Empirical Theology: A Revisable Tradition

by Willliam Dean

William Deanis Professor of Religion at Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter, Minnesota.

The following article appeared in Process Studies, pp. 85-102, Vol. 19, Number 2, Summer, 1990. Process Studies is published quarterly by the Center for Process Studies, 1325 N. College Ave., Claremont, CA 91711. Used by permission. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.


Dean suggests that American religious empiricists may have lapsed into objectivism at times, but a third position of speculative and radically empirical realism, a religious historicism, holds up well in the current forces of deconstructionism, neopragmatism, and language philosophy.

But God did not only create mountains, he also created jungles. And today we are beginning to understand that the jungles are the richest and most vibrant part of his creation. The modem explorer in South America or in Africa is not looking for mountains. She is looking into the depths of the jungles to observe and understand the creatures who live there in all their intricate variety. We ourselves came out of the jungle a few million years ago, and we are now becoming aware that we need to understand and preserve the jungle if we are to remain alive and healthy on this planet. --Freeman Dyson1

I portray a current and revisionary theological empiricism, one bent by winds of American thought in the last twenty-five years, and thus appreciably different from theological empiricism as it was thirty or sixty years ago. But I do not speak simply reactively; rather, I describe an empiricism traditional and strong enough to keep its roots and to have some effect on the prevailing winds.

Theological empiricism is a distinctively American form of religious thought. Although in recent decades empirical theology in America has flourished under the roof of process theology and in many respects is allied with process theology, empirical theology is not a subdivision of process theology. Such an approach would neglect the temporal priority of empirical theology to process theology, as well as the relative independence of empirical theology over the years. Empirical theology moves from the post-Lockean sensationalist religious aestheticism of Jonathan Edwards, to the radical empiricism of William James, John Dewey, and Alfred North Whitehead, to the "Chicago School" of theology, to varieties of empirical and pragmatic theologies at Yale and Columbia, to the empirical side of process theology, to a current revisionist empirical theology -- which is fast becoming an empiricist theology that is better seen as a historicist theology. I assume that there is nothing anywhere in religious thought quite like the combination of empiricism, pragmatism, pluralism, meliorism, relativism, and historicism that form this American chain of philosophical-theological work.

In the last years of the twentieth century there is an opportunity for a major revival of this empirical theology. This is due, I believe, to the postmodern climate of thought, particularly evident in neopragmatic philosophy and deconstructionist literary criticism, and characterized by a new pragmatism, pluralism, meliorism, relativism, and historicism -- all congenial to the empirical theology that grew out of earlier American versions of these same modes of thought. I recognize that postmodernism differs from this American tradition in not having developed notions of realism and relativism; but I believe that these should be seen as current lacunae that the distinctively American philosophers and theologians can fill just as there are lacunae in American philosophy and theology that the postmodernists can fill.

1. Terms and Priorities

For empirical theology, as for most other theology, method is an outcome of content, not the other way around. Empirical theology begins with a particular speculative view of life, which in turn leads to the adoption of an empirical method. While empirical method contributes in turn to the continual justification, correction, and revision of the speculative content, that method is not the deepest source of empirical theology. An empirical theologian interprets the world and its God to be one thing rather than another; "empirical method" refers to how that interpretation is made plausible or revised.

To run it the other way, from method to content, would introduce a methodologism false to empirical theology. Such a procedure may be modem, in that it attends first to modernity’s primary concern with intellectual justification. But it leads to a consuming interest in procedures, which stanches the religious springs of theological inquiry.

The consequence of this order of things is that it is difficult to discuss the method of empirical theologians without first introducing some picture of what it is they believe. But they have been reticent about their beliefs, and have invited the charge that they are methodologists who think technique assures truth, who love locker rooms so much they never get on the floor to take a shot.

Nevertheless, empirical theologians eventually do express their worldviews. If they agree on any one thing, it is that life is characterized by struggle. The struggle is titanic, involving the most important realities in the deepest ways. The struggle is never completed, so that the world of the empirical theologian is melioristic and ambiguous, undefined by necessity, uniformity, or any pure optimism or pessimism; nor is the struggle resolvable by a priori reason, adequate worldviews, or even empirical induction. The struggle occurs not only in the heart or mind, but in a natural and human social context, so that empirical theology is naturalistic and socio-historical -- or better, it is historicist if "historicist" refers to natural as well as human history. Among empirical theologians there has been a ready admiration for Darwin and an uneasy alliance with Whitehead, who despite his deep appreciation of the agonistic nature of things, retained faith in the harmonies and uniformities underlying, he believed, the mathematics, the logic, and the theoretical physics of his time. Christologically, empirical theologians have favored the Christ of the cross (with no clear atonement), to the Christ of the resurrection. Morally, the empirical theologian tended to have a (Reinhold) Niebuhrian appreciation of history, where a balance of powers was as much as could be hoped for. Metaphysically, the struggle pictured by the empirical theologian extends to the qualitative character of all events, leading to notions of the moral ambiguity of humans, nonhumans, and sometimes even God.

The empirical method entered only when the empirical theologian had to justify this outlook. The method was an effort to say what it is in the way of epistemology, procedure of thought, and test of truth, that justifies what Charles Darwin, George Gaylord Simpson, and Steven Jay Gould call "this view of life."

Usually it is said that the empirical theologian’s method is distinctive in making experience the highest authority. However, this characterization can be challenged when it is remembered that not only have a variety of liberal and neoliberal theologies treated experience as authoritative (ETET 8-13 and RFWT 57-59), but that virtually every academic theology sooner or later treats experience as authoritative. Even anti-experiential theologians rely on the faith that God is revealed through scripture, creed, tradition, reason, story, history, or language -- a faith which (after the empiricists have left the room) will be justified only in that it is trusted, where "trusted" usually means experienced in a way that is convincing. That is, experienced.

