Benjamin Y. Fong – “Religion and the Mind: The Co-Delimitation of Concepts in the Eighteenth Century”

Benjamin Y. Fong (Assistant Collegiate Professor, The College, University of Chicago)

“Religion and the Mind: The Co-Delimitation of Concepts in the Eighteenth Century”

Wednesday, March 9th, 4:30 pm

Swift 106

Refreshments served

In The Meaning and End of Religion, Wilfred Cantwell Smith famously argued that the concept of “religion” gained its contemporary meaning in the Enlightenment.  In this paper, an expansion of Smith’s basic contention, I will attempt to demonstrate the immense importance of the new theory of a bodily, mortal, and fallible mind that emerged in the eighteenth century to the delimitation of the concept of religion.  Couching Smith’s argument in the history of psychology allows us to see more clearly what precisely is involved in the Enlightenment “reification” of religion, and also to better understand the basic features of the category of religion that contemporary religious studies scholars have come to know and lament.

[The paper will be distributed in advance of the event via the Workshop’s listerv]

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Benjamin Y. Fong (Assistant Collegiate Prof., Social Sciences, UChicago) on Starbuck’s and James’ psychology of religion

Benjamin Y. Fong

Harper Fellow and Assistant Collegiate Professor of Social Sciences (University of Chicago)

“Freak Stuff or Protestant Stock-in-Trade?: Edwin Diller Starbuck’s The Psychology of Religion in Light of its Influence on William James

Tuesday, February 3, 4:30pm (Location TBA)


“In this paper, my aim is to articulate the nature of William James’ debt to and divergence from the ideas of his student Edwin Diller Starbuck through an analysis of the latter’s The Psychology of Religion conducted in light of the “Conversion” lectures in the Varieties of Religious Experience.  As I will demonstrate, The Psychology of Religion was not simply “source material” for James, who actively edited Starbuck’s work as he presented it.  My hope is contribute to a fuller understanding of James’ Varieties while introducing the work of a mostly forgotten figure in the history of the study of religion, but it is perhaps more importantly to show that the psychology of religion in America, at its inception, was not defined by a single trajectory.”