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European Base Camp 2022

Self in Italy, summer 2021

I want your advice on something. Good news: I just signed a deal for my next book. It will be with Sentinel, again (yay!), but this time, it will not be a political or culture-war topic. It will be religious and spiritual. The book does not have a title yet, but here’s what it will be about.

The book will be about how we in the West lost our sense of “enchantment” — that is, the sense that life is holy, and that God is everywhere present — and how we can get it back. The “how we lost it” part is going to be relatively short. This is a topic that has been well covered in the literature over the years, but it is necessary to explain to lay readers what happened and how it happened. Of course I will write about Charles Taylor, but also the “W.E.I.R.D.” theory, and especially Dr. Iain McGilchrist’s work about the brain.

However, most of the book will be focused on “how to get it back.” There will be a technical part, in which I explore the work of the Stanford anthropologist T.M. Luhrmann, who has written about this from a scientific point of view. Mostly, though, I will tell stories. I will travel to holy places where miracles have taken place, and where people pray intensely. My plan is to go to Jerusalem for Orthodox Holy Week next year, and to be present in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre when the Holy Fire appears. I also intend to spend some time on Mount Athos, praying with an interviewing monks. With any luck, I will also get to St. Katherine’s monastery on Sinai.

I am now going to start making a list of places I need to visit, and I need your help. I don’t want this to be religious tourism. I am really interested in pilgrimage sites and places of miracle, in “thin places” where the numinous can be felt. It should go without saying that I am focusing exclusively on Christian religion and spirituality. As of now, I am planning to go to Lourdes, to Rocamadour, and to Mont Saint Michel in France. Also, of course, Chartres. In Ireland, I want to visit and interview Paul Kingsnorth, and if possible, go to Skellig Michael. I am also thinking of going to the new Orthodox monastery in the Hebrides.

I am thinking about walking the Camino de Santiago, or at least part of it. I have been to Fatima before, so probably not there. If I can convince the Archbishop of Turin to let me see the Shroud, then I will go there (the Shroud of Turin is going to be a big part of this project). But where else should I go, given that I have only limited time? What else should I see? I am wide open. Please advise.

This book is for at least (but not exclusively) three kinds of people:

  1. Lukewarm Christians who need to be reminded that we live in a world suffused by the spirit of God, and by spirit, period;
  2. People like François, the protagonist in Houellebecq’s Soumission, who makes a pilgrimage to Rocamadour, begins to experience something numinous … then out of fear, convinces himself that it’s not real; I want to speak to people like him, and convince them not to dismiss these promptings of the spirit; and
  3. Seekers like I was at 17, on the threshold of the Chartres cathedral; I thought I had Christianity all figured out, and that it was moralistic, middle-class psychology, nothing more. Then I walked into that cathedral, and was overwhelmed by awe. I did not leave a Christian, but I did leave on a search, one that eventually led to my conversion. I want the kind of young person that I once was to read this book and at least go on a search.

I will also interview people who have had numinous encounters with God, in the form of inexplicable (by natural means) miracles, visions, and visitations. There will also be a chapter on the demonic, because that too is real, and testifies to the primacy of the spiritual.

The book’s plan is in its early stages, so I welcome advice. And I need advice on something else, too.

I can see that I will need to rent a flat somewhere in Europe to use as a base for traveling next year. I expect to be in Budapest the first part of 2022 for a few months, doing the heavy lifting on the theoretical side of the book (the Taylor, McGilchrist, Luhrmann, Henrichs, et al.) while it is too cold to travel widely. Plus, I want to write about the election for TAC. After the end of April, though, where should I go? Where should I spend my summer as a base camp from which to travel to holy places in Europe? Also, I want to go to the Orthodox world too, beyond Athos. I expect to visit Romania, at least, but would like to go to Russia, though that might be difficult. My base will need to be in western Europe.

It needs to have good air and rail links. And it needs to have an Orthodox church.

The most reasonable choice seems to me to be Paris. It also happens to be my favorite city, as you know. But it is very expensive. Sentinel was quite generous with me on this project, thanks to the great sales of Live Not By Lies, and I could afford Paris for a few months if necessary. But I am wondering if there is a better choice? I would like somewhere quieter — for example, San Benedetto del Tronto, where my dear friend Marco Sermarini and the Tipi Loschi live — but that would mean it would be harder to get to trains and planes. Still, it is hard to beat Paris. Maybe Madrid or Barcelona? Rome is too far south, alas. Vienna? Munich? You tell me.

What do you think? Do you have advice — advice both on where to set up base camp, and where I should go for my research? Please say so in the comments, or write me at rod — at — amconmag — dot — com. 

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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