If experience is too broad a term to isolate the distinctiveness of the empirical method, then that distinctiveness is better found in the authority that the empirical theologian gives to the particular. "The particular" refers, first of all, to the particularity of an experience; but then it is apparent that the particular refers also to the particularity of the thing experienced, for a truly particular experience occurs m a particular relation, so that even what is experienced is experienced not as general but as particular. That is, nothing is experienced in its generality (as it is for all), but only in its singularity (as it is experienced by this person at this moment). In other words, empirical theologians have justified and criticized their agonistic view of life by focusing their inquiry on the particular, so understood. In their preference for the particular (how in this moment this is for this person), rather than the general (how in all moments this allness must be for all), lay their true distinctiveness. Excluded, then, are transcendent views of "the many" as well as of "the one"; for, typically, a concern with "the many" implies that somehow the whole aggregate of data can be organized and generalized for all, yielding some approximation of the truth through some procedure like "inductive generalization."2

It is by reference, then, to the particular in this sense that the speculative views of the empirical theologian are empirically tested, justified, and revised. This, I believe, is where the genius of William James’s radical empiricism lies. It is not simply that he relied on experience, for the idealists and the positivists, the tender-minded and the tough-minded also relied on experience -- albeit of different sorts. The distinctiveness of James’s empiricism is his insistence that one has not been empirical enough if he or she focuses on what is general in experience; rather, the full extent of experience comes only when one experiences this group, this person, this psychic phenomenon without excluding anything significant -- even if, especially if, what is experienced cannot be subsumed under some general characteristic. This means admitting the confusing, vague, inarticulable, "unknowable," bodily-felt, unabstracted, ungeneralizable, and errant details of a particular experience. Only then can one experience John Dewey’s "quality" (AE 14-15) or Alfred North Whitehead’s "causal efficacy." Only then does one have what James calls "pure experience" (in the "instant field of the present," before distinctions of subject and object have been made) (ERE 23), or what Dewey calls "an experience" (subjectively) or "that meal" (objectively) (AE 35-37, emphasis in original), or what Whitehead calls "the individual ‘It’ with its own significance" (AI 262). This perception of the particular often is called affective and often is categorized as aesthetic -- partly because it is truly anomalous, inherently valuable, and no longer subsumable under cognitive or conventional understandings of "the true" (ARE Chap. 4).

This empiricism is two-sided, referring both to beginnings and to endings, to causes and to consequences. Since the particular experience in its richest state is largely uncapturable (what can be reasoned misses the full reaches of what can be said, what can be said misses the full reaches of what can be known, what can be known misses the full reaches of what can be experienced), the more significant conclusions by which a person lives cannot be methodically and precisely induced, but must be put forth largely as speculative theories that mayor may not derive from something said and known. But this speculation does not mean that radical empiricism simply yields to anti-realism or accepts subjective idealism; it remains what Bernard Meland called "empirical realism." Theological empiricism proceeds to examine its speculations to determine whether they are at least remotely connected to an experienced and not-entirely-subjective world. But because this relation cannot be precisely examined with reference to causes, it must be examined with reference to consequences. That is, one can regard pragmatically the gross fruits of actions based on speculations in order to determine whether the speculations at their unexaminable roots do or do not come into touch with an external world. This then testifies for or against a given speculation’s causal rootage in experience. Consequently, radical empiricism fully conceived is not only an epistemological notion, but a pragmatic notion.3 (The pragmatic side of this lesson has been overlearned by most of today’s neopragmatists, who are so skeptical of epistemological beginnings that they seem to treat knowledge as sheerly speculative and fasten to pragmatic tests to determine the viability of a speculation in a world that, for all they sometimes seem to know and care, is made only of words and wild guesses about how words might be newly arranged.)

This interpretation is revisionist in making speculation more important to radical empiricism and empirical theology than it commonly was thought to be. This interpretation contends that empirical theology: (1) begins with a speculative view of life as a struggle, and (2) uses, moment to moment, a speculative tactic to generate piecemeal conclusions in the face of the paucity of reliable empirical knowledge.4

I contend that only if the central role of speculation in American religious empiricism is recognized will it survive in a postmodern environment and be capable, in turn, of correcting postmodern modes of thought with its own forms of realism without foundationalism, and relativism without subjectivism. That is, a revisionist theological empiricism can advance a significant theory of relativity that, in turn, can correct the postmodernists’ inadequate efforts to rise above mere subjectivism. Accordingly, I believe that American religious empiricism in particular, if not American pragmatism and radical empiricism in general, has an important function in the late twentieth century debates over postmodernism.

However and nevertheless, in the effort to describe their loyalty to the particular, empirical theologians sometimes begin, just as I have begun, preoccupied with generalities and with logics -- a procedure which is ironic when it is not simply comic. In an effort to avoid further irony, I will describe something particular, only subsequently to return to the general.

2. The Case of William James

In the late 1860s James grew depressed. In his letters he began as early as 1867 to complain of the "hue of stagnation" that lay over most of what he did (LWJ 99). It would be convenient to say that he was driven to this by the determinisms of rationalistic idealism or positivistic empiricism; but there is little evidence that James lived and breathed those epistemological issues (as many of James’s disciples do today) or felt their control enough to be driven by them alone to a state of depression. Equally, it would be convenient to say that his relations with his father did it.5 Or one could say that James’s problems stemmed from his spending in his mid-twenties a solitary year and a half alone in Germany largely unconnected with family, friends, or any institution (not even a university). Whatever the cause, James complained of his disposition and frequented German health spas with the elderly. To justify the expenses of visiting the baths in Treplitz he explained to his father in September 1867 that earlier "thoughts of the pistol, the dagger and the bowl began to usurp an unduly large part of my attention" (LWJ 96). In January 1868 he concluded a long meandering letter to Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. by saying that he had written in "the dismalest of dumps," and that Holmes was "the one emergent peak, to which I cling when all the rest of the world has sunk beneath the wave." Then in a postscript he said, "That is, after all, all I wanted to write you and it may float the rest of the letter" (LWJ 127). That same month he tried to convince Thomas Ward that his reputation for possessing "calm and clockwork feelings" was a front. "All last winter, for instance, when I was on the continual verge of suicide, it used to amuse me to hear you chaff my animal contentment. The appearance of it arose from my reaction against what seemed to me your unduly noisy and demonstrative despair. The fact is, I think, that we have both gone through a good deal of similar trouble" (LWJ 129).

The conclusion of the story is well known. It was anticipated in what James advised Ward, in the same letter, to do: find "a work which shall by its mere exercise interest him and at the same time allow him to feel that through it he takes hold of the reality of things -- whatever that may be -- in some measure" (LWJ). First, take interest; second, make sure it is an interest that at least gives the illusion of taking hold of reality; third, but only implicit, the rest will take care of itself.

