Returning to Reality: Thomas Merton’s Wisdom for a Technological Age

By Phillip M. Thompson

An insightful critique of the often unthinking technophilia that pervades our culture, as viewed through the lens of the spiritual writings of Thomas Merton.

ISBN: 9780718892951


We are becoming a society of superficial and distracted consumers of instant messages and images, a state of being which does not aid engagement in those religious and other deep commitments that require a sustained level of reflection and contemplation.

In his thought-provoking work, Phillip M. Thompson analyses the shadow elements of technology – nuclear armaments, the bio-engineering of humans, and the distancing of humanity from the natural world – through the fascinating insights of the spiritual writer and monk Thomas Merton (1915-1968). Merton’s work offers both an important critique of, and healing resource for, contemporary, technology-saturated culture through constructive recommendations which include a balanced approach to work, the careful management of technology, and an appreciation of the recuperative aspects of nature.

While understanding the positive influences of technology, Merton urges us not be naively optimistic about its benefits, but to consider the threat it poses to a life of humanity and spiritual connection. A consideration of the profound issues discussed in this book will interest any reader concerned with the intersection between spirituality and technology, and how to maintain spiritual integrity in a technological world.

Additional information

Dimensions 229 × 153 mm
Pages 132

Trade Information LPOD

About the Author

Phillip M. Thompson is the Executive Director of the Aquinas Center of Theology at Emory University. He has a PhD in the History of Culture from the University of Chicago. His previous book is Between Science and Religion: The Engagement of Catholic Intellectuals with Science and Technology in the Twentieth Century.


List of Abbreviations

1. A Contemplative Critique
2. Avoiding the Nuclear Apocalypse
3. Reforming the Information Age
4. Choosing to be Human or Transhuman
5. Some Balm for Gilead

Conclusion: From the Watchtower



Endorsements and Reviews

Thompson’s long engagement with the theological significance of technology bears fruit once again with this careful analysis of the mature writings of Thomas Merton, who saw with his keen, contemplative eye the dangers of a technology that masters human dignity and freedom. This work should be of intense interest to all readers who are interested in the human condition as they engage the work of Merton, one of the great spiritual masters of our time.
Lawrence S. Cunningham, John A. O’Brien Professor of Theology (Emeritus), University of Notre Dame

… a thought-provoking and engaging critique of our contemporary technology-saturated culture, based on the insights of the monk Thomas Merton. … This book is an interesting contribution to our contemporary state of technological materialism and deserves a wide readership.
Fiona Gardner, in Modern Believing, Vol 54.3

What Thompson provides is a contemplative way of reframing the questions posed by technology based on the rehumanization of society. It will be of interest to those interested in the place of technology in society and also to Merton scholars interested in a fresh angle in looking at him.
Richard A. Davis, in The Expository Times, Vol 126, Issue 5

Professor Phillip M. Thompson proposes a critique of technique, targeting three topics: the risks of a nuclear war, the excessive amount of information, and overall the obsessive omnipresence of technology in our everyday life, from work to leisure, with direct consequences for our ways of thinking.
Yves Laberge, in Theological Book Review, Vol 26, No 1

Thompson’s familiarity with and deep understanding of Merton’s work enables him to convey Merton’s insight and wisdom through a deft and intelligence use of his lucid and elegant prose. And this prose resonates with the reader, for even those unfamiliar with Merton become rapidly aware that this was a contemplative who lived apart from the world and yet was able to engage fully with it. … There is much more , of wisdom, warning and consolation, to be found in this rich and necessary book, and I would urge all of you who are reading this to take it up, to absorb its message and to give it out to the world.
The Christian Parapsychologist, Vol 1, No 11

Philip M. Thompson in Returning to Reality: Thomas Merton’s Wisdom for a Technological Age brings together Merton’s scattered reflections on technology in ways that may surprise readers familiar with Merton’s writings and intrigue a new generation unfamiliar with his extensive literary corpus.
James G.R. Cronin, at