Interactions between Science, Religion, and Literature
Edited By Luis Arturo Guichard, Juan Luis García Alonso and María Paz de Hoz
Mathematics & Religion in Ancient Greece and Medieval Islam: John Lennart Berggren
JOHN LENNART BERGGREN
Mathematics & Religion in Ancient Greece and Medieval Islam
In his classic study of religion and human psychology, The Varieties of Religious Experience, William James makes the point that in speaking of religion one has to begin with the realization that one is speaking of a collective, and the word does not stand for ‘any single principle or essence.’1 James goes on to distinguish between two manifestations of religion: the institutional and the personal. And he says at the outset that he will largely be silent relative to the first of these two forms, the institutional, and will focus almost entirely on the second, the personal. This latter aspect he describes as “the feelings, acts, and experiences of individual men in their solitude, so far as they apprehend themselves to stand in relation to whatever they may consider the divine.” In this lecture both the institutional and personal manifestations of religion will enter, but I stress James’s mention of the personal form because it reminds us that under the rubric of ‘religion’ there are phenomena that do not have any direct connection with institutions.
It may happen, however, that the institutional and the personal aspects are very closely linked. Indeed, although it seems that the earliest known connection between religion and mathematics in ancient Greece arose from ‘the feelings, acts, and experiences’ of Pythagoras (ca. 572–497 BC) his teachings are known only through later writings stemming from the Pythagorean school....
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