James knew that for himself this was possible only if he could free himself from stagnation’s internal control. In his diary on April 30, 1870 he says, "My first act of free will shall be to believe in free will." He amplifies: "Not in maxims, not in Anschauungen, but in accumulated acts of thought lies salvation. Passer outre. Hitherto, when I have felt like taking a free initiative, like daring to act originally, without carefully waiting for contemplation of the external world to determine all for me, suicide seemed the most manly form to put my daring into; now, I will go a step further with my will, not only act with it, but believe as well; believe in my individual reality and creative power" (LWJ 148, emphasis in original).

James spent much of the remainder of his life attempting to make sense of that depression crisis and its prescribed cure. Advising others, he would refer to this period. In a letter written in 1891 James would say, apparently in reference to nervous rather than physical problems: "I was entirely broken-down before I was thirty" (LWJ 313, emphasis in original).

For the philosophically and theologically inclined, it is important to keep the nature of James’s crisis in mind. He does not refer to it as a crisis induced by philosophical or theological views; he does not call it a crisis about epistemology or pragmatism or pluralism or relativism or realism or positivism or idealism, nor about deductions from ideas or inductions from experience. The crisis may not have been about generalities at all, but about a series of particular experiences of depression and a particular cure. James, a wealthy, pampered, self-conscious, serious, and precocious young man, experienced his world as stagnant. He was immobilized, contemplated suicide, and may have lacked even the follow-through to accomplish suicide. He could not go on in life without finding a practical solution to that problem. He developed a practical solution, one that appeared not to be based on any piece of knowledge, and one that required that he believe what almost none of his contemporaries (except, possibly, his father) believed: that beliefs are founded largely on individual actions and interests rather than on evidence, reason, or worldviews. James’s world might look like those of the subjective idealist or the idealistic Romantic because it was engendered by the imagination; but it was not, for unlike theirs it came without the assurance that it rested on external foundations. James seemed to have no choice. Apparently, he had tried waiting "for the contemplation of the external world to determine all" for him and this had not worked. So he turned to a world out of imagination and behavior, to what in particular had happened to himself, and to something sufficiently unique that the only generalizations that applied were generalizations about his individual acts of freedom.

My claim is that out of this highly particular situation James’s radical empiricism, as well as most of his other theories, slowly arose. It took forty years for one of history’s most productive intellects in the most opportune moment -- in, perhaps, the kairotic moment -- in American intellectual history to reach, in the nick of time, a philosophical and theological justification for the unorthodox action he had taken in his twenties. He trimmed his justifications to "the particular," refusing to give his loyalty to universal or eternal realities; it was this discipline that gives to his thought an odd ring, even today. James’s radical empiricism, as well as his pragmatism, his pluralism, his relativism, and his realism, are functions of, merely aspects of, that loyalty. His thought, by and large, was traceable to reflection on a particular and on a particular that presented a crisis, or at least something problematic.

The point is that James’s radical empiricism was not a method from which all else was derived. Instead, empiricism for James grew out of and followed upon a speculation -- for James’s theory about interest and action was a speculation thrown up to offer a dodge, a way out of a predicament. James’s empiricism arose, then, not from contemplation of the external world, nor from some sober revision of eighteenth century British empiricism. It arose as response to a speculation that, itself, arose as a response to "the situation of emergency," to use Frank Lentricchia’s phrase (AP 106). (Admittedly, such a commentary about the accidental and speculative origin of theories and chains of theories is commonplace today in science or in the philosophy of science.6)

Accordingly, empiricism was a way to explain how and why particular interests could begin to resolve an overwhelming problem. By 1910 the answer to this question was: because interests are not always arbitrary and self-created, but sometimes are perceptions of and relations to something real. How else could James explain that interests seem to have a higher chance of proving true than would mere random choices? James advocated, consequently, not merely an empiricism, but a radical empiricism -- a thorough or root empiricism including not only the five senses but a sense of what is interesting, a "dumb sense," a "seeing and feeling of the total push and pressure of the cosmos" (PRAG 9). Further, this epistemology was not epistemology in the conventional sense, telling you how to know so that you could get the truth (that is, for others as well as yourself). Rather, it was an epistemology that was relative and involved particular relations between particular people and their plural and particular worlds. For, said James, my "what" is only my version of the "that," and it grows out of the "whiches" I pinpoint in that "that." This "what" is seldom the "what" others know; it is in part my own free (and thereby ununiversalizable) creation.

Further, James could argue, this empiricist conclusion had been checked empirically through the pragmatic test. As a theory, radical empiricism had been established as pragmatically workable and true through his own writings on psychology, philosophy, and the philosophy of religion.

Let me summarize. James’s philosophy began in a particular effort to keep his head above the tide of depression. He saw life as a struggle to survive in the midst of stagnation. Convention and his own training urged him to gravitate to the general as the source of his answer to his struggle, but this did not work. Instead, he proposed as a speculation the most particular conceivable answer: that the solution lay in his own interest and its contact with reality. When this worked practically, he was left with the question, Why? From this inquiry grew his pluralism, his relativism, his realism, his pragmatism and, especially, his radical empiricism. He concluded that not only did he have every right to treat his speculative interest as worth acting on; it appeared, also, sometimes to be derived from past reality. How else explain that it meshed pragmatically with the extension of that same reality in the future? In any case, it was in the unrecognized connection between his particular speculation and his particular empirically-discerned past that the truth appeared to be born.

That is, it would be to misunderstand James to identify him primarily through his epistemology, his pluralistic cosmology, or his test of truth. This would be to treat James as a generalizing thinker who began in percepts or concepts; whereas, he was a local speculator and a local actor who began with a practical problem for which clear percepts and concepts were merely ancillary and subsequent. Of course, he reached an epistemology, a cosmology, and a pragmatic test, and he tried to show their general truth. But this was based on the particular, not the general, and consciousness of this drove James always, in effect, to say, "If another cosmology works better for you, then you treat that as true instead."

3. Empirical Theology and the Particular

Equally, in its distinctive forms American religious thought has been primitive, practical, problem-oriented, and, most of all, particular. It begins in a jam -- like James’s depression -- and attains theories only as ex post facto ways of fortifying what began as speculative resolutions of the jam. It begins in a moment of history and seeks to get to the next moment of history. Epistemologies, cosmologies, and tests of truth are merely ways to make this solution to history’s moment seem plausible. Further, this mode of religious thought sees each moment of history as creative of new problems, new solutions, new theories, and even of new realities -- for the new solutions enter the stream of events. It is a struggling history, then, that makes history. Even speculative theories, while they are largely originative, also turn out to be largely derivative from a radically empirical appreciation of a largely opaque history.

