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Teaching science and religion in a Jewish seminary.

"I want to know the enemy." The time is the mid-eighties. The place, the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. The occasion is the opening session of the first course I taught there, "Psychology and Religious Thought," informally subtitled "Faith after Freud" (1) I begin the course with the ritual "Why are you taking this class?" circle. The first student to speak says, "If I am going to stand up there and be a religious leader, I want to know the enemy." The next student, obviously coming from quite a different perspective responds, "I want to adapt what I believe about Judaism to what psychology teaches so I can keep up with the times." I explain that my reason for studying psychological theories of religion with rabbinical students is neither of those. And so I have continued to explain, even as "Faith after Freud" (1986, 1992, 1997) gave way to a course on Science and Religion, dubbed "Faith after Neuroscience"(2004), and morphed again into the course I will teach this spring combining elements from both, "Spirituality, Religion and Morality: Theories of Mind, Theories of Brain" or, as I like to think of it, "Faith after Freud and Neuroscience"(2007).

Psychology of Religion ranges today from the "hard" natural sciences to the most imaginative social sciences. It includes laboratory researchers examining brains, primatologists studying the origins of spirituality in apes, evolutionary psychologists speculating on the adaptive advantage of religious behavior and Jungian analysts working with myths and dreams. Some of these explorations are data-rich and theory-poor (2) and some the reverse. Taken as a whole, psychology is an ideal set of disciplines for rabbinical students to explore how scientific ideas about spirituality, religion and morality relate to their own religious beliefs.

I see this work as a "critical dialogue" (3) between those of us inside religion and those who study what we are up to from the outside. What are the origins of spirituality, religion and morality, not only in the stories told by our traditional texts, but in the theories of those who work in the human sciences? My experience in interreligious dialogue serves as my model. The goal of that work is not, in Thomas Merton's words, "syncretism, indifferentism, the vapid and careless friendliness that accepts everything by thinking of nothing." It means shifting your standpoint to return to your own in a different way. As Merton said, "I will be a better Catholic, not if I can refute every shade of Protestantism but if I can affirm the truth in it and still go further." (4)

The engagement with science by rabbinical students is, in my view, neither a preparation to win debates nor an opportunity to rehabilitate old ideas nor the chance to prove "we are all saying the same thing in different ways." Rather, it challenges us. Sometimes the result is new clarity and commitment to what we already affirm, sometimes revision of ideas, sometimes new ways to say the old things and sometimes ... if we are lucky ... more insight and wisdom, at least more integrity.

In a seminary, moreover, we face a special challenge in this work. We are concerned not only with the integrity of the students' ideas but also with the "formation" of their "pastoral identities". (5) The term "formation" originated in Roman Catholic circles to describe the education of religious professionals, but it also applies to what we do in a rabbinical college. Our work involves taking students, many of whom grew up without strong Jewish backgrounds, and immersing them in the texts and traditions of Judaism. The goal is more than acquiring skills and information. At its heart, it is about cultivation of the "habits, dispositions and values" one would want in a rabbi. This means seeing the classroom as an opportunity for spiritual encounter; the students will then go out and create such settings for others. We are striving to develop in students a "pastoral imagination," a project that often feels at odds with the project of subjecting spirituality, religion and morality to the psychologists' lens.

In this paper I will explain why I consider the teaching of science and religion--and in particular psychology of religion--an important element in the education of rabbis. I will then trace the evolution of my course over the years, from "Faith after Freud" to "Faith after Neuroscience" to the most recent iteration, "Faith after Freud and Neuroscience". I will describe in some detail how I plan to teach that course, offering several specific examples of conversations we will have. Finally, I will reflect on how I shape the work differently than if I were teaching a course in an academic department of religion.

Why Science and Religion?

The late Stephen Jay Gould, a renowned biologist who was a Jewish agnostic, taught that science and religion could exist companionably because they have different areas of professional expertise--"non overlapping magisteria (NOMA)". According to Gould, science addresses the "empirical constitution of the universe" while religion specializes in "the search for ... the spiritual meaning of our lives." (6) In another of his formulations, science deals with "facts (what) and theories (how)" and religion with "value (why)." Many Jews, both scientists and believers (and some Jews who are both) instinctively agree with Gould. They wonder what all the fuss is about; a division of labor seems to be the most sensible way to go.

