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Prayer and Snake Oil

The writer and journalist Madeleine Bunting continues her series of Essays with a closer look at how we have paid attention at different points in history.

In the fourth in her series of Essays on attention, the writer and journalist Madeleine Bunting explores some key moments in the history of how we have paid attention, or failed to do so. The church, she finds, has perfected the use of ritual to focus our attention; and the habit of attention, as French mystic Simone Weil argued, can even be seen as the substance of prayer. But similar ways of attracting and holding attention have also been put to far more sinister use.

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