Visions of Daniel

Religion and the Human Sciences
An Approach via Spirituality


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Chapter 3

Revised Critical Correlation à la Don Browning

(Chapter 3 is a 52-page summary and critique of Don Browning's account of how religion and psychology can co-operate to arrive at a correct understanding about the human situation. Excerpts below relate the high points of this chapter.)

…The focus of this chapter is the position of Don S. Browning's Religious Thought and the Modern Psychologies: A Critical Conversation in the Theology of Culture [to whose pages the numbers in parentheses below refer]. This book is a major contribution to the dialogue between religion and psychology. Browning is an ethicist at the Divinity School of the University of Chicago . His focal concern is for social science adequate to human beings—which, I have argued, is nothing other than spirituality. Perforce he addresses in some detail the psychology-theology problematic, and his book is an extended application of the position he proposes. So a discussion of Browning's interdisciplinary position is relevant here—and especially so since he relies on the mainline position in Western thought. Thus, discussion of this single book by this single author will also be a discussion of the position more or less common to a list of important theorists, both social scientists and theologians….

Interdisciplinary Method

Doubtless, as Browning argues, the psychologies do embody systems of meaning and value. As Viktor Frankl (1969/1988, p. 15) states, "There is no psychotherapy without a theory of man and a philosophy of life underlying it. Wittingly or unwittingly, psychotherapy is based on them." On my understanding no one should be surprised at it. All human endeavors entail meanings and values, for these spiritual realities are inherent in, and constitutive of, humanity as such. Also beyond doubt, Browning does a marvelous job of analyzing those matters. Astutely he uncovers the beliefs and values hidden in the modern psychologies. This analysis is his original contribution.

But from this point on—as I impose my own organization on Browning's presentation—other broader issues come into play. Browning's theory of interdisciplinary method now becomes the focus. (See Figure 3.1.) I will quickly sketch the many and far-reaching issues that come to bear in Browning's argument, and then I will present a detailed criticism of Browning's treatment of the matter.

Revised Critical Correlation
On Browning's analysis, if they are involved in metaphysical and ethical concerns, the modern psychologies are functioning as religions. For it is the task of religion to deal with such concerns. Adopting Dilthey's now classic delineation, Browning distinguishes the natural sciences or Naturwissenschaften and the human sciences or Geisteswissenschaften. The task of the natural sciences is to explain, predict, and control. The natural sciences are explanatory. But the human sciences are interpretative. Their task is to determine the significance of things—and the significance in question is the significance for human beings. Of course, psychology is a Geisteswissenschaft. But then, again, so is religion or theology. For both psychology and religion express the significance of things. Browning attempts to discern some difference between them by suggesting, "The clinical psychologies try to interpret individual lives; theology tries to interpret life—life as a whole, in its entirety" (7).

In any case, the point is that both clinical psychology and religion are dealing, to some extent or other, on the same level. Thus, there arises the possibility of a conversation between them.

Browning conceives that conversation as an application of the critical correlation approach to religion and culture first proposed by Paul Tillich (1951, p. 61; 1952) and recently revised by David Tracy (1970, p. 232-34). The end result is a revised critical correlation. It presumes that both psychology and religion have opinions about important human questions and that those opinions can be batted against one another so that some kind of consensus, an acceptable answer, can arise. On this approach, psychology and religion are in conversation with one another, and both profit by the dialogue. Such conversation is interdisciplinary co-operation. It results in a certain reconciling of diverse disciplines. Thus, the revised critical correlation is an interdisciplinary methodology. As such, it is an alternative to analysis within the system of four viewpoints presented in Chapter Two. Thus, Browning's presentation has become a topic of discussion in this book….

[Browning presents an example of such a revised critical correlation. He sets psychological and religious opinions in conversation in an attempt to discern the rational core of all ethics. He concludes that that ethical core is the mutuality found in neighbor-love.]

Questions about the Conversation
However, serious questions remain about the unfolding of that conversation. These questions all relate to one, telling query: In that conversation among differing opinions, who or what was the final arbiter? For the conversation did come to a conclusion; some judgment was made. And supposedly, all the parties had an equal voice. What decided the question?...

Criticism of the Revised Critical Correlation

All those questions raise doubts about the adequacy of Browning's interdisciplinary methodology. With the system of four viewpoints in mind, I will present seven considerations about the interdisciplinary conversation that Browning exemplified. While pinpointing the shortcomings in the revised critical correlation, these considerations will also suggest how the shortcomings can be corrected and how the legitimate contribution of the correlation method—namely, egalitarian engagement in sorely needed dialogue—can be preserved. The overall effect will be to suggest that the position introduced in Chapter Two provides a more appropriate environment and more incisive tools for an effective dialogue between psychology and religion….

Review and Preview
Those seven considerations highlight ambiguities and flaws in Browning's interdisciplinary methodology:

1) Browning himself is the unnamed arbiter in his revised critical correlation;

2) authenticity is a key condition for the validity of Browning's or any person's judgments;

3) not faith in contrast to reason, nor reason in contrast to faith, but a human subject who reasons within some horizon of faith—this is what determines judgments;

4) the horizon within which Browning's analyses legitimately move is the philosophic viewpoint;

5) Browning's analyses, though called "religious," are neither Christian nor theist, if these terms are given distinctive meaning;

6) the fundamental rational core of morality is not mutuality, as the Bible-inspired "Golden Rule" might suggest, but rather authenticity, for it includes neighbor-love—and much more;

7) religion/theology and science, construed as interpretation and explanation respectively, are, indeed, incommensurate disciplines—not because they deal with different questions and different ranges of data, for both are instances of the human quest for understanding about the human situation, but because so construed they confound common sense and theory, two different modes of human understanding.

Those considerations also suggest an alternative approach that might better achieve Browning's goal of relating the human sciences and (Judeo-Christian) religion. In general, there is need for a more systematically conceived discussion that is more precisely situated within its interdisciplinary context....

Conclusion regarding Browning

Explanatory analysis of the human problematic differentiates the positivist, the philosophic, the theist, and the theotic. Religion, like life in general, can include all of them. These distinctions determine parameters within which diverse issues can be intelligently engaged and all parties be given their due. This approach seems to lose nothing of Browning's concerns or contributions. Rather, it places them in a broader and more focused context. It corrects the flaws, redresses the misemphases, and preserves the valid intent. Here is an interdisciplinary methodology that directly addresses Browning's theme: religious thought and the modern psychologies.