From THE NEW ENCYCLOPEDIA OF UNBELIEF. Tom Flynn (Ed.) Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2007. Pages 487-489.

Entry by Frank L. Pasquale LEUBA, JAMES H. (1868–1946), American psychologist. James H. Leuba was born in Neuchatel, Switzerland, where early skeptical reaction to Calvinist doctrine and behavior prompted a lifelong interest in understanding religious experience. After receiving a bachelor’s degree from the University of Neuchatel, Leuba moved with his family to the United States. He earned a doctorate in psychology at Clark University under G. Stanley Hall, with a dissertation on the psychology of religious conversion. He spent his entire academic career as professor and, for a time, chairman of the department of psychology at Bryn Mawr College. Body of Work. Leuba’s approach to the study of religious experience was resolutely naturalistic and empirical, carefully reasoned and forthright. This earned him intermittent critical reactions from religious colleagues and apologists throughout his career. While his lasting reputation rests upon seminal studies of beliefs in a personal God and immortality in the United States, the balance of his work deserves equal, if not greater, attention. In The Psychological Origin and the Nature of Religion (1909) and A Psychological Study of Religion (1912), Leuba sounds several themes that frame his lifelong view of religious experience. To maintain clarity about the subject, religion is delimited to “that part of human experience in which man feels himself in relation with powers” of a “psychic,” divine, or supernatural nature. He rejected the utility of definitions of “religion” that encompass “anything that is of considerable value to man.” Religious experience is viewed as a complex, natural, functional, and in certain forms dysfunctional means of meeting basic human needs. Leuba was critical of attempts to reduce religion to a single dimension. In its internal aspect, religion involves “willing, feeling, and thinking” aimed at the gratification of human “needs, desires, and yearnings.” In its external aspect, it involves practices, rites, ceremonies, and institutions. Leuba vigorously combated the view that, due to its claimed supernatural content, religious experience falls outside the purview of science. He insisted that since

religious consciousness is a psychological process, it is accessible to empirical inquiry: “[T]he gods of religion are inductions from experience, and are therefore proper objects of science.” Leuba could not be persuaded “that divine personal beings . . . have more than a subjective existence.” At the same time, religion arose from natural psychological processes to meet human needs. It should be “looked upon as a functional part of life, as that mode of behavior in the struggle for life in which use is made of powers characterized . . . as psychic, superhuman, and usually personal.” Leuba offers compelling, if speculative, accounts of the likely origins of religious beliefs. Ideas of ghosts, nature-beings, and gods emerge from a wide range of psychological processes, including altered states of consciousness (such as trances, dreams, apparitions, and hallucinations), prescientific perceptions of striking natural phenomena, and the human penchant for attributing purposive agency to “explain” natural events. Throughout his work, Leuba was critical of religious ideas at odds with scientific knowledge and moral progress. In this connection, he was consistently critical of selected aspects of Christian monotheism (such as a personal relationship with God). The closing chapter of The Belief in God and Immortality: A Psychological, Anthropological, and Statistical Study (1916) is an eloquent essay on the independence of moral knowledge from religious belief and the threats to moral progress posed by certain religious forms (see ETHICS AND UNBELIEF). In The Belief in God and Immortality, Leuba reported on the first of his statistical surveys of (un)belief in a personal God and immortality among American scientists, historians, college students, and others (see SCIENCE, UNBELIEF WITHIN). Thanks in part to a general replication of his surveys of scientists in the 1990s by Edward J. Larson and Larry Witham, Leuba’s findings remain in the public eye. He found, for example, that fewer scientists overall were believers than “doubters” or “disbelievers” in a personal God (42 percent in 1914, declining to 30 percent in a subsequent survey in 1933). Belief in immortality was slightly more prevalent, but also showed a decline from 49 percent in 1914 to 33 percent in 1933. Also, believers in both a personal God and immortality were substantially rarer among “elite” compared with “lesser” scientists, and among social scientists compared with physical or

biological scientists. In The Psychology of Religious Mysticism (1925), Leuba provided an extensive and detailed analysis of the varied forms, causes, and perennial allure of altered and ecstatic states (see RELIGIOUS AND MYSTICAL EXPERIENCES). Drawing from extensive historical source materials, his unflinching naturalistic analysis drew critical reaction. His view that associations of God or the divine with the “immediate” content of mystical experience result from post hoc cognition, rather than direct “knowledge” of such realities, contrasted with William James’s greater propensity to allow that the apparent immediacy of such associations may offer evidence of their referent truth. The fact that Leuba’s work has remained obscured in the shadow of James’s “The Will to Believe” and The Varieties of Religious Experience is noteworthy and regrettable. In God or Man? A Study of the Value of God to Man (1933) and The Reformation of the Churches (1950; published posthumously), Leuba recapitulated his main themes and looked to the future of religion, human needs, and moral progress. Throughout his career, he held that religious ideas and forms at odds with scientific knowledge or moral progress would gradually be supplanted (the secularization hypothesis). Rather than a complete eclipse of religious by scientific or secular worldviews, Leuba foresaw forms of experience and behavior that preserve some of the functional benefits of religion in harmony with scientific knowledge. He repeatedly cited Felix ADLER’s ETHICAL CULTURE as one possible model for such future “religion”—retaining a sense of the “spiritual,” a natural and consequence-based moral approach, and due regard for scientific inquiry and knowledge. He spoke hopefully about the early promise of philosophical HUMANISM. However, he held “no expectation . . . of a rapid transformation of all the churches,” noting that “fundamentalist churches are far from having been outgrown by all the people,” a “religious rear guard will remain with us for a long while,” and that “intellectual and moral progress is distressingly slow.” The whole of Leuba’s body of work and its central messages deserve renewed attention and reappraisal. BIBLIOGRAPHY

Brown, C. Mackenzie. “The Conflict between Religion and Science in Light of the Patterns of Religious Belief among Scientists.” Zygon 38 (September 2003). James, William. The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature. Mineola, NY: Dover, 2002. ———. “The Will to Believe.” In The Will to Believe and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy. New York: Dover, 1960. Larson, Edward J., and Larry Witham. “Leading Scientists Still Reject God.” Nature 394 (1998). ———. “Scientists and Religion in America.” Scientific American 281 (September 1999). ———. “Scientists Are Still Keeping the Faith.” Nature 386 (1997). Leuba, James H. The Belief in God and Immortality: A Psychological, Anthropological, and Statistical Study. Boston: Sherman, French, 1916. ———. God or Man? A Study of the Value of God to Man. New York: Henry Holt, 1933. ———. “The Making of a Psychologist of Religion.” In Religion in Transition, edited by Vergilius T. Ferm. London: Allen & Unwin, 1937. ———. The Psychological Origin and the Nature of Religion. London: Archibald Constable, 1909. ———. A Psychological Study of Religion: Its Origin, Function, and Future. New York: Macmillan, 1912. ———. The Psychology of Religious Mysticism. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1925. ———. The Reformation of the Churches. Boston: Beacon, 1950. ———. “Religious Beliefs of American Scientists.” Harper’s, August 1934. FRANK L. PASQUALE