Schmidt explores ‘Science of Religions’

Witherspoon Memorial Lecture set for Nov. 14

“A ‘Science of Religions,’ So-Called: The 19th-century Promises and Perils of a New Human Science” is the focus of the Nov. 14 Witherspoon Memorial Lecture in Religion and Science at Washington University in St. Louis.


Leigh Eric Schmidt, PhD, the Edward Mallinckrodt Distinguished University Professor, will deliver the lecture at 4 p.m. in the Women’s Building Formal Lounge. A reception immediately will follow. The event is open to the public.

The last third of the 19th century produced a spectacular array of new sciences — among them, a science of religions. Schmidt will explore whether the science was intended to produce sympathy toward and concord among the various religions of the world or whether it was an enterprise of suspicion, one designed to clear away religion’s rubbish for science’s advance.

This lecture looks at such issues through three American figures: the Civil War colonel Thomas Wentworth Higginson, the jailbird freethinker D. M. Bennett and the Harvard psychologist William James.

Schmidt joined the John C. Danforth Center on Religion & Politics in 2011. He most recently served as the Charles Warren Professor of the History of Religion in America at Harvard University.

Schmidt is the author of numerous books, including Hearing Things: Religion, Illusion and the American Enlightenment (Harvard University Press, 2000), which won the American Academy of Religion Award for Excellence in Historical Studies and the John Hope Franklin Prize of the American Studies Association.

His book Restless Souls: The Making of American Spirituality (HarperOne, 2005) will appear in an updated edition from the University of California Press in 2012. Schmidt’s most recent book is Heaven’s Bride: The Unprintable Life of Ida C. Craddock, American Mystic, Scholar, Sexologist, Martyr, and Madwoman (Basic Books, 2010).

The Witherspoon Memorial Lectures in Religion and Science are made possible through the generosity of the late William Witherspoon, a longtime benefactor of Religious Studies at Washington University. Witherspoon was a distinguished economist and investment counselor with a deep interest in the link between religion and science.

For more information, contact Sarah O’Donnell at or 314-935-8677.

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