Idol Chatter

Is California’s tradition of spiritual experimentation a kind of faith in itself? In a new book, “The Visionary State: A Journey Through California’s Spiritual Landscape,” writer Erik Davis and photographer Michael Rauner explore California’s long history–make that pilgrimage–from promised land to breeding ground for alternative spiritual movements. Key to that history is California’s perfect storm of Catholic Mexicans from the South, Buddhists and other Eastern sects arriving from across the Pacific, and American Protestantism, all stranded with little organized religious authority in a desert frontier.

Davis and Rauner’s focus is not on cult leaders and self-appointed prophets, but on spiritual monuments: buildings and other locations crucial to “the whole gamut of California weirdness,” in Davis’s words. In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle’s “Finding My Religion” columnist David Ian Miller, Davis asks whether the spiritual “supermarket” of California–this “sort of restless experientialism–is a tradition? What if it is a kind of peculiarly modern sort of anti-tradition tradition?”

The next question, of course, is whether California is not a model for the rest of the states, the way it has been for everything from supply-side politicians to organic eating.

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