I have recently returned from giving the Wold Lecture at Union College in Schenectady, New York. The broad theme was scientific perspectives on religious conflict and the specific focus was religious conflict due to ideological differences between liberals and conservatives. This was, in part, a report on the research I am pursuing in the Spectrums Project. My hosts were Wold Professor of Religious Studies Peter Bedford and Provost Therese McCarty. The lecture took place in the astonishing Nott Memorial (built in stages from 1858 through 1875 to 1904, and beautifully restored in the 1990s). The hospitality was wonderful, the students were fascinating, and the institutional environment struck me as the perfect liberal arts college setting.
I am heading to McGill University in Montreal for a symposium on the future of philosophy of religion. The April 25, 2013 event is organized by Jim Kanaris, a McGill philosopher of religion particularly interested in how the field is responding to and interacting with religious studies.
There have been quite a few conference events on the future of philosophy of religion in recent years. I suspect that this is a sign of a discipline having trouble finding its way. There are three reasons for the identity confusion that provokes pondering the future.
The Society for Philosophy of Religion, USA is meeting in Savannah, Georgia in February 2012. One of the sessions at that meeting will be a panel on my book, Religious Philosophy as Multidisciplinary Comparative Inquiry: Envisioning a Future for the Philosophy of Religion. Panel members are Richard Amesbury (Claremont School of Theology), Timothy Knepper (Drake University), and Kevin Schilbrack (Western Carolina University), with me responding.
The point of Religious Philosophy as Multidisciplinary Comparative Inquiry is to describe philosophy of religion not as a discipline but as a suite of related disciplinary inquiries that work both across cultures and across academic disciplines—thus, multidisciplinary, comparative inquiry. This vision of the philosophy of religion places it squarely in the secular academy rather than as an explicit adjunct or a surreptitious affiliate of any religious institution or movement. Religious philosophy, so conceived, has a future, both conceptually and institutionally, but it is one that needs to be articulated and defended, as well as contrasted with more common but intellectually less reputable forms of philosophy of religion that effectively promote particular institutionally borne religious ideologies without due concern for their rational standing in relation to the wider words of philosophy and religious studies.
Prof. LeRon Shults has invited me to travel to the University of Agder in Kristiansand, Norway, for several events in September. There will be a discussion seminar on my paper “Religion and Secularism” and an open class discussion on theology of religion focusing on chapter 7 of Religion Philosophy as Multidisciplinary Comparative Inquiry. In between, there is scheduled a public lecture entitled “What would Luther do? Religious extremism and violence in the Reformation and today.” Sadly, this is a timely topic for a country Lutheran in its roots now grappling with the horrific extremist Christian violence that unfolded there only a few short weeks ago.
The University of Agder resulted from the 1994 merger of six public regional colleges, becoming a fully accredited university in 2007. The university’s activities are gradually focusing onto two locations: the campus at Kristiansand and the new campus in Grimstad. Prof. Shults is located primarily in the Department of Religion, Philosophy and History, which is part of the Faculty of Humanities and Education on the Kristiansand campus.
Norway is geographically stunning, not least because of the vast fjords on its west and north coasts–the “crinkly edges” as the award-winning planet designer Slartibartfast described them in Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Trusting Slartibartfast in all things geographical, I intend to see one or two of the fjords, both from the water on a boat and from above as a hiker.
The first International Congress on Ecstatic Naturalism was held at Drew University on April 1-2, 2011. Organized by Robert Corrington (pictured at right), this inaugural edition of what will hopefully be an annual event offered an opportunity to celebrate Corrington and his influential ecstatic naturalist writings.
The highlight of the conference was an evening lecture by Corrington, in which he read the latest version of his unfolding categorial scheme. In dramatic fashion that called to mind Wittgensteinian’s Tractatus Logico Philosophicus, the presentation took the form of reading numbered, nested propositions, moving through the various elements of his system. There was no introduction and no conclusion, just the scheme itself. A beautifully crafted dramatic event, it was a fitting celebration of Corrington’s systematic philosophical imagination.
The evening lecture by Corrington was preceded by Robert Neville’s insightful introduction to Corrington’s life and thought. The preceding afternoon and the morning after the central evening events involved the presentation of a dozen papers, mostly by students and colleagues of Corrington. This display indirectly demonstrated the reach of Corrington’s influence.
An excellent micro-account of ecstatic naturalism is furnished on the web site for the congress. A key passage from that site furnishes a compact definition.