I believe, along with many others, that NOMA does not adequately describe the relationship between science and religion. That is why I am so committed to teaching psychology and religious thought at a rabbinical seminary. In recent years we have seen the two magisteria often "in each other's face." That is the most obvious flaw in the thesis, the one I point to first when explaining why I teach what I do. Our rabbis must live in two worlds, writing their sermons with both the Torah and the New York Times open on their desk. (7) Newly acrimonious debates at the interface of science and religion, hardly to be predicted a generation ago, fill the public sphere: controversy over teaching Darwinian evolution and intelligent design, ethical issues emerging around the beginning and end of life, and--partially in response to these developments--a vigorous "evangelism" on behalf of a materialist, reductionist scientism. Last week, the bestseller list included two strong polemics against religion, one by a neuroscience graduate student and the other by a world famous evolutionary biologist. (8) Rabbis need to be prepared to speak intelligently about these issues.

For me, however, the second and more important reason is theological or, to put it a different way, related to the search for beliefs we can sustain. When we create a "no man's land" between the domains of science and religion, we risk missing out on what we can learn at the jagged, interesting border.

If science changes the "facts," it affects what religions say about "the spiritual meaning of life." When the Pope challenged Galileo, he was not wrong to be concerned. The view of the universe that becomes the dominant paradigm will affect what people are prepared to believe about religion. In the case of the challenges of the 17th, 18th and early 19th century, religions--far from relying on their separate magisteria--were forced to adapt their claims. The non-Orthodox religious options that emerged in Judaism and Christianity were the result.

Enter the 20th century and the human sciences. No longer arguing about cosmology or the make up of the non-human world, science took on the last frontier--the nature of human beings themselves and why they act the way they do. Now science and religion lost all chance of being separate. The facts and theories science was establishing were facts and theories about religion itself. The human sciences study as objects for investigation the very subjects that people of faith consider central to their lives--spirituality, religion (the institutionalization of spirituality) and morality. When Freud, Marx, Durkheim and Weber aspired to explain religious beliefs and behavior, they had stomped right in to religion's magisterium. It was a mostly hostile take-over and religions were forced to surrender, fight back full force, or negotiate yet another truce.

Today, the study of contemporary science, particularly the human sciences, is essential if that process is to continue to evolve. The Reconstructionist approach to Judaism makes this a central tenet. Mordecai Kaplan wrote, "The preparation for the rabbinical calling should include an intensive study of the human sciences." (9) What science tells us about our world--especially about our selves--will inevitably shape the culture our rabbis operate within and ought to consciously shape what they believe about the deepest questions of human life. Our students spend five years studying the history of Jewish thought with the goal of understanding its evolution in the context of the cultures in which Jews have lived. Our own time is no different. The integration of biological perspectives into psychology, for example, should have an impact on our understanding of philosophical and theological questions.

In my experience, the study of psychology of religion is particularly well suited to helping seminarians enter the science and religion conversation, to appreciate its complexity, and to clarify their own point of view as people who take seriously the worlds of fact and value. Psychology, because it spans the biological and the social sciences, offers an excellent example of how the former is increasingly impacting the latter. Psychology, like religion, deals with the ordering of the inner life and the human quest for health and wholeness. Far from remaining distinct, psychologists and religionists are all over each other's territory. The great theorists of psychology have had much to say about religion. The three classic theorists in the field, Freud, Jung and James, despite being dead for over half a century, provide among the most profound discussions of the topic. Finally, psychology is enormously compelling for students whose work involves the deepest spiritual and emotional connections between their own lives and those of others.

Consider the following questions and determine if they are questions of fact or of value: What is the nature of human beings? What is a soul? What is spiritual experience? How free is free will? How do we understand illness and healing, both physical and mental? How can people be happier? Are moral judgments just a matter of taste? How can we become more conscious and compassionate people? How can we achieve life abundant--whatever that means? Psychologists may claim to simply describe what "is" but it is foolish to imagine that this has no effect on what people think about what "ought" to be. (10) As we develop our sense of self and our culture, we are inevitably shaped by what our scientists have told us we are like and what we should expect of ourselves.

