(1993). "Reflections on the Relationship Between Religion and Modern Rationalism"

(1993). "Reflections on the Relationship Between Religion and Modern Rationalism"

Presented at the 1993 Parliament of the World's Religions in Chicago

Publication Info: 

Thompson, Richard, "Reflections on the Relation Between Religion and Modern Rationalism," ISKCON Communications Journal Vol. 1 No. 2 (December 1994). 


Vivekananda Swami's famous lecture on Hinduism at the Parliament of Religions in 1893 pointed out that the way to achieving love of God was “fully developed and taught by Krishna, who the Hindus believe to have been God incarnate on earth.” On this, he said, all Hindus are agreed. But he went on to say that in the final stage of realization, God is seen to be impersonal Brahman. Making an analogy with physical science, he said, “Physics would stop when it would be able to fulfill its services in discovering one energy of which all the others are but manifestations, and the science of religion [would] become perfect when it would discover  . . . One who is the only Soul of which all souls are but delusive manifestations.”

It is natural then to ask if some other solution is available to the problems posed when modern rational thought meets the multiplicity of religious systems. To explore this, the life and teachings of Bhaktivinoda Thakura, a contemporary of Swami Vivekananda, will be examined. As Bhaktivinoda Thakura pointed out in his essay on the Bhagavata, the Vaisnava teachings are inherently broad-minded and acknowledge the value of all religious systems.

In the days of Vivekananda and Bhaktivinoda Thakura, mechanistic, reductionistic science appeared to be marching unimpeded from triumph to triumph, and many people believed that it would soon find explanations for everything. But in the late twentieth century this triumphant march has been checked on many different fronts. For example, physics in the 1890s looked like a closed subject, but in the early decades of the twentieth century it entered a phase of paradox and mystery with the development of relativity theory and quantum mechanics. 

The once jarring conflicts between rationalism and traditional religion may progressively fade as science matures and becomes open to the study of mystical phenomena. This opens up the possibility of an approach to religion that is intellectually acceptable and at the same time satisfies the soul's inner desire for love in a transcendental relationship.

Additional Notes:
There were multiple version of this essay published with different titles. For example, "Reflections on the Relationship Between Religion and Modern Rationalism: Presented at the Parliament of the World's Religions, Chicago, 1993,” was produced as a formal Bhaktivedanta Institute paper, in San Diego.

The title of the original presentation given at the 1993 World's Parliament of Religion in Chicago, "The Relation Between Science and Religion: The Contribution of Gaudiya Vaisnavism," is noted on page 68 of the DePaul University Special Collections and Archives: 1993 Parliament of World’s Religion in Chicago records research guide cataloguing archival materials held from the 1993 conference proceedings.

The essay was subsequently published in Back to Godhead Vol. 28 No. 1 (1994), with the title “Rational ‘Mythology.’” The BTG version was reprinted in 2004, in Thompson's God and Science (Alachua, FL: Govardhan Hill Publishing), pp. 37-58.