It is too simple, consequently, to see empirical theology as simply another theology, basing thought on experiences rather than on schemes or reasons, proposing that generalization proceed by induction rather than by deduction, advancing a pluralism in place of a monism, or a naturalism in place of a transcendentalism. This would miss the genius of empirical theology, which is that thought begins in a particular, problematic situation -- so that it is that situation and its particular resolution, rather than the "general" itself, which is at issue. Again, this would make empirical theology merely a variation on foundational or metaphysical forms of theology, whereas empirical theology begins with despair about foundationalism and its concern with generalities. Empirical theology is stuck with the particular, win or lose, and it is this which distinguishes the way in which empirical theologians get on with things.7

By contrast, most theologies proceed by reflection on what is regarded to be a general character of things. Rationalistic theologies, such as Charles Hartshorne’s, are based largely on a priori reason or rational argumentation, and deem these valuable precisely because they are not particular. Speculative theologies, such as process theology’s reflections on the religious suggestiveness of A. N. Whitehead’s categoreal scheme, are based largely on loyalty to universal principles, and deem these valuable precisely because they are not particular.

James was not unaware of the desirability of working with cosmologically given generalities. Still in 1873 he sought the consolation of philosophy, saying, "my strongest moral and intellectual craving is for some stable reality to lean upon" (LWJ 171). Over thirty years later, James disparaged this same view, saying that, of course, "We want a universe where we can just give up, fall on our father’s neck, and be absorbed into the absolute life as a drop of water melts into the river or the sea" (PRAG 140). But, though this approach may be typical of philosophy or theology, it did not help James; in fact, passive flotation in the spas in Germany made James worse, not better. He improved only by acting strenuously; and he advanced a philosophy to explain his action, one in which interpreters create in part the reality they interpret.

For pluralistic pragmatism, truth grows up inside of all the finite experiences. They lean on each other, but the whole of them, if such a whole there be, leans on nothing. All "homes" are in finite experience; finite experience as such is homeless. Nothing outside of the flux secures the issue of it. It can hope salvation only from its own intrinsic promises and potencies.

To rationalists this describes a tramp and vagrant world, adrift in space, with neither elephant nor tortoise to plant the sole of its foot upon. (LWJ 124-125)

That is, there is nothing to take from us the responsibilities born of our involvement with the particular. The "holy church has resolved itself into ‘meeting houses,"’ and the meeting houses are not only plural but "in the making" (LWJ 123, 121). It is our responses to the particular meeting houses -- us, relative to those houses -- that make the local church what it is. And the churches do exist, for this is a realism even though it has no foundation; accordingly, James’s relativism is a relativism that is not a subjectivism.

Of course, James’s commitment to the particular, as well as empirical theology’s commitment to the particular, does not stay with the particular, but moves onto make claims about general ways of knowing as well as general worldviews. Accordingly, James was able to say that the alternative between pragmatism and rationalism was "no longer a question in the theory of knowledge, it concerns the structure of the universe itself" (LWJ 124, emphasis in original). But this structure of the universe is merely a way of making sense of the particular, not the other way around. The universal structure of the universe is not given, as in most other forms of theology; it is in part constructed and deconstructed by the knower’s particular interests and actions. The resultant radical empiricism and pluralism involve then, not only a realism, but a general theory of reality. But this serves merely to explain, as James wrote in 1868, how by our interest and work we "take hold of reality."

And, again, the whole theory was based on a speculation that first attained clarity in the 1870s. James had wagered that a few of his interests took him into the world beyond himself, giving meaning to what otherwise "is no better than a game of private theatricals from which one may withdraw at will." James was able to conclude that, empirically, "it feels like a real fight, -- as if there were something really wild in the universe which we, with all our idealities and faithfulnesses, are needed to redeem" (WB 55).

4. Empirical Theology and the Problem of its Partners In Conversation

When empirical theology is seen in the light of this story, the important criticism of empiricism comes not from those who argue that empiricism has no solid foundations -- although there are many who argue that way.8 Obviously, everyone wants foundations. James did, certainly. Foundations lend comfort; when they appear in theologies, then the theologies seem right and serious. When they are found, "there is something that gives a click inside of us, a bell that strikes twelve," to use James’s language. Then "we know, and we know that we do know" (WB 21). This is what makes rationalistic and speculative theologies seem naturally superior -- and certainly more appealing. But James gave these things up when they did not answer his particular problem of how to overcome depression. Consequently, for critics to go on demanding that empirical theologians give answers to these foundational questions is simply to beg the question.

Instead, the question is, "What do you do when you can’t have foundations?" James answered with his radical empiricism, pluralism, and pragmatism. He chose to answer the question by demonstrating that you can have realism even though you do not have monistic foundations.9 James affirmed a realism whereby particular interests both make contact with reality, and contribute to its redemption. Of course, James’s answer is wasted on those who stand back in James’s 1870s, demanding that James not give up monistic foundations -- even if, incidentally, they do not work for him.

For today’s empirical theologian the relevant debate might seem to be with the growing majority of current philosophers and the rising number of theologians who have lost foundations. I refer specifically to: (1) deconstructionists in philosophy (e.g., Jacques Derrida and his disciples) and in philosophical theology (e.g., Mark C. Taylor); (2) the neopragmatists in philosophy (e.g., Richard Rorty, Hilary Putnam, Nelson Goodman) and the philosophy of religion (e.g., Jeffrey Stout and Cornel West); (3) the new Yale School narrative theologians (e.g., George Lindbeck, the students of Hans Frei); (4) Wittgensteinian theologians (e.g., Paul Holmer and Donald Cupitt); and (5) post-Kantian theological historicists (principally, Gordon Kaufman). Empirical theologians can converse with these people without being asked to abandon their own biographies -- that is, that either they deny that they ever gave up foundationalism or admit that because they did their thought is not serious. These people share with the empirical theologians both the abandonment of foundationalism and the primacy of the category of the historical.

