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I’ve been mostly just lurking around Ricochet lately, a consequence of traveling. Two weeks ago travel and allergens wore me out enough to allow for (probably) a flu, which was followed by the usual sinus infection, which was followed by the usual prednisone and antibiotics. But I felt pretty good about the flu because I felt I had something to show for being completely exhausted: My article “William James and Allama Iqbal on Empirical Faith” was accepted for publication around the time the headache started, with the nicest words I’ve ever received from a blind reviewer. As of this morning, the article is now up at the Heythrop Journal website.
My recommended one-sentence takeaway is: Don’t trust the popular theory that empiricism and religion are never the same thing. And here’s some of the gist of my analysis of two empirical religious philosophers:
James and Iqbal both believe that religious experiences are an important class of those experiences with which empiricism is concerned. In their way of thinking, the idea that we should look to experience for knowledge is compatible with religious faith and practice, and is also a grounds for understanding, defending, and testing religious belief. James includes this as one important aspect of his pragmatism, . . . . Iqbal . . . presents his religious empiricism as part of his strategy for renovating Islamic thought in the modern world by recovering the empirical aspect of religion. This requires that we learn to see science and religion as distinct but complementary spheres of empirical enquiry.
So what have we learned? Allama Iqbal, twentieth-century Islamic philosopher of the Subcontinent, shows some influence of William James, nineteenth- and twentieth-century American philosopher. They both develop empirical accounts and defenses of religious belief. They both argue that a thoroughgoing empiricism must consider religious experience as a legitimate form of experience and a possible source of knowledge. They both argue that a religious belief is tested by its fruits. James’ analysis comes about in the course of his development of radical empiricism, which leads ultimately to his articulation of a philosophical interpretation of the data of experience. Iqbal’s analysis is part of his attempt to reconstruct traditional Islamic thought in the modern world.
So it appears that James’ and Iqbal’s divergent approaches to religious empiricism are not in dramatic conflict. However, ultimately they do go in two separate directions.
And here I, personally, have one final point to offer. I, a Nicene Christian, go in a third direction. This too, so far as I can tell, is a permissible choice by James’ lights. . . . James says of Pascal in ‘Will to Believe’ that he unduly limits our choices. Perhaps the divergence of James and Iqbal is similar; we do have other options consistent with religious empiricism. The prophets Moses and Jesus may also be subjected to Iqbal’s pragmatic test, and many other philosophers of religion (for example, to name only one of the more famous ones, Richard Swinburne) have offered their own analyses of religious empiricism. In short, James and Iqbal have some interesting (and, it seems to me, insightful) things to say, but they are not the whole story.
There’s a little bit of a Ricochet background here.
At this long-ago post I introduce Iqbal, and (to my shame) left out some really important stuff from his religious epistemology (included in the new article). I’ve had a few other posts from time to time covering James, religious empiricism, or epistemology.
I might just also tag @iWe, who has often recommended what appears to me to be the same pragmatic test of religious belief offered by Iqbal.