Psychology and Religion at RRC

In the "Faith after Freud" courses of the mid-eighties and nineties, we focused on Freud's challenge to religion, which we viewed, alongside that of Marx and Durkheim, as representing a major social scientific reductive analysis of religion. After reading Freud's attack, we spent the rest of the course looking at non-reductionist options, from James and Jung to Otto Rank, Viktor Frankl and Erik Erikson. We also read Kierkegaard, Reinhold Niebuhr and Paul Tillich. I tried to keep students engaged in a rigorous dialogue, neither ignoring Freud's challenge nor simply reducing our religion to what would fit. We compared the classically tragic worldview of Freud with the more optimistic, even romantic, one of humanistic psychology, American style--noting the prominent role of Jews in that development. (11) We returned to Freud to notice how, despite his reputation as "anti-religious," he spent the last years of his life obsessed with those very issues, and crafted a life philosophy of great depth.

It was not until around the year 2000, at the end of the official "decade of the brain," that I began to notice that the world outside the humanities academy was changing. It slowly dawned on me that while I was teaching the psychology of religion I had learned in graduate school, undergraduates today were forming waiting lists for courses in neuroscience. "No one in the behavioral sciences today doubts that biology is making a profound impact on those fields." (12) Further, "this integration is bearing down like a bulldozer on ... sy much of psychology." (13) I knew from working in a social service agency that clinical practice was becoming more pharmacological; the name Freud was barely mentioned. I saw that while mental health was increasingly understood through biology, physical health was becoming more psychological. Alternative and complementary medicine and healing services were becoming popular in liberal synagogues.

Through my work in helping to start a Jewish healing center, I entered the "spirituality and medicine" world and eventually joined the board of the Philadelphia based Metanexus Institute for Science and Religion. I met scientists who were serious religious people and theologians who studied science. I began to read Steven Pinker, Daniel Dennett, E. O. Wilson, V.S. Ramachandran, and Antonio Damasio. These writers, like Freud and James and Jung, had much to say about the origins of spirituality, religion and morality. Furthermore, they made judgments, implicit or explicit, about human nature and human possibility. I searched in the theological literature for responses to this work and found that, while there was some literature on physics and faith, the religious world had barely begun to respond to psychology in a biological key. (14)

I was intrigued by these questions. What happens if we begin to understand human beings as more deeply imbedded in nature and if biology becomes more important in understanding human behavior? Are our theological claims more or less supportable? As scientists gain a better understanding of our brains and how they evolved, what will become of some of our own ideas: the soul, transcendent ethical values, hope? Are we dealing with the climax of the reductionist project (religion fully explained and thus explained away) or, alternatively, are new avenues emerging for a non-reductionist or even anti-reductionist vision of religion?

So I left Freud on the shelf and offered a course on Science and Religion ("Faith After Neuroscience"). Having dropped out of the study of science my junior year in high school, this required more than a little chutzpah. I relied on the excellent writing available to a general audience in this field (15) along with the faith that the best way to learn something is to teach it. I promoted the course to students by pointing out that not only do our congregants read the science section of Time and Newsweek, some of them are scientists themselves. The laypeople with whom we deal want their rabbi to help them connect what they hear in synagogue with what they read the rest of the week.

We explored research in neuroscience that was particularly related to spirituality, religion or morality. We grappled with the implications of the theories we read for our understanding of human nature, the role of religion in culture, the unique sacred quality of the human being, free will, moral values, human rights, mystical experience, and the power of prayer to heal. Some of the students resisted what they considered the inflated claims of the scientists, and were moved to make a strong case for an alternative view of human life, more in accord with Jewish tradition. Others found themselves deeply challenged and at least one was pushed to a crisis of faith by the materialist perspective of much of the science. We took apart the metaphors we found in this literature and held them up against the metaphors of our own tradition, especially the ones to which the students felt emotionally connected. Did our metaphors need restating? Were they "better" (16) than the scientific ones? What did it mean to even have this conversation?

Because there was not a body of secondary literature written by theologians in response to this research, we found ourselves out on the edge, empowered to try our hands at creative religious thought in reaction to developing challenges and insights. As I read the mounting volume of literature in the science and religion debate or listened to the students struggling with the issues, I found myself thinking of Freud or James or Jung. I went back to my old files to confirm my sense that these thinkers had already dealt with many of the questions we were asking, often with lasting insight.

