In an interview with Religion Dispatches, Jacob Needleman, author of the recently published book What is God? (Tarcher/Penguin), describes his journey from atheism to religious belief. The conversion in Needleman’s thought occurred while teaching a course in religious studies at San Francisco State University. Previous to the course, Needleman described himself as someone enthralled by science but “allergic” to religion. While preparing for and teaching a course on the history of Western religious thought, however, Needleman experienced a transformation in his thinking. A serious engagement with Christian thinkers such as Augustine revealed to him how superficial his understanding of religion had previously been, despite being educated at some of the top American universities, including Yale and Harvard. He was amazed at how profound some religious thought was—particularly that of G. I. Gurdjieff and Eastern mystical traditions—a discovery that set him on his own spiritual quest. Gradually, Needleman explains, “things came together [and] it was like the sun rose. It was: Ah, that’s what God is.”
Needleman also describes in the interview several significant lessons he has gained from teaching, such as the importance of community and of learning to really listen and open yourself up to other people. In particular, he describes a seemingly hard-nosed fundamentalist student whom he almost dismissed; instead, he chose to listen to him and grew to understand and respect him. “Someone might look like an unpleasant fanatic in certain conditions,” Needleman explained, but “you begin to speak to them, and—well, you might be quite surprised.” To see the entire interview click here.
By Henry Munson , University of Maine
(Vol. 3, June 2008)
Process Theology and the Problem of Evil
By John W. Woell and J. Thomas Howe, Greensboro College Regis University
(Vol. 3, October 2008)