By Lynn Niizawa
“The Seduction of Daoist Philosophy: What Was Lost on the Way to Understanding the Daoist Religion?” James Robson (Professor of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, Harvard University), Wednesday, December 3, 2014
Abstract: Daoism is one of the better known—but least understood—religions of the world. Ideas about Daoism spread primarily through translations and interpretations of texts considered to be its sacred books: The Scripture of the Way and Its Virtue (Daode jing) and the Book of Master Zhuang (Zhuangzi), which generated tremendous transcultural appeal. Those texts have been connected with thinkers as diverse as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Immanuel Kant, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Aleister Crowley, Martin Buber and Martin Heidegger, and literary figures like Alfred, Lord Tennyson and Oscar Wilde. The Western imagination of Daoism has influenced the perception of Daoism down to the present day. It has essentially created two Daoisms, imposing an artificial distinction between the “pure” (philosophy) and the “impure” (Daoist religious practices) in a process similar to the European fashioning of Buddhism as a philosophy rather than a religion. Although modern scholarship has shown that such a stark division of religion and philosophy is inaccurate and untenable, it has resulted in widespread confusion about Chinese religions in general and Daoism in particular. This talk intends to explore the troubling questions surrounding this divide and reveal some of the lesser known facets of the Daoist tradition that have been occluded by the appeal and myopic focus on texts like the Daode jing.
“Poetics of the Sacred,” Richard Kearney (Charles Seelig Professor in Philosophy, Boston College), November 12, 2014
Richard Kearney’s lecture looks at how certain artists and poets have been able to retrieve and explore ‘epiphanies’ of the sacred even after the disappearance of God. Beyond the traditional opposition between dogmatic theism and atheism Kearney proposes a third option – ana-theism, meaning faith ‘after’ (ana) faith. The recovery of God after God.
“A Philosophical Framework for Interpreting the Future of Religion and Spirituality,” Wesley J. Wildman, Professor of Philosophy, Theology, and Ethics, Boston University School of Theology, October 29, 2014
Abstract: Intellectuals of any kind, including philosophers, can’t exercise much influence over religion. Religion, after all, is as formidably complex as it is intricately particular, and religious people tend not to care even a little about what philosophers say. But philosophy might be useful for guiding predictions about the future of religion. That’s a big claim. Rather than argue in the abstract that philosophy is useful for guiding predictions, this lecture aims actually to exhibit the usefulness of philosophy. Of course, to proceed in this way implicates me in the questionable business of predicting the future of religion and spirituality. Now that’s an icy road if ever there was one. A lot of vehicles have skidded off that road over the centuries, and this pattern hasn’t changed much in recent years. My claim is that philosophy is like traction control: it keeps the vehicle of prediction safely on the road. At least philosophy can be like this, in principle. In practice, philosophy rarely aspires to be useful in this particular way. But if it’s doable, it couldn’t hurt. From recurring mistaken predictions about the end of the world to the failure of twentieth-century secularization theory, the record of prognostication in regard to the future of religion is dismal. That record certainly couldn’t be made any worse by involving philosophy in the task. How, then, can philosophy help to guide predictions about the future of religion and spirituality? And what specific prediction will I make in this lecture to demonstrate the concrete usefulness of philosophy?
“William James Revisited: Pragmatic Approaches to Religion” David Lamberth, Professor of Philosophy and Theology, Harvard Divinity School, October 15, 2014
Abstract: William James’s The Varieties of Religious Experience has long been considered a classic among theoretical texts for the study of religion. Published in 1902 by the noted American psychologist and philosopher, it animated a turn to experience from doctrine as the touchstone for understanding religion, and set the stage for critical studies that sought to consider not only the plurality of human religiosity, but also its positive and negative effects.
Varieties was not James’s only engagement with religion, nor was it by any means comprehensive of his wide ranging view of human nature. In this lecture Professor Lamberth selects from James’s key writings concerning religion from the 1880s to 1910, developing a composite of his central ideas and connecting them to the animating philosophical and scientific insights that led James’s to his views. Lamberth argues that the critical features driving James’s views—taking human evolution seriously in understanding thought and action, noting the affective dimensions in our neural makeup, seeing the critical potential for religion to contribute not only to individual but social transformation—make James a surprisingly productive interlocutor for one estimating the future of religion.