THE NEW ENCYCLOPEDIA OF UNBELIEF.
Tom Flynn (Ed.) Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2007.Pages 487-489. Entry by Frank L. PasqualeLEUBA, JAMES H.
(1868–1946), American psychologist.James H. Leuba was born in Neuchatel, Switzerland,where early skeptical reaction to Calvinist doctrineand behavior prompted a lifelong interest in understandingreligious experience. After receiving a bachelor’sdegree from the University of Neuchatel, Leubamoved with his family to the United States. He earneda doctorate in psychology at Clark University under G.Stanley Hall, with a dissertation on the psychology of religious conversion. He spent his entire academic careeras professor and, for a time, chairman of the departmentof psychology at Bryn Mawr College.
Body of Work.
Leuba’s approach to the studyof religious experience was resolutely naturalistic andempirical, carefully reasoned and forthright. This earnedhim intermittent critical reactions from religious colleaguesand apologists throughout his career. While his lastingreputation rests upon seminal studies of beliefs in a personalGod and immortality in the United States, the balanceof his work deserves equal, if not greater, attention.In
The Psychological Origin and the Nature of Religion
A Psychological Study of Religion
(1912), Leuba sounds several themes that frame his lifelongview of religious experience. To maintain clarity aboutthe subject, religion is delimited to “that part of humanexperience in which man feels himself in relation withpowers” of a “psychic,” divine, or supernatural nature.He rejected the utility of definitions of “religion” thatencompass “anything that is of considerable value toman.” Religious experience is viewed as a complex,natural, functional, and in certain forms dysfunctionalmeans of meeting basic human needs. Leuba was criticalof attempts to reduce religion to a single dimension. Inits internal aspect, religion involves “willing, feeling,and thinking” aimed at the gratification of human“needs, desires, and yearnings.” In its external aspect, itinvolves practices, rites, ceremonies, and institutions.Leuba vigorously combated the view that, due to itsclaimed supernatural content, religious experience fallsoutside the purview of science. He insisted that since