“Pragmatism…she widens the field of search for God”

Brandon Schneider

“Pragmatism…she widens the field of search for God”

February 10, 2015 / 5:00 pm - 7:00 pm / Add to Google
370 Dwinelle Hall

Joan Richardson, Distinguished Professor of English, Comparative Literature, and American Studies, The Graduate Center, CUNY

On several occasions William James described Pragmatism as continuing the work of the Protestant Reformation, loosening the ties of orthodoxy and outworn habit of any kind to admit all the possibilities of belief belonging to a pluralistic universe. In the penultimate paragraph of Pragmatism (1907), he writes; “We do not yet know which type of religion is going to work best in the long run. The various overbeliefs of men, the several faith-ventures, are in fact what is needed to bring the evidence in.” Just as nature described by Charles Darwin produced a superabundance of varieties in each species, offering thereby the possibility of fit, and so continuity, within the constantly changing order of things, so the varieties of religious experience offer possibilities of our continuing relation, beyond our understanding, of “vital conversation with the unseen divine.” The exploration suggested herein was and is the work of the philosophical method that came to be identified with James, Charles Sanders Peirce, John Dewey and their inheritors, among them, Reinhold Niebuhr, yet this intrinsic aspect has been more recently persistently ignored/repressed. “Pragmatism…she widens the field of search for God.” This project and its occulting will be the subjects of my address. (Richardson)

Joan Richardson is the author of a two-volume biography of the poet Wallace Stevens, co-edited with Frank Kermode, Wallace Stevens: Collected Poetry and Prose (Library of America, 1997). Her essays on Stevens, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Jonathan Edwards have been published in the Wallace Stevens Journal, in Raritan, and elsewhere, and essays on Alfred North Whitehead, William James, and pragmatism have appeared in the journals Configurations and The Hopkins Review. Her study A Natural History of Pragmatism: The Fact of Feeling from Jonathan Edwards to Gertrude Stein was published by Cambridge University Press in 2007, and was nominated for the 2011 Grawemeyer Award in Religion. Another volume for Cambridge, Pragmatism and American Experience was published in June 2014. Among other current writing engagements, she is preparing for press Images, Shadows of Divine Things, the project for which she was awarded a 2012 Guggenheim Fellowship; inspired in part by Jonathan Edwards, it is a secular spiritual autobiography in hybrid, experimental form. Joan Richardson has also been the recipient of several other awards, including a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship and a Senior Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Her work reflects an abiding interest in the way that philosophy, natural history, and science intersect with literature. She is particularly preoccupied with the complex relation between language and perception.

Co-presented with the Center for the Arts, Religion and Education (CARE).