However, the empirical theologians must take up with these people the question of realism and anti-realism. The empirical theologians would stress the practical dangers of the anti-realism and subjectivism in these same thinkers.10 This is not to say that the empirical theologians would simply call these late twentieth century thinkers nihilistic, for that assumes that the loss of foundationalism simply requires the loss of realism and that the acceptance of relativism simply requires subjectivism. Instead, the empirical theologians would argue that there may be a realism implicit even in their denial of foundationalism, norms implicit even in their relativism. For example, the neopragmatic or deconstructionist ethical programs do presuppose a world beyond the merely posited, linguistic world -- foundationless though it may be.11 Further, while the deconstructionist, the neopragmatist, the Wittgensteinian, and the Yale narrativist may be relativists (or relational, perspectival, and contextual thinkers), they are not really subjectivists (acting as though nothing from beyond what we agree on can correct us). But if this is so, then why are they so intent on denying realism and (in principle, even if not in fact) be so tolerant of subjectivism? Apparently, it is that these late twentieth-century thinkers are fighting the realism of Continental thought (realisms derivative from foundationalisms) and the objectivisms of Continental thought (objectivisms derivative from absolutisms). Consequently, it can appear (perhaps even to them) that to deny foundationalism is to deny realism and that to deny absolutism is not only to deny objectivism but to accept a kind of subjectivistic relativism. This ignores the fact that this two-term option did not apply to much American philosophy and theology. American radical empiricism, both philosophical and theological, advanced a free-standing realism, one independent of monistic foundationalism, and denied the subject-objective duality, thus making relativism a commentary on interrelationality rather than the subjectivistic opposite to objectivism.

I speak of relevant debate with these groups, and yet recognize that this is not on the horizon. The obstacle is historical: the groups cited above tend to look to Continental Europe and its intellectual history, whereas the empirical theologians work out of a specifically American, naturalistic philosophy and theology. Consequently and for the time being, the empirical theologians must turn and debate -- happily and gratefully, I might add -- with their siblings in American thought the meaning of the family fortune, and how it should be spent today.

5. Empirical Theologians and Speculation

My account renders empirical theology and its method unsatisfying in several important ways: (1) metaphysically, it undercuts foundations; (2) religiously, It omits the universality and eternity of theological truths; (3) historically, in emphasizing the speculative and diminishing the evidentiary, it deviates somewhat from the precedent of empirical theology itself. I advance this historicist reinterpretation of empirical theology, nevertheless, because it makes sense in a world in which pluralism, relativism, anti-foundationalism, and historicism have grown stronger and in which most senses of the correspondence-theory-of-truth realism have grown weaker. It allows, furthermore, the empirical theologians now to appreciate neo-Kantian streams of theology -- particularly their skepticism about epistemological special pleading and their recognition of the unavoidability of speculation.

These are normal adjustments. Even the latest major theological empiricists -- Henry Nelson Wieman, Bernard Meland, and Bernard Loomer -- did not have time to absorb the full impacts of the Kuhnian revolution in the philosophy of science, the neopragmatism extending from Willard Quine to Richard Rorty, the Continental movements of hermeneutics and deconstructionism, nor the epistemological effects that accompany the general demise of white, male, and Western hegemonies. They could not appreciate the extent to which in our generation reality has come to be a function of interpretation, and interpretation is a function of community. Yet, and as I argue in my History Making History: The New Historicism in American Religious Thought, the seeds of these developments were already at work in James, Dewey, Whitehead, and the "Chicago School" of theology, as well as in Wieman, Meland, and Loomer. And these seeds carry two implications: (1) that the empiricists’ own work is not incompatible with these new developments; and, (2) that most American postmodernist theologians are not as original as they might appear. And, yet again, my point is that the work of the postmodernists offers new grounds for reinterpreting theological empiricism.

I recognize that Henry Nelson Wieman, Bernard Meland, and Bernard Loomer sometimes each wrote as though he had developed his picture of God primarily through an evidentiary or inductive empiricism, establishing the truth about God by simply describing religious experience. I contend, however, that each theologian’s notion of God can be better understood as beginning primarily in speculation. Only subsequently did each establish what Meland called "a margin of intelligibility," showing that his personal estimate made sense empirically. In effect, they demonstrated that their initial speculations were not entirely ad hoc, solipsistic, mere extensions of accidental temperaments or cultural bias, but were based, after all, on experience. And it is this that makes them empirical theologians. That is, the creative speculations turn out not always to be mere lucky guesses, but sometimes in some way to be informed through a sensibility -- call it creative insight, religious faith, "a sense of the heart" (Jonathan Edwards), or "appreciative awareness" (Bernard Meland).

Nevertheless, the originating differences between, for example, the notions of God in Wieman, Meland, and Loomer can be traced to their speculative feats. Those speculations, in turn, were shaped largely by something peculiar to each theologian’s psychological or historical context, rather than entirely by something general induced from broad evidence. The speculations, that is, were driven largely by temperament and personality and/or by historical and cultural context. Referring to temperament, James said it "loads the evidence," makes one want "a universe that suits it," and leads one to believe in a representation of that universe. He acknowledged that this is an "undignified" way to describe someone’s philosophy (PRAG 11). The same sort of humiliation results from recognizing contextual dependencies. Still, whether it be psychology or history, I am contending that such particular and arbitrary conditions lie behind speculations, and that the overt work of an empiricist begins in speculations.

Let me briefly support that contention by reference to the personal outlooks of Wieman, Meland, and Loomer, neglecting just now the equally important, if not more important, influences that historical context had on their work. Wieman wanted to be an inductive thinker when he claimed that knowledge of God could be induced from a kind of immediate experience (RESM Chap. 1). However, what truly distinguished Wieman’s work was the outlook that opens his first book:

Whatever else the word God may mean, it is a term used to designate that Something upon which human life is most dependent for its security, welfare and increasing abundance. That there is such a Something cannot be doubted. The mere fact that human life happens and continues to happen, proves that this Something, however unknown, does certainly exist. (RE 9)

Without this introduction, much of Wieman’s writing can appear to be a series of posited notions: after analyzing social need, Wieman posits a mechanism that answers that need, and a source and exemplar for that mechanism (giving them the name "God" and "Christ"). But with this introduction, this contrivance becomes a reflection of a deeper Something, and Wieman makes theological sense. Wieman was convinced that there must be an ideal reality correlated to the good experienced in the natural process. It is this same trust (that experience reflects something deeper than experience) that leads Wieman, like a Barthian, to think of God as sovereign and absolute, as the source of all good -- so that humans should look not to themselves for the answer but only to God. I think that neither Meland nor Loomer would have spoken this way, and that the difference lies in whatever it was that made ‘Wieman first an idealist, who could believe that human possibility is explained by an absolute potentiality.12

Equally, Bernard Meland wanted to be an inductive thinker when he gave studious allegiance to radical empiricism as the basis for knowledge of God (HEHS Chap. 5). But Meland’s thinking was truly distinguished not by this, but by his insistence on the fallibility of religious forms and symbols -- by his insistence that the reality experienced through empirical knowledge was simply uncapturable by the precisions so loved by the theologians, whether the precision of a Wieman who strove to define with ever-increasing exactness the character of the creative event or of a Hartshorne who strove to state with ever-greater rigor the necessary elements in a notion of God. It was a combination of personal humility and patience and an intimacy with the social anthropology of the 1930s that evoked Meland’s caution -- a caution that led him to speak of God’s grace as "a tender working" (RCF 117-118). These were specific claims, driven by Meland’s peculiar temperament and context; and Wieman and Loomer would never speak quite that way.

