2. John Dewey’s Critique of the Supernatural
[D]epreciation of natural social values has resulted … from reference of their origin and significance to supernatural sources.
I cannot understand how any realization of the democratic ideal as a vital moral and spiritual ideal in human affairs is possible without surrender of the conception of the basic division to which supernatural Christianity is committed.
3. Teaching the Supernatural
“I believe it is rational to believe in the supernatural, whether it’s believing in ghosts as form of coping and understanding death, or using the explanation of elves and fairies to come to terms with how things occur in the natural world, or explaining odd behavior.”
“It is understandable, but I don’t believe it is reasonable. The supernatural is a sort of explanation for the unknown, but to me it seems rooted more in tradition than reason. Religion to me is similar—more a tradition in which one is raised than a belief reached from reasoning. It’s an explanation and comfort.”
“I have learned a lot about not dismissing the beliefs of people of the past. It’s more useful to discuss why they were that way, not just say ‘people back then were dumb.’ I also have more an idea of how the supernatural and supernatural belief is integrated into our daily lives, whether we realise it or not.”
“I have more understanding and respect for religious and supernatural beliefs than I did at the start of the course. I also have a stronger interest in mythologies and pagan beliefs …”
“Within this age of science, we tend to lean towards a scientific depiction/explanation for events, HOWEVER, I believe that through certain experiences we can be involved in things that could not be experienced in everyday life → for example, communication with the dead as a form of grieving.”
“I came into this course with a rather closed mind, viewing a lot of these concepts as weird/crazy, however after seeing other peoples’ unwavering belief and deep history in many cultures, my opinion has become a lot more accepting, and whilst I may not have the same beliefs, I have a newfound respect for those who believe in these things.”
4. Discussion: The Civic Function of Wonder
Conflicts of Interest
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Reference to “unseen powers” is made throughout John Dewey’s A Common Faith. It is a term he borrowed from the Oxford Dictionary (p. 3). Citations from A Common Faith are from the Yale University Press edition (Dewey 1934) as it is more widely available than the critical edition by Southern Illinois University Press which is published in Volume 9 of The Later Works of John Dewey, edited by Jo Ann Boydston in 1986.
Critiques of Dewey’s position by those who are otherwise sympathetic to his pragmatism are common. For example, Nel Noddings (2009) says, “A Common Faith is arguably one of John Dewey’s least effective books” (p. 12) Richard Rorty (2007) calls A Common Faith “unambitious and half-hearted” (p. 36). Reinhold Niebuhr (1934). described A Common Faith as a “footnote on religion.”
In an early essay, “Christianity and Democracy” (originally a Sunday morning address delivered at a service of the Students’ Christian Association at the University of Michigan), Dewey (1971) writes, “Democracy thus appears as the means by which the revelation of truth is carried on. It is in democracy … that the incarnation of God in man …becomes a living, present thing, having its ordinary and natural sense. This truth is brought down to life; its segregation removed: it is made a common truth enacted in all departments of action, not in one isolated sphere called religious” (p. 9).
For a discussion of mysticism across the work of Dewey, see (Rockefeller 1991, pp. 501–12).
On these terms as applied to A Common Faith, see (Rorty 1998, p. 142, n. 8).
Referring to the four humors in the body, James I (1597) says the Devil “he knowes well inough what humor domines most in anie of vs, and as a spirite hee can subtillie walken vp the same, making it peccant, or to abounde, as he thinkes meete for troubling of vs, when God will so permit him.” Also see (Levack 2013, p. 118)
James I’s Daemonologie is not only a theological tract, but also James’ attempt to consolidate “his kingship with his position as the head of the Church of England” (Howe 2014, p. 30). Writing at the time of the Second World War, Dewey (1989) refers to diabolus ex machina as a non-naturalistic device used to explain the presence of evil (p. 61).
Various stances on the historicity of the Satanic verses have been held by Muslims: see (Ahmed 2017, p. 3).
For this translation, as well as helpful commentary on the pastoral nature of Gifford’s account, see (Howe 2014, pp. 22–29, 241–43).
The questions were: Do you personally think believing in the supernatural is connected to being religious? Is it reasonable to believe in the supernatural? Does the supernatural have a connection with spirituality? How has your view of the supernatural changed over the course of the semester?
Brookfield published the Critical Incident Questionnaire at least as early as 1990, and it is still broadly used by educators today. For example, see (Scott-Simmons and Bryson 2017) and (Phelan 2017). Another indicator of the CIQ’s ongoing usefulness to researchers is that Brookfield’s Skillful Teacher is in a third edition published in 2015 and his Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher is in a second edition published in 2017.
Brought to my attention by (Callahan 2017).
The phrase is from Richard Rorty (1998) who says, “A humanistic discipline is in good shape only when it produces both inspiring works and works which contextualize, and thereby deromanticize and debunk, those inspiring works” (p. 134). In a way, Rorty is right; for instance, higher criticism of biblical texts has undermined some people’s faith. But there are ends literary contextualization can serve beyond debunking. Understanding a text in its historical context need not be a dry procedure. Grasping the emotional world of people from different eras and cultures requires considerable doses of imagination, patience, and humility if a reader is to understand more than the basic facts and figures of another civilization.
The number of interviewees = 1258.
The Swedish Skeptics Association’s poll was conducted by Demoskop; the number of interviewees = 1113.
The number of interviewees = 4013.
This view is expressed by social psychologist Clay Routledge (2018) who interprets the prevalence of supernaturalism through the perspective of existential motivation rather than on the basis of its ontological reality or theological significance. Routledge suggests that “supernatural interests are a natural part of the human condition,” common to many people including atheists (p. 172).
On this view, see (Ellis 1839).
For a survey of common claims against religion and supernaturalism and statistical responses, see (Routledge 2018, p. 177–84).
Jeffery Stout (2004) writes about how supernatural belief is pragmatically and civically defensible: “[I]f being justified in believing something depends on contextual factors that vary from one person to another, and if the relevant standards of justification are as permissive as pragmatism makes them out to be, then Dewey is not in a position to declare supernaturalism beyond the pale of justified belief. According to pragmatic scruples, this is not something that can be determined in abstraction from the lives of particular human beings. It is therefore unwise to decide the issue between supernaturalism and naturalism on an official basis. Dewey might well be justified in accepting naturalism as his own view. This question is whether his denial of supernaturalism can be an essential component of the common faith he proposes for democratic citizens. Why suppose that naturalism can play the role he envisions for it in public culture when most citizens reject it?” (p. 32).
Nussbaum (1997) writes: “To allow inside one’s mind people who seem alien and frightening is to show a capacity for openness and responsiveness that goes against the grain of many cultural stereotypes of self-sufficiency” (p. 98). Nussbaum’s “narrative imagination” is cited by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (2007) as a type of “learning … needed for knowledgeable and responsible citizenship” (p. 22).
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