Department of Religion and Philosophy
William James and Allama Iqbal on Empirical Faith
Allama Iqbal is an underappreciated character in the history of philosophy. Although he is familiar to many scholars of Islamic philosophy, he is less well known to historians of Western philosophy, epistemologists, and philosophers of religion despite his significance in these areas. His own citations and influences include Kant, Nietzsche, and William James as well as Al-Ghazali, Averroes, and Rumi. One of these connections is particularly salient to religious epistemology. James and Iqbal both believe that religious experiences are an important class of those experiences with which empiricism is concerned. In their way of thinking, the idea that we should look to experience for knowledge is compatible with religious faith and practice, and is also a grounds for understanding, defending, and testing religious belief. James includes this as one important aspect of his pragmatism, intentionally a more thorough empiricism than the earlier British Empiricism of the Enlightenment era. Iqbal in The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam presents his religious empiricism as part of his strategy for renovating Islamic thought in the modern world by recovering the empirical aspect of religion. This requires that we learn to see science and religion as distinct but complementary spheres of empirical enquiry. In what follows I will compare and contrast James’ and Iqbal’s religious epistemologies in order to understand both of them better and, hopefully, enrich contemporary reflection on faith and reason through a better awareness of the past dialogue on the subject. I will show that James and Iqbal, despite the different cultures and traditions they represent, agree that religious as well as sensory experience counts as a source of empirical knowledge and that the results of religious belief are a legitimate means of testing them. This, moreover, is no accident, for James influenced Iqbal on this very point. However, they diverge in some matters. James defends the right to diverse religious belief and eventually articulates his own account based on religious experience—an account which is intentionally philosophical and not reliant on any religious authority. Iqbal, however, is out to reconsider and defend Islam understood along largely traditional lines. I shall first consider James first and then Iqbal, and then compare and contrast them.
Source Publication Title
Link to Publisher's Edition
Boone, M. (2019). William James and Allama Iqbal on Empirical Faith. Heythrop Journal. https://doi.org/10.1111/heyj.13325