• William James;
  • natural spirituality;
  • science and religion;
  • transcendence


There is a kinship between Owen Flanagan's The Really Hard Problem and William James's The Varieties of Religious Experience that not only can help us to understand Flanagan's book but also can help scholars, particularly scholars of religion, to be attentive to an important development in the realm of the “spiritual but not religious.” Specifically, Flanagan's book continues a tradition in philosophy, exemplified by James, that addresses questions of religious or spiritual meaning in terms accessible to a broad audience outside the context of organized religions. Both James and Flanagan are concerned to refute the popular perception that the sciences of the mind pose a threat to meaning and particularly to meaningful processes of human growth and transformation. Where James used the subconscious to bridge between science and religion and persuade his readers of the reality of the More, Flanagan uses a scientifically grounded understanding of transcendence to enchant his readers into believing in Less. Although I think that Flanagan's attempt to link the psychological and sociocultural levels of analysis via the concept of transcendence is scientifically premature, his attempt at a naturalistic spirituality raises questions of definition that scholars of religion need to take seriously.