John E. Smith as pragmatic philosophical theologian
Demm, Charles A.
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The late John Edwin Smith was an influential teacher of philosophy, especially philosophy of religion, at Yale University. His own writings are understudied, however, and this dissertation provides a full-scale analysis, situating John E. Smith in what he took to be the central problem in philosophy of religion, namely an inadequate theory of experience. Smith developed his own theory of experience, including religious experience, through a radical rereading of the American pragmatists (Charles Peirce, William James, John Dewey, and Josiah Royce), attending to their interests in religion. Chapter 1 provides a biographical history of Smith's life. Then it traces his efforts to expand the parameters of the American Philosophical Association, to recognize non-analytic schools and their interests, such as pragmatism. Chapter 2 examines Smith's critical reading of classical American pragmatism in contrast to more popular readings by Richard Rorty and the Columbia school. Chapter 3 examines Smith's theory of experience as radically interpreted experience. Chapter 4 describes Smith's alternative philosophy of religion developed from his particular reading of pragmatism. Chapter 5 attempts to apply Smith's philosophy of religion to the field of theology. It asserts that Smith's philosophy provides a means to reinterpret classical Christian doctrine, such as the doctrine of God, Christology, ecclesiology, and the nature and role of doctrine, in a way that it is both intelligible to a contemporary audience, and faithful to the tradition's inherited theological claims. Chapter 6 compares the nature of a religious community with other communities according to Smith's theory. It also describes how the 'religious community' should attempt to balance the authority of traditional doctrine with non-religious sources of knowledge.
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