Despite his staunch atheism, Freud showed an understanding and respect for the spiritual and religious impulses far deeper and more nuanced than some of the materialist scientism of our day. In the case of James, his pragmatism, less cynical and more open to the spiritual than much post-modern pragmatism, offered a helpful path through the controversies. (17) Finally, Jung provided an opportunity to look at the spiritually oriented psychology of today--a scientific take on an immanentist theology, with all its strengths and weaknesses. The newest version of the course will begin with a discussion of the broader questions of science/psychology and religion, then focus on the three classical theorists, move to an exploration of recent developments in brain science and, at the end, return to Freud, Jung and James to explore, again, the big questions.

Highlights of the 2007 Course

I will begin the science and religion conversation by having the students read the NOMA article by Gould and asking students what they think about it. If the students went to college in the nineties or later, they will begin by raising post-modern, social constructivist arguments they learned as undergraduates in the humanities and social sciences. The strongest version of this objection, in composite form, goes something like this: Science does not deal with facts. There are no such thing as facts. Since all thought is constructed, science and religion are not airtight realms but really two versions of the same enterprise, human beings making up metaphors and models. Where once one might say, "it's only a story," it is now said, "there is only story." (18) This hermeneutic, either explicitly studied or imbibed "in the water," is part of what has led these highly educated students into a strong faith commitment at this point in history. (19)

I am glad when this objection surfaces since it has merit, but the merit is limited. The non-scientists in the academy usually overstate this idea and I find it unhelpful for us to overstate it in our work. Science, although it uses metaphors and models just as religion does, give rise to theories that can be verified, or at least tested over a long period of time and not falsified. Were a theory to yield false predictions, scientists would abandon it. This is quite different from what we are up to in the realm of religion, or at least it seems that way to me. While neither Darwin nor Michael Behe (Intelligent Design author) have the benefit of "immaculate perception," their ideas are not equally plausible, nor are they both "options" in the same way in a science curriculum. We will have a lot more to say about metaphors and truth, both scientific and religious as the course progresses.

Some students will likely say that it does make sense to keep the scientists and religionists in their own realms. After all, look what happens when someone like Richard Dawkins tries to venture into metaphysics. He should stick to science. And aren't those conservative religious folks overreaching when they tell scientists what they should study and how? I challenge this idea. Scientists are welcome to state their view of life's meaning. The claim that the human species evolved entirely through random diversification and natural selection can carry with it implications for worldview. Dawkins and his ilk are welcome to share what they think those are. In fact, it would be good if schools taught students how to sort out these ideas through courses on "Comparative Worldviews" where Intelligent Design would be most appropriate in the curriculum, alongside the "Brights" (20) and their philosophy of life. If religious people are committed to values that they believe should make a difference in the world, they ought to let scientists know what they are.

Clifford Geertz, a cultural anthropologist, rebukes the philosophers and social scientists who try to isolate their work from anything emanating from natural science. He understands why they may feel it could be a hostile takeover. But the massive transformations going on in the natural sciences need to be attended to. Keeping the realms radically separated leaves the humanists with an inadequate understanding of human behavior and leaves the scientists "to the mercy of their own devices." (21)

Theories of human nature, emanating from science or religion, pervade the culture. I will share a conversation I overheard in a diner recently. At the table next to me, a woman was on her cell phone apologizing to someone for something. "I am so sorry I did that. I guess I had a low serotonin level this morning." One might just have easily heard, in that same diner in my neighborhood, someone saying, "My chi was out of whack." Of course, twenty years ago she would have said, "I really need to understand my neuroses better," whereas a hundred years ago her great grandmother would have said "my yetzer ha ra (evil impulse) had the upper hand."

In order to go deeper into the discussion of culture in relation to scientific theories, we will read "The Emergence of Psychological Man", Philip Rieff's oft-reprinted last chapter of Freud: The Mind of the Moralist. When we discuss the cultures we find ourselves a part of as liberal Jews, we understand how deeply enmeshed we are in the world psychology has helped shape and how that implicates our religious thought, even when we are not conscious of it.

During the next six weeks, we will confine ourselves to primary source readings--Freud, (22) Jung, (23) and James. (24) The students will be required to do a fair amount of reading at home. In addition, we will engage in careful text study of a few select passages, reading slowly for meaning in a fashion similar to the way students learn to study traditional sacred texts at RRC.

