Absence of Mind
Literary Studies

Series Information
The Terry Lectures Series

Absence of Mind

The Dispelling of Inwardness from the Modern Myth of the Self

  • Marilynne Robinson


“Robinson's arguments [are] so much more interesting, capacious, and informed than most. . . . Robinson makes a strong, unapologetic case, not for mystery but for self-respect.”—Susan Salter Reynolds, Los Angeles Times



"At a moment in cultural history dominated by the shallow, the superficial, the quick fix, Marilynne Robinson is a miraculous anomaly: a writer who thoughtfully, carefully, and tenaciously explores some of the deepest questions confronting the human species."—Merle Rubin, Los Angeles Times Book Review on Gilead

"There is much to admire, and even to agree with, in Robinson's humanist passion. Her defense of the insights to be gained from religion and literature is as convincing as her attacks on the facile generalizations of parascience."--Adam Kirsch, Boston Globe

"Pulitzer Prize-winner Robinson may be the only living novelist who has made a genuine contribution to philosophical reflection. . . . One of the most thought-stirring inquiries into fundamental questions that has appeared in many years."--John Gray, Globe & Mail

“[Robinson] is one of the best thinkers in American letters. Her new (nonfiction) work is a slashing attack on scientific fundamentalism, not on behalf of religion but of human consciousness and our traditional concept of mind.”--Maclean’s

‘The 2009 Orange Prize Winner considers science, religion, and consciousness, and defends the importance of individual reflection and the search for answers.’ — The Bookseller

"[Robinson] makes the case with exceptional elegance and authority--the authority not only of one of the unmistakably great novelists of the age but of a clear and logical mind that is wholly intolerant of intellectual cliché. . . . This book has a greater density (and sophistication) of argument than many three times its length; but it is one of the most significant contributions yet to the current quarrels about faith, science and rationality."—Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, Daily Telegraph

"Robinson is one of the greatest Christian thinkers alive today. She is also one of the world's best novelists. . . . Absence of Mind is a slim but compelling volume."—Luke Coppen, Catholic Herald

“Marilynne Robinson asks hard questions. She challenges readers with a severe, sophisticated and spellbinding style and a determination to change the conversation about contemporary American culture. . . . Absence of Mind is important not so much as a brief for religion but as a tenacious and often trenchant critique of modern Western thought.”—Glenn Altschuler, Minneapolis Star-Tribune


“What Robinson has over both the parascientific writers whose work she rejects and the religion writers with whom she finds common ground is a long career (though few books) as a fiction writer, where she has demonstrated—and in her way, provided evidence of—the very contemplative, subjective lives of the faithful she defends in her new book.”—Scott Korb, The Revealer


"Those who savor Robinson's clear prose will be gratified; her mind, in thought, is elegant."—Publishers Weekly

"These impassioned pages require and reward very close attention."—Michael Dirda, Washington Post

"[Robinson reveals] how deep a debt both science and religion owe to art. . . . It is a rare treat to have a novelist express herself so forcefully, and so eloquently, in another medium."—Ingrid Rowland, American Scholar

"[Not] an anti-scientific jeremiad. Quite the contrary, for Robinson admires all that genuine science continues to offer us. . . . Her wonderful defense of an expansive self in a diminishing age deserves a wide readership."—Thomas DePietro, Barnes & Noble Review

"The scope of Robinson's erudition is stunning, and she shares it with generosity and no dissembling."—Linda McCullough Moore, Books & Culture

"Marked by a luminous intelligence and a rather attractive intellectual severity. . . . One really must read it to appreciate how powerful a counterinsurgency it mounts against many of the peculiar superstitions of our age."—David B. Hart, Big Questions Online

"Robinson applies her astute intellect to . . . science, religion and consciousness. Crafted with the same care and insight as her award-winning novels, the book challenges postmodern atheists who crusade against religion under the banner of science."—Washington Times

"Following the inward-looking path of her award-winning fiction, Marilynne Robinson's Absence of Mind is a finely wrought treatise in favour of religious belief."—Chris Lehmann, The National

"This is a wonderful little book, full of wisdom, warmth and wit. . . . [Robinson] is able to apply her astute intellect, delicious sense of humour, incisive insight into human nature and down-to-earth philosophy of life."—Mark Patrick Hederman, Irish Times

"I'm enjoying arguing and agreeing with Marilynne Robinson's Absence of Mind."— Zadie Smith, The Observer

"Robinson's argument is prophetic, profound, eloquent, succinct, powerful and timely." — Karen Armstrong, The Guardian

"I have barely scratched the surface of this dense and yet endlessly entertaining little book. Marilynne Robinson is herself the best evidence of her own thesis--the exceptional mystery of the human mind." — Bryan Appleyard, Literary Review

"I enjoyed reading Absence of Mind. The reason: it is always a pleasure to keep company with a person who takes ideas seriously." — Siri Hustvedt, Financial Times

"It is worth admiring Robinson's bravery and intellectual independence, and noting the sheer force and capacity of language like hers to persuade." — Geordie Williamson, The Australian

"A book of dense philosophy from a brilliant novelist with a poet's ear. It is stunning. It places Robinson among the very brightest of Christian history's thinkers and writers. . . . I cannot praise it too highly."—Kurt Armstrong, Christian Week

“This deeply informed essay affirms mystery, imagination and wonder against the 19th-century remnants of positivism still delimiting the human in the name of a reduced and reductive science.”San Francisco Chronicle

"This work of philosophy by a distinguished novelist is one of the most thought-stirring inquiries into fundamental questions in many years."—John Gray, Globe and Mail

"A typically rigorous argument about the nature of modernity from one of the greatest thinkers and novelists of our time."—Bryan Appleyard, New Statesman ‘A Year In Books

"Readers interested in seriously thinking about science, culture, and religion, and their interrelationships, will find this book rewarding."—S. C. Pearson, CHOICE

"One of the best things about the literature of the New Atheists is that, for all the supercilious question-begging, it has provoked a number of highly literate and memorable responses. This is one of them."—Barton Swaim, The Weekly Standard

"Absense of Mind is a succinct and carefully reasoned challenge to those who would say that all our thoughts, beliefs, aspirations, and intimations of immortality are only a combination of wishful thinking and outdated primitive beliefs."—Dr. Jean McCurdy Meade, The Living Church

"Marilynne Robinson is one of those rare novelists whose work, though galvanized by a theological impulse, is adored by believers and atheists in equal measure. . . . We experience [her characters'] interiority almost as naturally as our own, and respond to it emotionally, intellectually, even spiritually. Robinson's latest collection, Absence of Mind, gets to the hear of that creative force, while reminding us what little heed she pays intellectual fashion."—Stefan Beck, The New Criterion

“The width of Robinson’s erudition is almost daunting, but she shares it with characteristic generosity….Persist and you’ll be rewarded.”—The Sunday Telegraph

"Marilynne Robinson, one of the greatest living American novelists, turns her word power towards those whose bogus science leaves us feeling that ‘our minds are not our own’. In Absence of Mind, her affirmation of ‘human exceptionalism’ presents humanity as ‘much more than an optimised ape’."—Christopher Jamison, The Times