In his "The Size of God" Loomer says he "continues the empirical tradition" and attempts to establish inductively that the various ambiguities he describes as onto-logical conditions "derive from the basic characteristics of individuals and societies" (SG 23,45). In practice Loomer’s "induction" was anecdotal and narrative. But what truly distinguishes Loomer’s later thought is his notion of "size," or "stature." In fact, it can be argued that it was considerations of stature, not empirical considerations, which required Loomer to determine that even God is (must be) ambiguous -- i.e., an ambiguous God is of greater stature than an unambiguous deity." Equally, Loomer faults those theologians who advance unambiguous notions of God because their God has less stature, rather than, as Loomer claims, because there is less empirical warrant for an unambiguous God. That is, it appears that the notion of size, or stature, is speculative, and that it leads his empirical inquiry, not the other way around. "Size" is a notion reflective of Loomer’s robustness; it measures how much dissonance a person can take on without being destroyed. That is, it is a speculation of a particular personality or a particular context -- one quite different from that of either Meland or Wieman. It is a notion advanced by a theologian who would never characterize God idealistically or as "a tender working."

6. Conclusion

Empiricism is by American standards an old tradition, but it is also a revisable tradition. One way of acknowledging its revisability is to say that it can survive the critique laid for it by Wayne Proudfoot in his 1985 Religious Experience and, more importantly, by the postmodern culture for which Proudfoot speaks.13 If it ignores that kind of postmodern critique, I am suggesting, it will not deliver on the promise it has shown recently in the growth of The American Journal of Theology and Philosophy, in the founding of The Highlands Institute for American Religious Thought, in the resurgence of Columbia and Yale forms of neonaturalism and pragmatism in the work of Robert Corrington and William Shea,14 and in the American Academy of Religion Group on Empiricism in American Religious Thought -- as well as in the growing independent scholarship of those working out of the empirical side of process theology and the Chicago school.

Proudfoot’s book -- a bomb waiting to go off for at least two decades -- argues with devastating cogency for the impossibility of neutral, inductive generalization from experience. He focuses his critique on the purportedly pure and nonbiased accounts of religion offered by Schleiermacher and William James.

Proudfoot contends that in 1799 Schleiermacher defended Christian theology against those who would explain it away scientifically, on one side, and against those who would explain it away moralistically, on the other side. Schleiermacher described religious experience as independent, autonomous, and irreducible, unmediated by either concepts or judgments. But if this feeling was to mean anything, it had to be defined or fenced in by criteria; so in On Religion Schleiermacher defined the feeling as an intuition of the whole and in The Christian Faith Schleiermacher defined the feeling as absolute dependence. But, and this is the catch, these definitions were not as innocent as they appeared, for they had already loaded Schleiermacher’s ostensibly pure description (a pure account of a pure phenomenon) with theories -- those quite specific theories implicit in "intuition," "the whole," and the "absolute." Thus Schleiermacher’s description was impure; what was to have been known as independent became dependent on cultural concepts and judgments after all. But due to terminological ambiguities, this problem was obscured; and Schleiermacher’s ostensible insulation of religion from reductionist explanations was powerfully convincing to theologians for many generations.

Proudfoot treats William James’s Varieties of Religious Experience as though it lies in this line of influence. Accordingly, Proudfoot equates Schleiermacher’s description and definition of religious experience to the Varieties’s overriding methodological distinction between: (1) the task of simply describing, without explanation, the religious experience, and (2) the task of defining religious experience as noetic and as a feeling-state. But again, the definition side was loaded with cultural concepts; and these, in turn, had already loaded James’s ostensibly simple description -- thus rendering James’s claims to simple description unwarranted. For example, Proudfoot argues that James’s descriptive "knowledge by acquaintance," even though it claims to be acquired by an unprejudiced and radically empirical "sense," is in fact heavily theory-laden, an intellectual hypothesis.

Proudfoot’s case can appear damaging because roughly the same earmarks can be found in the American religious empiricists. Whether it be Wieman’s general appropriation of James’s "knowledge by acquaintance" in Religious Experience and Scientific Method, Meland’s "appreciative awareness," or Loomer’s more narrative forms of gathering evidence, each purports merely to describe, but then evinces that the description is driven by rather specific personal and/or contextual definitions of what counts as religious experience. First, the American religious empiricists defend religion by placing it on a purely descriptive basis, using for this a radically empirical sensibility together with inductive generalization; but soon, as I have attempted to indicate, any circumspect reader can see the extent to which this description is loaded with temperamental and, possibly, contextual bias -- and, further, by the specificity peculiar to Christianity and American turn-of-the-century neonaturalism.

However, if the empirical theologians are seen as speculative in the first place, the Proudfootian critique would be undermined. Again, that critique would claim: (I) that to avoid being explained away by other approaches, the empirical theologians posited a pure and independent description of religious experience; (2) but that to avoid being unduly vague, they used definitions that turned out to be value-laden, thus making religious experience dependent and explainable after all. But, and this is the crucial point, the American religious empiricists -- including Wieman, Meland, and Loomer -- never accepted the first point with the purity the Proudfootian analysis must presuppose. They never really staked themselves on the possibility of a truly pure and independent account of anything anyway, so that to be told that their definitions and descriptions are value-laden, subjective, contextual, and speculative is not the problem it would be for a Continental dualist who accepts still a fact-value distinction and the possibility of purely factual, value-free description. Proudfoot’s dilemma presumes that just such a pure account of religious experience is claimed by all theologians who talk about religious experience; but this simply does not apply to American radical empiricists who assumed that experience is always already an interdependent combination of facts and values, objects and subjects. That is, Proudfoot makes James virtually a latter-day Schleiermacher, and fails to note how James’s radically different historical situation stamped his work. (Needless to say, this is ironic for Proudfoot, a thinker who puts so much stock in how cultural ideas load definitions.) One more time: American religious empiricists never were as intimidated by reductionism or as driven to pure descriptions as were the Continentals because these empiricists saw how to be relativistic to cultural conditions without being merely subjectivistic. This was one legacy of their neonaturalism and its mind-body monism and organicism.

