Subject Area

Humanities, Philosophy, Religion, Social Sciences, General/Other


The dominant ontology in science is a form of materialism and it filters down into the social sciences in ways I will touch on throughout this paper. The influence of the current dominant ontology is especially apparent when it comes to experiences and phenomena that challenge its underlying assumptions which is why I will primarily focus on visionary experience and psi phenomena as studied by radical empiricists throughout the ages.

The philosophical position of William James challenges materialist assumptions by championing the idea that the only world we can speak of is the world of our experience. William James affords academics the possibility of speaking from a place of personal experience when he argues that religious belief and visionary experience is psychologically “normal” and ripe grounds for rigorous academic consideration. Although James does not offer a systematic metaphysics, I will explore a series of analogies, metaphors, suggestions, and thick descriptions that are central to James’s effort to reclaim the intimacy and role of embodied experience in philosophy and James’s attempts to push empirical science into new territory that is currently assumed to be nonexistent in the dominant metaphysical episteme ruled by reductionary materialism. I will also visit radical empiricism within the broader context of his engagement with psychical research and various modalities of religious experience. I also draw on Edith Turner to show how James’s theory of mind can be productively extended to the methods of anthropology. Edith Turner’s anthropological method and interest in psychical research highlights intriguing parallels with James's philosophy. Common to these approaches is the aim to reconcile religion and science; the adoption of a radical empiricist stance; acknowledgment of the inherent fallibility of hypotheses; a heavy reliance on personal and subjective epistemology; and a challenge to the traditional Cartesian mind-body dichotomy.

Degree Date


Document Type


Degree Name



Religious Studies


William Barnard

Second Advisor

Jaime Clark-Soles

Third Advisor

John Lamoreaux

Fourth Advisor

Steve Long

Number of Pages




Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License