In this age of near-perpetual disaster, from the Coronavirus epidemic and mass incarceration to hurricanes and earthquakes, spiritual care has become an essential component of the disaster-response toolkit. In Experts in the Age of Anxiety, Joshua Moses chronicles the rise of disaster-related spiritual expertise in the years following the attacks of 9/11. What emerges are approaches to trauma that encompass everything from meditation and acupuncture to trauma therapy and restorative justice. In this way, the ascent of spiritual expertise in response to post-9/11 disasters represents an extension of historical tensions between secular health practice and proponents of religious and spiritual care.
The book also provides a lens through which to understand the historical dimensions of disaster-related trauma, its treatment, and the ways that therapeutic and spiritual practices imply politics. By studying the intersection of mental health and spirituality in the context of disaster, we gain essential insight into apocalyptic and dystopic beliefs that are prevalent today throughout the United States—and beyond. We learn not only about the role of particular forms of expertise in defining meaning but also the consequences this concept of meaning may have for how we imagine our relations to other humans and nonhumans, the climate crisis—and ultimately the kind of future we might imagine.
This variety of therapeutic and spiritual practices, now deployed in the face of disaster, will be tested as humanity faces growing threats from the climate crisis and other cascading disasters. But it is not at all clear whether the particular kinds of knowledge we have managed to patch together will provide the resources we require to instill the capacities to face the repercussions of future disasters.
"Through his deft ethnography, Joshua Moses is able to show that 9/11, now fading into collective memory, crystallized something we are all still living with. We are haunted by the possibility that we will wake up to a once familiar landscape made suddenly strange—like a Manhattan suddenly without its Twin Towers. For Moses, this prefigures the changes we will all face with rising sea levels, balmy winters, and the like. Anxious Experts is an ethnography of that anxiety, how it came to be, and how it continues to sit with us, as we face an uncertain future."—Eduardo Kohn, McGill University