The Workshop of Being brings into conversation the thought of Jonathan Edwards and William James on the pragmatic value of religious experience. Edwards and James share the desire to trace the sacred as it shapes the American experiment. Informed by the tradition of Protestant heart piety and the psychology of religious affections, these thinkers assess the nature of creative freedom in the face of theological and scientific forms of determinism current in their respective cultural contexts. In the analysis of the pragmatic value of religious experience, Edwards and James each find a depth of ideas regarding the philosophy and psychology of religion. Arguing for the powerful role of the creative imagination born from religious feeling, Edwards and James envision an expansiveness of self and reality that inspires human action transformative of an unfinished universe in need of repair.
The pragmatic results of religious experience inform Edwards’s philosophy of excellence and James’s philosophy of radical empiricism in such a way as to artfully shape the possibility for the creation of a universe modeled after an ethical republic. Edwards’s portrait of the saint and James’s concept of religious genius, though emerging from different historical contexts, suggest that religious experience envisions a universe of possibility reflective of the democratic hope for a compassionate society. Employing biographical study, and theological, philosophical, and literary analysis, The Workshop of Being offers a meditative analysisof the work of America’s two greatest thinkers on the nature of religious experience.
S.T. Campagna-Pinto is assistant professor of religious studies at California State University, Bakersfield.