Against Scientific Magisterial Imperialism

Published in Network, the Science and Medical Network Review, April 2002, ISSN 1362 - 1211, p. 2-7

This article explores a long-held unease about the approach that scientists take to spiritual questions. While we celebrate the new openness of science to questions it used to reject, there can be dangers in using the scientific paradigm in an attempt to understand areas of human experience outside of its natural remit. This article picks up on Wilber’s idea of ‘epistemological pluralism’ and Gould’s ‘Non-Overlapping Magisteria’, laying out the epistemological differences between science and the spiritual. While the parallels between them are remarkable and worthy of pursuing, we should avoid what is effectively a ‘magisterial imperialism’ – a situation where the spiritual can only be articulated in terms of science. This is an argument against a false synthesis of foundational, but different, areas of human experience and endeavour.

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