Jason Blum

Abstract

Given the close relationship between pragmatism and naturalism, incorporation of the former into religious studies methodology might seem to privilege the latter. I question this intuition by examining dimensions of pragmatism which suggest that it is more amenable to theism, and less closely tied to naturalism, than many suppose. Pragmatism encourages theoretical openness and reflectivity, which militate against exclusively privileging any particular philosophical perspective. Pragmatism’s most valuable contribution to methodology is the endorsement of a methodological pluralism that relativizes naturalism as one among numerous viable approaches to religious studies.

Jason Blum

Abstract

Ineffability has long been considered a hallmark of mystical experience. Dominant trends in epistemology and the study of mysticism, however, hold that experience is fundamentally conceptual and linguistic in nature, and therefore that experience cannot actually be ineffable. From this perspective, ineffability claims stymie analysis, and their cross-cultural prevalence in mystic traditions is problematic. Radical empiricism dissolves these difficulties by offering a broader and less discursive understanding of experience; specifically, it regards ineffable experience as a real possibility. It is therefore able to incorporate ineffability claims into analysis as signals of emotional or qualitative dimensions of experience that are not linguistic in nature. Radical empiricism also thereby explains the cross cultural prevalence of ineffability claims as an unremarkable facet of human consciousness and experience. It therefore affords a more effective explanation for the prevalence of ineffability and a more productive perspective for the study of mystical experience.

Jason N. Blum

William James stands at the nexus of two intellectual traditions important to religious studies: phenomenology of religion and radical empiricism. Focusing on James’s work, I identify three essential points of contact between radical empiricism and phenomenology of religion: epoché, the affective character of consciousness, and the inevitably open-ended nature of experience. I argue that these resonances allow them to be integrated, thereby furnishing a more robust and defensible understanding of the category of “experience.” This integrated approach responds to recent criticisms of phenomenology of religion, and describes a complimentary relationship between it and other, explanatory approaches to the study of religion and religious experience.

Series:

Edited by Jason N. Blum

The traditions and institutions that we call religions abound with references to the supernatural: ancestral spirits, karma, the afterlife, miracles, revelation, deities, etc. How are students of religion to approach the behaviors, doctrines, and beliefs that refer to such phenomena, which by their very nature are supposed to defy the methods of empirical research and the theories of historical scholarship? That is the question of methodological naturalism. The Question of Methodological Naturalism offers ten thoughtful engagements with that perennial question for the academic study of religion. Contributors include established senior scholars and newer voices propounding a range of perspectives, resulting in both surprising points of convergence and irreconcilable differences in how our shared discipline should be conceptualized and practiced.

Jason Blum

Abstract

Craig Martin accuses me of repeating the mistakes of perennialism, perpetuating an irresponsible and covertly theological approach to research that rushes to identify dubious “similarities” in religious experience across culture and history. While it is true that I identify cross-cultural similarities in the accounts of mystical experience that I examine in Zen and the Unspeakable God, that argument is based on historical evidence, and does not imply the questionable theological conclusions for which classical perennialism has been criticized. Learning from the mistakes of perennialism does not mean dismissing comparison as an illegitimate enterprise or rejecting cross-cultural similarities as prima facie impossible; it means insisting on evidentially-grounded and historically sensitive research that is willing and able to identify both differences and similarities. It also means resisting the temptation to oversimplify our task by reducing all research on religion to one preferred analytical category.