For each of these three authors, we will briefly discuss their biographies, particularly in relationship to religion, largely because the stories are too interesting to ignore. We will spend most of the time trying to tease out what each author believes are the reasons human beings are spiritual, religious and moral. What is the relationship between these three? What are the explicit and implicit assumptions the theory makes regarding the innate nature of human beings and what we can expect of ourselves? What are our obligations? What is happiness? Is it possible? What thwarts happiness? What is wholeness/optimum health? What is the presumed metaphysical horizon of human life? What kind of world do we live in and what is its ultimate context? (25)

When first confronted with Freud's analysis, reduction and critique of religion, it is understandable that students, like many liberal religionists, console themselves with the belief that Freud had in mind authoritarian, traditional, orthodox religion. Their own more progressive, humanistic brand would be, in the words of Mordecai Kaplan, "Freud-proof." But students come to see that Freud's problems with religion were not reserved for the Orthodox. Rather, his critique included liberal thinkers like us. In fact, one could argue that Freud reserves his harshest criticism for those who, knowing that religious comforts are not even true, still refuse to do the courageous thing and get along without them.
 Where questions of religion are concerned, people are guilty of
 every sort of dishonesty ... Philosophers stretch the meaning of
 words until they retain scarcely anything of their original sense.
 They give the name of 'God' to some vague abstraction they have
 created for themselves ... Men cannot remain children forever. They
 must in the end go out into 'hostile life.' (26)

Freud thought that it was "insolent" for the liberal religionist to pick and choose between religious truths, declaring some parts of the religious system more acceptable than others. "Such questions are too momentous for that; they might be called too sacred." Freud agreed with Weber who predicted that, "those who cannot bear the fate of the times like a man will return to the old churches."

Ouch. But what Freud calls dishonesty James would call pragmatism. We should consider what it means to turn to the language of tradition, including the word "God," to shape a set of experiences even when we know that our beliefs differ from those who first used this language. Are we simply opting for what we would like to be true instead of the cold, hard realities science provides? William James would respond with his pragmatic view of truth. He speaks to the medical materialism of his day and says: It doesn't matter what Saint Theresa's nervous system was like. What matters is the healing potential of beliefs. Fine, but what would Freud say to that? What would James say back?

In Part Two of the course, we will turn to the scientists of the brain. The assignment for this portion is to write a short sermon or outline an adult education session that brings some of the material we study to an audience like the ones we serve. I will introduce the field of neuroscience with a video of Andrew Newberg who spoke to the faculty of RRC, at my invitation, several years ago. Newberg is known for his research on the "God spot" in the brain, (27) and is considered a key thinker in the unfortunately named field of "neurotheology." We will read the debates going on in that world and conduct a phone interview with a scholar involved in this research. (28)

Next, we will look at the field of evolutionary psychology. (29) When I taught "Faith after Neuroscience," my students reacted negatively to the ultra-Darwinian view of life. Their antennae went up when gender was understood biologically, and stayed up as they encountered simplistic, sometimes condescending understandings of religion. Nevertheless, it is worth returning to the questions we asked of our three classical thinkers and see how many of them are relevant to this field of "brain science" and how we react to the answers.

We will then look at the questions arising from new understandings of health. Religious leaders are amongst the army of healers who are called upon to respond to the human quest for wholeness and health. I want to examine the impact of psychopharmacology on the treatment of psychological illness and the issues of healing vs. enhancement that emerge. Further, I want to delve more critically into mind/body medicine. At first glance it might seem that mind/body medicine is "good news" for religion, but the relationship is complicated. We are aware that secularized, individualized spiritual healing options compete with our own religious offerings. As we work to catch up, we may erode the connection that religious traditions have maintained to community and ethics. (30)

At the end of the course we will return to the three classic thinkers with which we began and discuss what they would make of the science we have studied. They would all probably be thrilled to enter a laboratory today and discover it is possible to look inside a human brain. (Freud began his career as a biological research scientist. Live brains, not being visible at the time, he had been cutting up the brains of crayfish.) How well have their ideas held up? How can they help us organize our thinking about brain science today?

