I re-read this after having recently finished Randall Sullivan's "The Miracle Detective," a more popularized and personal investigation into the visions at Medjugorge, written mostly from his 1995 stay. Zimdars-Swartz, a scholar of medieval popular religion, offers a more academically focused, detached, survey of "approved" apparitions, mainly LaSalette, Lourdes, Fatima, and those still debated, such as Garabandal and Medjugorge. She also, despite her lack of biased commentary, manages to relate delightfully deadpan the language of Mary Ann Van Hoof, demoted seer of Necedah, Wisconsin, and her Cold War rhetoric purported to have been dictated by the Mother of God in decidedly McCarthy-esque turns of phrase! This study moves efficiently, focusing first on the apparitions as religious experience and then as religious knowledge. She's intrigued by the phenomenological aspects, that is, how the visionaries receive the messages, and then how these are preserved, transcribed, disseminated, and debated. She also tries to provide a framework for placing visions into a pattern that can be discerned, radiating out from the individual's testimony to that involving others around the seer, who themselves seek to be drawn into the vision at one remove. Always, she is very careful in her phrasing, and stays apart from the unverifiable claims surrounding visions--focusing on what the reports say about the similarities that visions spark as they radiate out from the seer to the wider Church is her primary concern. This is a rare book by a professor that left me wishing it was much longer! The four rather than five stars do not show any failings in this book, only that the topic deserved deeper study; how later visions still are being argued over needed more treatment here. Also, why the Belgian 1933/4 visions that have been approved have received hardly any attention due to the more personal nature of the revelations granted their seers was a matter skimmed over that needed more elucidation, so as to show how approval was given visions that seemed to depart from the usual array of secrets and chastisements common to the more apocalyptic 20c visions better known. I felt that just as Zimdars-Swartz, in her later chapters, was delving into the whole anthropological and psychological underpinnings of visions, that the book came to a succinct conclusion. There's much material here, however, to aid others intrigued to follow her sources into more recondite areas surrounding Marian visions, and this book is a standard reference for any reader wishing to go beyond the "first-hand" accounts and inspirational tracts into an objective investigation. I warn readers that no actual religious encounter by a visionary is assumed to have occured by Zimdars-Swartz and like-minded scholars she cites; her concern is not proving or disproving the visions themselves but in building a conceptual schema that can be applied to particular claims of Marian manifestations.
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