I graduated from Connecticut College in 1974 with a B.A. in philosophy, magna cum laude, with coursework in history and the history of art, and received the Susanne Langer Award for Achievement in Philosophy. Among the most long-lasting influences were my reading of Hegel, Heidegger, Ernst Cassirer and Erwin Panofsky, as well as the ideas and the teaching of historian F. Edward Cranz. (My homage to him can be read here).
After several years as a carpenter and woodworker and two abortive attempts at a graduate degree in philosophy I returned to school in natural science. My initial intention to pursue a degree in physics was abandoned when my wife opened my eyes to the diversity of the biological world. I received a PhD in systematic entomology and a Graduate Research Excellence Award from Iowa State University in 1987. I published a number of minor papers and my dissertation on the evolution and morphology of the Siphonaptera appeared as a book that won praise from the two leading researchers in my field: the Hon. Miriam Rothschild, and Dr. Robert Traub of the Smithsonian Institution.
While I served as an Assistant and eventually Associate Professor of Biology and Environmental Studies at Wilson College in Pennsylvania I attempted to satisfy my earlier interest in the physics of complex systems working under the direction of Dr. Stuart Kauffman, then of the University of Pennsylvania, on his NK model of adaptive evolutionary dynamics. I taught myself to program in “C” and devised computer models to simulate the evolution of a simple multi-species ecosystem. In 1990 I received a Havens Research Scholar Award from Wilson College for my project “Studies in Adaptive Computation: Artificial Life in a Simulated Ecosystem.” I published a short paper on my work in the Journal of Theoretical Biology. Also in 1990 I was among those selected to attend the first Santa Fe Institute Complex Systems Summer School, where Dr. Kauffman was a leading figure.
The weeks I spent at Santa Fe were pivotal. Los Alamos National Laboratory is one of the sponsoring institutions of the Santa Fe Institute and I found the intellectual and geographic proximity of the weapons lab deeply disturbing. The philosophical and spiritual issues underlying the metaphysics of modern science, with which I had grappled as a student of philosophy years before, came powerfully alive for me again in a more urgent context. The dominant ideas of the “new sciences” of complexity are sophisticated and powerful. In spite of many claims to the contrary, I am skeptical of their ability to support a renewed sense of the sacred. I fear that the systems theories of modern science provide compelling master narratives that are apt to render incomprehensible the ideas of the dignity of the individual and the divinity of the person that underlie the religions and societies of the West.
At that time I began to teach courses in the humanities in addition to my regular biology courses at Wilson, including a special topics course on literature and science. I established and designed the interdisciplinary curriculum in environmental studies and taught several courses in the new major. The core curriculum emphasized the importance of the humanities in understanding the relation between humans and the natural world. My first essay in environmental ethics won second prize in the 1992 Dominion Over the Earth Essay Competition sponsored by Washington & Jefferson College, and was published as the lead article in Environmental Ethics.
Wilson College, where I taught for nine years, was then a college for women. My teaching experience and close collaboration with a variety of feminist colleagues have been of profound and lasting importance. Insights into the paramount importance of gender in most of the vital intellectual, spiritual and interpersonal issues in my life sparked an interest in aspects of contemporary continental philosophy of which I had been unaware as an undergraduate. From the French feminist writers it was a short step, backwards it may be, to an interest in the depth psychology of Freud and Jung and their followers. It was a chance encounter in a bookstore in Santa Fe with Thomas Moore's collection of excerpts from James Hillman's writings, A Blue Fire, that sparked a real change in the direction of my life. I received a second Havens Research Scholar Award in 1994 for a project in depth psychology: The Natural History of the Psyche.
My immersion in Hillman's work led to my first encounter with the writings of Henry Corbin. I well recall my delight and puzzled astonishment as I first made my way through Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn ‘Arabi. When I discovered that this scholar of Islamic mysticism and master of Western theological and philosophical thought had been the first to translate Heidegger into French, my fate was sealed. I found myself unable to escape the fascination of his idiosyncratic and audacious theology. An attempt to come to terms with the consequences of his sweeping vision of the unity of the religions of the Abrahamic tradition occupied much of my time for 20 years.
In 1997 I resigned from my teaching position and my family moved to Maine. I then began writing in earnest. My first essay on Corbin was among those selected to receive a John Templeton Foundation Exemplary Essay Award in the “Expanding Humanity’s Vision of God” Program in 2000. The following year I was one of six invited speakers at the Eranos Conference in Ascona, Switzerland, where Corbin had been a leading figure for many years. My first book on Corbin, the imagination and related themes was published in 2003, and others followed in 2005, 2007, 2012 and 2015. In 2004 I was invited for the first of a series of lectures for the Temenos Academy in London. In the summer of 2007 I was honored to be elected a Fellow of the Temenos Academy.
In the last few years I have increasingly devoted my time to thinking and writing about poetry and the arts. My first book of poetry was published in 2015.
I write and lecture on Corbin, Jung, Hillman and the place of imagination in our lives and culture.
February 3, 2018