Seminary vs. Academic Study: The Big Questions

In retrospect, I believe that my 2004 Science and Religion course was weighted too heavily toward "deconstruction" as opposed to "reconstruction." I did not want students jumping into easy apologetics. I encouraged them to engage with the scientists who were hardest on religion. I wanted them to hear the best critiques, not the ones most easily dismissed. Now I am seeking thinkers who help to bridge the two worlds. (31)

I find it helpful to use Peter Berger's notion of "rumors of transcendence" (32) and to challenge us to look for those "rumors" in the scientific descriptions we read. This time I am having students listen to an NPR episode of "Speaking of Faith" with Dr. Sherwin Nuland, a Jewish physician who "does not espouse a formal religious belief' but, as Krista Tippett, the interviewer, puts it,
 looks within the body not only for the source of his wonder but for
 the driving force of his capacity for wonder itself. He makes the
 provocative suggestion that what we call the human spirit--our
 capacity for beauty and love, our drive to create balance in life and
 moral order in society--is an evolutionary accomplishment of the most
 complex organism on the planet, the human brain ... Sherwin Nuland has
 given himself over to charting transcendence rooted in flesh and blood
 and bone, DNA and neurotransmitter and enzyme. (33)

In addition, I will put more emphasis on examining our own psychological, spiritual and psycho-spiritual practices in light of all we have studied in both halves of the semester. (33) How does the author understand the pain and suffering in life? How does what students take from the author's ideas contribute to their own search for insight into the challenge of composing a meaningful life?

We attend to the "formation" of a "pastoral identity" in part by engaging in practices. In some other courses at RRC, for example, it is the custom to begin each class session with a brief kavanah (Hebrew for "intention"--something in between a prayer and a homily). The purpose of this opening is, as the word states, precisely to orient people to the intentionality of our time together, that is, the sacredness of study. Sometimes we use the traditional Hebrew blessing for torah study. Other options include centering silence, chant, poetry or guided meditation. In this class, I plan to assign students to offer original kavanot, one student each week, with the directive that they try to connect their words to the readings we prepared for that week.

I can still hear one of the students in that first class I taught in the 1980's sharing why she was taking the course. "Sometimes," she confessed, "I wake up at 2 a.m. and wonder what I am doing being a religious person. Hasn't the game been up for years?" The questions of science and religion are not academic ones for rabbinical students. They are existential. They concern that to which the students have chosen to devote their lives. They are the questions they ask themselves regularly and are likely to be asked by others. Ultimately we want to craft responses, or at least wise formulations, worthy of the depth of the questions themselves.


1. The title comes from the second half of the book by Phillip Rieff, The Triumph of the Therapeutic: Uses of Faith after Freud. (Chicago: U of Chicago Press, 1966)

2. See Steven Rose, The Future of the Brain: The Promise and Perils of Tomorrow's Neuroscience (New York: Oxford, 2005) p.5

3. I owe this phrase, as well as much else in my thinking about this course, to Don S. Browning whose book, Modern Psychologies and Religious Thought (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2004, second edition) I have used as one of my basic texts for a decade.

4. Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (New York: Doubleday, 1966) p.129

5. I am indebted to the volume Educating Clergy: Teaching Practices and Pastoral Imagination by Foster, Dahill, Golemon and Tolentino (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2006) for helping me articulate these goals more clearly. The book was part of a project funded by The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

6. Stephen Jay Gould, "Nonoverlapping Magisteria," Natural History 106 (March 1997): pp.16-22; reprinted in Rock of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life (Ballantine, 1999).

7. This image is adapted from one used by Karl Barth who wrote in Dogmatics in Outline that "we proclaim the gospel with the newspaper in the one hand and the Bible in the other."

8. Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2006); Sam Harris, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason (New York: W.W. Norton, 2004). See also Daniel Dennett, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon (New York: Viking, 2006)

9. Mordecai M. Kaplan, Judaism as a Civilization: Toward a Reconstruction of American Jewish Life (1934, reprint Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1994). 467. Mordecai Kaplan (1881-1983) was a major American Jewish thinker whose perspective on Judaism, one that enthusiastically embraced a social scientific approach to religion, was central to the founding of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. Kaplan believed that the natural science of his day decisively undercut traditional religious belief. This was good news. He also believed the most interesting challenges would come from the social sciences and that, if met, these developments would "be to our advantage spiritually." (ibid.307) As Kaplan's biographer Mel Scult has taught us, "doing Reconstructionism" now means grappling with what Kaplan would have grappled with if he were a young man today.

10. William J. Grassie, "Hermeneutics in Science and Religion," Encyclopedia of Religion and Science, Volume I, edited by J. Wentzel van Huyssteen, Macmillan, 2003

11. At that time I did not have the benefit of Andrew Heinze, Jews and the American Soul: Human Nature in the 20th Century (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004), a work that tells that story in fascinating detail.

