Wesley J. Wildman is a contemporary Australian-American philosopher, theologian, and ethicist. Currently, he is a full professor at the Boston University School of Theology and convener of the Religion and Science doctoral program in Boston University’s Graduate School. He is founding co-director of the Institute for the Biocultural Study of Religion and founding co-editor of the journal Religion, Brain & Behavior (published by Taylor & Francis). Wildman’s academic work has focused on interpreting religion and building theories of religious beliefs, behaviors, and experiences that acknowledge value in longstanding traditions while attempting to remain intellectually viable in light of the biological, cognitive, evolutionary, physical, and social sciences. He is an important figure in the religion and science field, along with scholars such as Robert John Russell, Nancey Murphy, and John Polkinghorne.
Wesley Wildman was born in Adelaide, Australia, in 1961. He studied mathematics, computer science, and physics at Flinders University, receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1980 and a first-class honors degree in pure mathematics in 1981. After studying divinity at the University of Sydney, he earned a Ph.D. in philosophical theology and the philosophy of religion from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, in 1993, at which point he took his current position at Boston University. Currently, he lives in suburban Boston.
Wildman’s work initially focused on one religious tradition, Christianity, especially its beliefs. His first book, Fidelity with Plausibility (1998), analyzed the plausibility of central Christian beliefs in the context of the contemporary physical and human sciences and the history of encounter with the other religions. Since then, Wildman’s philosophical and theological goals have broadened as he has attempted to interpret religion as a social, cultural, and evolutionary phenomenon. This broadening has included a longstanding interest in the comparative study of world religious traditions and involvement in a series of publications on interdisciplinary methodology and practice spanning the humanities and sciences as they relate to religion.
Many of Wildman’s works have explored the subject of religious naturalism, or religious responses to naturalistic conceptions of reality. This line of research has included critiques of anthropomorphic conceptions of ultimate reality and the ongoing attempt to frame ideas of ultimate reality naturalistically—that is, without recourse to non-embodied awareness or supernatural agency in God or in any other realm of reality. A related line of inquiry in Wildman’s corpus investigates the biological, cultural, and evolutionary mechanisms whereby human beings generate supernaturalistic conceptions of ultimate reality.
Wildman has sought to rescue philosophy of religion from what he has described as its religiously parochial character by redefining it as a field of multidisciplinary, comparative inquiries rooted in secular academic institutions. Along with neurologist Patrick McNamara, also at Boston University, Wildman founded the Institute for the Biocultural Study of Religion, an independent scientific research institute that pursues research and public outreach on the scientific study of religious phenomena. In 2011, the Institute began publication of Religion, Brain, & Behavior, a peer-reviewed academic journal whose advisory board includes such figures as philosopher Daniel Dennett, religion scholar Ann Taves, sociologist of religion Nancy Ammerman, and many of the leading figures in the scientific study of religion and the cognitive science of religion.
Wildman is also known for pastoral research into ideological differences in Christian denominations, particularly the meaning of the distinctions among liberal, evangelical, and moderate Protestants in the United States. His work has been influenced by such figures as Protestant theologians Friedrich Schleiermacher and Paul Tillich, comparative religion scholar Huston Smith, and philosophers John Searle and Robert Neville.
Wildman is a founding member of the International Society for Science and Religion, and a longtime member of the American Theological Society, the American Academy of Religion, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
- Religion and Science: History, Method, Dialogue, ed. with W. Mark Richardson (New York: Routledge, Inc., 1996)
- Fidelity with Plausibility: Modest Christologies in the Twentieth Century (Albany: SUNY Press, 1998)
- Encyclopedia of Science and Religion, 2 vols., edited with Niels Gregersen and Nancy Howell, Chief Editor, Wentzel van Huyssteen (New York: Macmillan Reference, 2003)
- Lost in the Middle? Claiming an Inclusive Faith for Christians Who Are Both Liberal and Evangelical (Alban Institute, 2009)
- Found in the Middle! Theology and Ethics for Christians Who Are Both Liberal and Evangelical (Alban Institute, 2009)
- Science and Religious Anthropology: A Spiritually Evocative Naturalist Interpretation of Human Life (Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2009)
- Religious Philosophy as Multidisciplinary Comparative Inquiry: Envisioning a Future for the Philosophy of Religion (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2010)
- Religious and Spiritual Experiences (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011)
- Science and the World’s Religions, 3 vols., edited with Patrick McNamara (Praeger, 2012)
- Wildman, Wesley. 1998. Fidelity with Plausibility: Modest Christologies in the Twentieth Century. Albany: SUNY Press.
- Neville, Robert C. & Tu Weiming. 2000. Ultimate Realities: A Volume in the Comparative Religious Ideas Project. Albany: SUNY Press.
- Wildman, Wesley. 2011. Religious and Spiritual Experiences. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.