To emphasize the role of speculation in American empirical theology is one way of recognizing this condition. Never quite accepting a value-free objective world nor sharply opposing it to a value-laden subjective world in the first place, American empirical theologians have no cause to be so disturbed that subjective and contextual speculation becomes constitutive of what is religious. The issue of incoherence simply does not arise in the same way for them -- if at all.

It was James who said, "The trail of the human serpent is over everything" (PRAG 37). It was Meland who argued that individual experience is only one source for empirical testimony, the other two sources being cult and myth, both prejudicing the outlook of the individual (FFS 144-145). It was Loomer whose later narrative style implied that the outlook of the individual was more like the storyteller than the quantifying objectivist. And Wieman, while he may have increasingly emphasized the rigor needed to specify objectively what was specifiable about the creative event, could contend at the end of his life that:

All the present attempts to identify ultimate reality with theological and metaphysical systems and with cosmologies like that of Whitehead and his followers will fade away. . . . Men will come to see, as they are now beginning to see with the critical examination of language, that every conceivable structure of meaning carried by language is necessarily based on the selections of data and the forms of thought derived from the ruling interests of human life. . . . But this "subjectivity" of all human thought and knowledge cannot be demonstrated until the critical examination of language in use and meaning has demonstrated the truth of it. (WEP 120)

Further, such American empiricists might challenge Proudfoot’s own apparent anti-realism. Proudfoot seems to assume that if he eliminates a descriptive objectivism and the foundations on which it would rest, he is driven to mere language. In Proudfoot’s two-term logic, because language is not objectively descriptive and foundational, it must be merely cultural, merely semantic, and, apparently, merely non-realistic and subjectivistic (RE 223-227). To the American empiricist this is simply to ignore the third option of a realism without foundationalism, a relativism without subjectivism. In fact, with Proudfoot’s two-term option his own book begs for a more sophisticated approach -- for while it denies realism in the name of a contemporary hermeneutics of suspicion, it claims to offer a realistic account of past scholarship on religious experience. To put it another way, once a two-term logic attacks in such an uncomplicated way "the myth of the Given," it lays itself open to being faulted for "the myth of the framework." 15 I do not mean to argue that there is a "given" to be defended, nor that frameworks are not operative; but only to suggest that the reduction of everything to cultural frameworks cannot work in a two-option world, for that reality to which a framework argument can apply would then be missing. Some third account is needed.

My point is that American religious empiricists, while they may have lapsed into objectivism at times, consistently can acknowledge a third position, a speculative and radically empirical realism -- or, a religious historicism. And my point is that this holds up very well in conversation with the current forces of deconstructionism, neopragmatism, and language philosophy. The American religious empiricist so understood could accept what these postmodern philosophers and theologians have elucidated without dismissing them as nihilists; but these postmodernists, in turn, also are close enough to the American religious empiricist to hear their critique of postmodern anti-realism and subjectivism.16



AE -- Bernard E. Meland. Art as Experience. New York: Capricorn Books, 1958.

AP -- Frank Lentricchia. Ariel and the Police: Michael Foucau It, William James Wallace Stevens. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1988.

ARE -- William Dean. American Religious Empiricism. Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 1986.

ERE -- William James. Essays in Radical Empiricism and A Pluralistic Universe (together in one volume). New York: Longmans, Green and Company, 1947.

ETET -- Bernard E. Meland. "The Empirical Tradition in Empirical Theology." The Future of Empirical Theology. Ed. Bernard E. Meland. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1968.

FFS -- Bernard E. Meland. Fallible Forms and Symbols. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1976.

HEHS -- Bernard E. Meland. Higher Education and the Human Spirit. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1953.

LWJ -- The Letters of William James, Vols. I & II. Ed. Henry James. Boston: The Atlantic Monthly Press, 1920.

PRAG -- William James. Pragmatism. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1975.

RCF -- Bernard E. Meland. The Reawakening of Christian Faith. Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries Press, 1972.

RESM -- Henry Nelson Wieman. Religious Experience and Scientific Method. Carbondale and Edwardsville, Ill.: Southern Illinois University Press, 1971.

RFWT -- Bernard E. Meland. "The Root and Form of Wieman’s Thought." The Empirical Theology of Henry Nelson Wieman. Ed. Robert W Bretall. Carbondale and Edwardsville, Ill.: Southern Illinois University Press, 1963.

SG -- Bernard M. Loomer. "The Size of God." The Size of God: The Theology of Bernard M. Loomer in Contest. Ed. William Dean and Larry E. Axel. Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1987.

WB -- William James. "Is Life Worth Living?" The Will to Believe and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1979.

WEPP -- Creighton Peden. "A Dialogue with Henry Nelson Wieman." Wieman’s Empirical Process Philosophy. Washington, D.C.: University Press of America, 1977.


1Freeman J. Dyson, Infinite in All Directions (New York: Harper and Row, 1988), pp. 06-07.

21t is this exclusion of universal or transcendent truths and this acceptance of the particular that disturbs many less empirical process theologians -- despite their appreciation for empiricism and concreteness. These process theologians might be mollified, however, by the admission that these comments on "the particular," as well as the agonistic view of life, are themselves half-blown metaphysical ideas.

3Pragmatism goes on to ask whether the speculative belief has moved beyond the past world, to make a new world that is more satisfactory. This is further complicated when it is realized that "satisfactory" has no absolute or given meaning, but is a relative and aesthetic judgment.