An ecstatic naturalism is a perspective that seeks to move toward an aesthetic phenomenology of nature’s “sacred folds”—special centers of numinous meaning and power that may be found throughout nature, where “nature” may be understood to mean an encompassing reality that has no other, there is no referent “for” nature nor any outside “to” nature. Nature is all that there is: nature is whatever is, in whatever way. From nature’s sacred folds emerges a fierce self-othering, nature naturing, where “it” moves ecstatically ejecting semiotically dense momenta. Nature naturing is the inexhaustible well of nature’s atemporal creating underconscious, “it” is the not-yet-in-time mode of preordinal expression. This preordinal expression manifests itself as created nature, a plane of immanence composed of innumerable orders, or nature natured. The plane of nature natured is not without access to its depth dimension however, and the creativity of the depth dimension does not necessarily evidence a telic plan, either. Nature naturing is not the unified will or intelligence of a supreme Being, and “it” is not the sacred, for there is no “whatness” to nature naturing, but only “its” “how.” Unlike other theological perspectives friendly to the tradition of naturalism (process thought, for example) an ecstatic naturalism denies that nature naturing molds nature natured simply into pleasing shapes. Melancholy, pain, and anguish are just as much to be accounted for in the aesthetic phenomenology that an ecstatic naturalism employs. For ecstatic naturalism, naturing naturing is “beyond good and evil” and “sustains the just and the unjust, beautiful and the demonic, the fragmented and the harmonious, the honorific and the detestable, the living and the dead (via effects) and the realms of the possible and the actual.”
From the ecstatic naturalist standpoint, as noted, the distinction between nature naturing and nature natured colors and specifies almost all aspects of, and possibilities for, human life. It indicates, among other things, that the unconscious is far more important, both religiously and philosophically, than has usually been acknowledged. While the conscious represents only one set of aspects of our relation with nature natured, the unconscious is our direct connection both to wider aspects of nature natured, and in certain respects, to the potencies that emerge from nature naturing. The conscious life is much more precarious than traditional monotheisms would allow, but also more magical than traditional naturalisms could recognize.
For fifteen years, Dr. Zhongxin Wang (pictured with me at right) has been running the Chinese Christian Scholars Association in North America (CCSANA), bringing professors from Chinese universities to the USA for conferences and vice versa. I have had the privilege of going on a CCSANA- sponsored lecture tour through China in 2004-2005 and I participate in the local conferences in Boston whenever I can.
This year, on Friday July 9, 2010, I will present a lecture to the most recent group of visiting Chinese scholars on the flourishing of the scientific study of religion. Dr. Wang tells me that this is a topic of great interest to many Chinese academics and researchers and I can certainly understand that.
This lecture will give the great joy of reuniting with Prof. Liu Xiaoting from Beijing Normal University, with whom I spent many wonderful days in China. I speak no Chinese and he speaks no English but we seem to understand one another just fine. An energetic, witty, and boisterous man, Dr. Liu is respected for his formidable intelligence and his determination to speak the truth as he understands it.
Dr. Wang has worked tirelessly to build scholarly and ecclesial bridges between China and the United States. CCSANA exists solely because of his energy and imagination and fund-raising skill. The lecture tour in China had a profound effect on me and I believe this is true of everyone involved in CCSANA activities.
The fifth “Wisdom of the Ages” conference is to be held on Friday July 23, 2010 at the Holiday Inn in Gaithersburg, Maryland. The traditional theme of Bowen Theory in these conferences is being focused on this occasion on my Religious and Spiritual Experiences, to appear with Cambridge University Press late in 2010. My two keynote lectures during the day are entitled “The Description and Range of Religious and Spiritual Experiences” and “Religious and Spiritual Experiences in the Future.”
The respondents to the lectures are three distinguished thinkers and authors.
Daniel Papero, Ph.D., LCSW, is senior faculty at The Bowen Center for the Study of the Family where Dr. Bowen invited him to serve in 1982. He has written numerous articles and book chapters on various aspects of family systems theory and family psychotherapy and, in 1990, published a basic introduction to family systems, Bowen Family Systems Theory. Dr. Papero is a well known national and international teacher presenting to various professional groups on science and neuroscience as they relate to family systems theory and the functioning of families and society. Dr. Papero maintains his consulting practice in Washington, D.C.
John F. Haught, Ph.D. is Landegger Distinguished Professor of Theology at Georgetown University. His area of specialization is systematic theology, with a particular interest in issues pertaining to science, cosmology, ecology, and religion. He is author of numerous books including God After Darwin: A Theology of Evolution; Science and Religion: From Conflict to Conversation, and Deeper Than Darwin: The Prospect for Religion in the Age of Evolution. He established the Georgetown Center for the Study of Science and Religion. His most recent book is God and the New Atheism.
Priscilla J. Friesen, LCSW, has been associated with the Bowen Center since l978. Presently Ms. Friesen is assisting the Bowen Center, Bowen family, and the National Library of Medicine to make the Bowen Archives available to the world. Ms. Friesen’s professional and personal interest has been in the brain, physiology, and relationships. In the fall of 2005, she founded The Learning Space with Regina Carrick and Glennon Gordon. Guided by the framework of Bowen theory, The Learning Space has interwoven self-regulation methodologies, particularly neurofeedback (brainwave training) into its work with individuals, couples, and families. It has also developed programs for professionals and the broader community.
To find out more about the conference or to register for it, contact Joseph Carolin.