. Jarrod is one of the best, as he initially believes such experiences are “waffle” and “absolute drivel”, producing some good arguments on both sides.

The central theme suggests that spiritual encounters are more common than most people think; they are useful and add meaning to life; and while we live in a world that is mostly spirituality illiterate, when we try, we can articulate and share these experiences producing positive outcomes for all. Peter argues through realistic conversations that talking about spirituality is at odds with the dominant scientific language that demands precision, as opposed to the metaphorical, lyrical and abstract nature of spirituality discussions. Drawing on mystical, wisdom and religious traditions, as well as modern evidence, ultimately Peter argues that for our own wellbeing we need “space, permission and encouragement” (p. 65) to talk about spirituality…

This is a timely book in a post-religious world looking for ways to talk about spirituality and such encounters. It will appeal to academics with the book including two appendices, a large bibliography and thirty page of notes; but similarly attractive to all those willing to think about these things seriously, while being entertained. The linguistic analysis was a little too much for me at times, but it did give a real point of entry into a language that can be ‘mystifying’! Peter has written a book that will draw readers into the conversation, into “spiritual talk”, that is both everyday (“spiritually tuned-in while gardening”) and transcendent. Highly recommended!

David Tacey (La Trobe University, Australia, 2020)

Spirituality is a topic on many people’s minds at the moment but we find it difficult, awkward or embarrassing to discuss it. How to put in words what is often regarded as beyond expression? How to Talk About Spiritual Encounters explores this problem in an informal setting, using colloquial language. It is an ingenious work that should interest a wide range of readers, and many will find their own experiences reflected in these pages.