4However, this does not confuse empirical theology with "speculative theology" or speculative philosophy" -- a theology or philosophy that may be built around, for example, Whitehead’s categoreal scheme, Hegel’s absolute scheme, Kant’s subjectivist scheme. The types of approaches differ on the question of what is real. For empirical theology it is the particular alone that is real, and pragmatism and radical empiricism are commentaries on the particular, whereas for conventional speculative theology (within, say, process theology) it is the general condition (such as the primordial nature of God), in addition to the particular, that is real. Consequently, for the empirical theologian, as for the medieval nominalist, the deepest commitment is to the particular; whereas, for the speculative theologian, as for the medieval realist, one of the deepest commitments is to generality. On this question the speculative theologian agrees with the rationalist theologian (within, say, process theology), for one of the deepest commitments of the rationalist theologian is to generality as it is revealed in logical thought. For an empirical theologian such as Bernard Loomer, the speculative and rationalist theologians give unwarranted allegiance to abstractions. This allegiance is rooted, Loomer believed, in a yearning for perfection -- a perfection that is unambiguous and, thereby, nonexistent. It is ‘a yearning for the bloodless existence of clean-cut, orderly abstractions. It is, in short, a yearning for death" (SG 51).

Naturally, empirical, speculative, and rationalist theologies in one way or another all rely on the particular, the general scheme, and the logical procedure. It is their realisms that distinguish them: the pluralism of the empiricists and the monisms together with the pluralisms of the speculators and the rationalists. Consequently, the empirical theologian sometimes will be impatient with the quests for a general scheme or for "right" logical procedures, for they seem to reify something unreal. Equally, speculative and rationalist theologians will be impatient with the empirical theologian’s endless groping after and honoring of the obliqueness, pluralities, contextualities, and ambiguities of the particular, for this seems to fall short of reaching a necessary aspect of what is real.

5This appears to be the tactic used by Howard M. Feinstein in Becoming William James (Ithaca. NY: Cornell University Press, 1984).

6My own most recent evidence comes from Stephen Jay Gould, who calls James Hutton’s eighteenth-century hypothesis about a continuously recycling earth "the greatest. reconstruction of geology" -- a science that is fiercely empirical and in the nineteenth century did more than any science to fight the final cause arguments of theology. Hutton had a practical puzzle: if erosion not only creates the soil that makes life-giving vegetation possible, but carries it to the oceans, why does that soil exist at all? Because, speculates Hutton, God through final causation created a cycle whereby sediments sink and consolidate in the oceans and later are uplifted by the Earth’s interior heat. Hutton had a practical puzzle arising from his own experience as a farmer," and he speculated that God through final causation created a cyclical process of regeneration. Only later did Hutton make field observations that lent empirical credibility to his speculation. (Stephen Jay Gould, "Hutton’s Purpose," Hen’s Teeth and Horse’s Toes [New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1983], pp. 83, 90.) See also Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1974).

7Using a similar kind of argument Bernard Loomer argued that what is distinctive about process thought is not its substitution of "process" for "being," for if this were it, then "in many respects we really would not need process thought to get on with things." Loomer argued that we do need process thought to understand "the primacy of relationships." (See Bernard M. Loomer, "Process Theology: Origins, Strengths. Weaknesses," Process Studies [Winter 1987]: 245.)

8For example, Charley D. Hardwick says "The problem is that for all the boldness of his [William Dean’s] position, it is left ontologically dangling." (New Openings for Religious Empiricism," Journal of the American Academy of Religion [Fall 1988] 56: 549). Delwin Brown has called my omission of foundationalism "methodological primitivism." (An unpublished paper, "The Fall of ‘26: Being the Reflections of an Amateur Sleuth on the Mysterious Collapse of the Socio-Historical Framework of Process Theology: with some Clues for its Reconstruction," given at the international conference of the Highlands Institute for American Religious Thought, Oxford, England, August 1988, p. 21.)

9Monism for James meant "either the mere name One, the universe of discourse; or it means the sum total of all the ascertainable particular conjunctions and concatenations; or, finally, it means some one vehicle of conjunction treated as all-inclusive, like one origin, one purpose, or one knower" (PRAG 74).

10Here Gordon Kaufman may offer a special instance, for there is a naturalistic streak running through his historicism. See especially "a hidden creativity" in Theology for a Nuclear Age (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1985); this naturalistic realism is anticipated in The Theological Imagination (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1981), chapter 1, and, to a limited extent, in An Essay on Theological Method (Missoula, Mont..’ The Scholars Press, 1975, 1979), Chapter 3.

11Richard Rorty and Jeffrey Stout, for example, are preoccupied with ethics, and thereby with how theories impact with a nonlinguistic world. This undermines their occasional antirealism, and leads their pragmatism into intercourse with a world not only beyond words but a world beyond the constructions of oneself or one’s community. See especially Richard Rorty, "Solidarity or Objectivity?" Post-Analytic Philosophy, ed. John Rajchman and Cornel West (New York: Columbia University Press, 1985), pp. 03-19; and Jeffrey Stout, The Flight from Authority: Religion. Morality, and the Quest for Autonomy (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981) and Ethics after Babel: The Languages of Morals and Their Discontents (Boston: Beacon Press, 1988). For discussion of these issues, see my History Making History: The New Historicism in American Religious Thought (Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 1988), especially chapter 6.

12For accounts of Wieman’s idealism, see Creighton Peden, The Chicago School: Voices in Liberal Religious Thought (Bristol, Ind. Wyndham Hall Press, 1987), pp. 85-86; Meland, "The Empirical Tradition in Theology at Chicago," pp. 36-40; and Tyron Inbody, ‘How Empirical is Wieman’s Theology?" Zygote 22 (March 1987): 53.

13Wayne Proudfoot, Religious Experience (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985). To "ground" his critiques of Schleiermacher and William James, Proudfoot introduces two histories of interpretation theory: the hermeneutic tradition (Schleiermacher, Dilthey, Gadamer, Ricoeur, Geertz. and Hans Frei) and the pragmatic tradition (Peirce and those indebted to Peirce, such as Willard Quine, Nelson Goodman, and Wilfrid Sellars). Interestingly and indicative of Proudfoot’s bias, he emphasizes that "Both are indebted to Kant" (p. 46).

14See especially, Robert S. Corrington, The Community of Interpreters: 0n the Hermeneutics of Nature and the Bible in the American Philosophical Tradition (Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1987) and William M. Shea, The Naturalists and the Supernatural: Studies in Horizon and an American Philosophy of Religion (Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1984).

15Thomas D. Parker uses this phrase in his critique of Proudfoot in Parker’s "Immediacy and Interpretation in Religious Experience," American Religious Empiricism: Working Papers, ed. William J. Hynes and William Dean (Denver, Regis College Press, 1988). pp. 05-40.

16An earlier version of this paper was delivered as the plenary address at the annual meeting of the Society for the Advancement of American Philosophy in Evanston, Illinois in March 1989.