12. Melvin Konner, The Tangled Wing: Biological Constraints on the Human Spirit (New York: Holt, 2002)p. 11

13. ibid. p. xvii

14. See Norbert Samuelson, "The Death and Revival of Jewish Philosophy," JAAR, March 2002, 117-134, 123. Since I taught the course, I have appreciated new work such as Kelley Bulkeley, The Wondering Brain: Thinking about Religion with and beyond Cognitive Neuroscience (New York: Routledge, 2005)

15. For examples, see Antonio Damasio, Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow and the Feeling Brain (Orlando, Fl.: Harcourt, 2003) V.S. Ramachandran and Sandra Blakeslee, Phantoms in the Brain (New York: HarperCollins, 1998).

16. Antonio Damasio, Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow and the Feeling Brain (Orlando, Fl.: Harcourt, 2003) V.S. Ramachandran and Sandra Blakeslee, Phantoms in the Brain (New York: HarperCollins, 1998).

17. See Carol Zaleski, "William James: The Varieties of Religious Experience," First Things 101 (March 2000) pp.60-61

18. For a fuller discussion of these issues, see Janet Martin Soskice, Metaphor and Religious Language (New York: Oxford, 1985). I do not come to the same conclusion as Soskice about religious truth, but I appreciate her careful discussion of the truth of scientific metaphor and models.

19. Richard Rorty, "Against Unity," The Wilson Quarterly, Winter 1998.

20. For more about this designation see

21. Clifford Geertz, Available Light (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000) p. 156.

22. We will work carefully through the first two chapters of Civilization and its Discontents, "The Question of a Weltanschauung" and a brief look at Freud's last work, his "bad novel," Moses and Monotheism. We will read parts of "The Uncanny," an essay by Freud ostensibly on aesthetics that offers a somewhat different perspective on the origin of religious ideas. We will also view part of the PBS documentary on Freud and C.S. Lewis.

23. We will read the beginning and end of Jung's autobiography (what Peter Homans calls his "automythology") and parts of an exchange between Jung and Martin Buber.

24. We will read several chapters of The Varieties of Religious Experience and the last few pages of "The Will to Believe." We will also read a less well-known essay "Why Live?"

25. My indebtedness to Don S. Browning for these questions should be obvious. Also, invaluable to me has been James E. Dittes, "Teaching Freud's Teachings," Teaching Freud, ed. Diane Jonte-Pace (New York: Oxford, 2003) 258-270.

26. Sigmund Freud, The Future of an Illusion, (New York: Norton, 1961) p.32; 49

27. For a popular discussion of his work, see Sharon Begley, "Your Brain on Religion: Mystic visions or brain circuits at work?", Newsweek, May 7, 2001.

28. We will also use as basic texts Stephen Rose, The Future of the Brain: The Promise and Perils of Tomorrow's Neuroscience (N.Y.: Oxford, 2005) and Paul Bloom, Descartes' Baby: How the Science of Child Development Explains What Makes Us Human (N.Y: Basic Books, 2004).

29. Stephen Pinker, The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature (New York: Viking, 2002) and Robert Wright, The Moral Animal: Why We Are the Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology (NY: Random House, 1994).

30. Sidney Callahan, "A New Synthesis: Alternative Medicine's Challenge to Mainstream Medicine and Traditional Christianity," The Park Ridge Center for the Study of Health, Faith and Ethics, September 1999.

31. See the work of Francis Collins and Robert Pollack. We will read parts of the newly published work by biological anthropologist Barbara J. King, Evolving God: A Provocative View on the Origins of Religion (New York: Doubleday, 2007). King traces the emergence of spirituality as part of our evolution from primates. While she is offering a naturalistic explanation, she does so from a spacious and generous attitude toward religious and spiritual experience. For example, she brings Martin Buber into her discussion of "belongingness."

32. Peter Berger, A Rumor of Angels: Modern Society and the Rediscovery of the Supernatural (NY: Doubleday, 1969, reprint 1990).

33. also, Jerome Groopman, "God and the Brain," The New Yorker, September 17, 2001

34. If I had more time, I would have devoted sessions to looking at how Buddhism intersects with these issues, the Positive Psychology movement, and the Constructive Developmental views of Kohlberg, Gilligan, Fowler and Kegan.
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Author:Kreimer, Nancy Fuchs
Publication:Cross Currents
Date:Mar 22, 2007
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