Religion within the Limits of History Alone

Pragmatic Historicism and the Future of Theology

By Demian Wheeler

Subjects: Theology, Religion, Philosophy
Paperback : 9781438479347, 528 pages, July 2021
Hardcover : 9781438479330, 528 pages, September 2020

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Table of contents



1. What Is Historicism? A Multileveled Definition

2. Historical Particularity and the Problem of Insularity: Pragmatic Historicism as a Bigger Historicism

3. Particularist Mutualism: Toward a Pragmatic Historicist Theology of Religions

4. After Incommensurability: Pragmatic Historicism as an Impetus for Meaningful Interreligious Engagement

5. Beyond Amnesia and Nostalgia: Pragmatic Historicism and the Authority of the Past

6. Truth Reconsidered: Building Blocks of a Paleopragmatic Historicism

7. Theological Truth Reconsidered: Four Traits of a Paleopragmatic Historicist Theology

8. Sacred Conventions, Sacred Nature: Toward a Pragmatic Historicist Theology of the Divine



Shows that pragmatic historicism is a significant intellectual tradition in the history of American religious and philosophical thought.


Among the greatest challenges facing religious thinkers today is that created by historicism, the notion that human beings and their myriad understandings of reality are utterly historical, conditioned by contingent circumstances and tied to particular contexts. In this book, Demian Wheeler confronts the historicist challenge by delineating and defending a particular trajectory of historicist thought known as pragmatic historicism. Rooted in the German Enlightenment and fully developed within the early Chicago school of theology, pragmatic historicism is a predominantly American tradition that was philosophically nurtured by classical pragmatism and its intellectual siblings, naturalism and radical empiricism. Religion within the Limits of History Alone not only undertakes a detailed genealogy of this pragmatic historicist lineage but also sets forth a constructive program for contemporary theology by charting a path for its future development. Wheeler shows that pragmatic historicism is an underdeveloped resource for contemporary theology since it offers a model for normative religious thought that is theologically compelling yet wholly nonsupernaturalistic, deeply pluralistic, unflinchingly liberal, and radically historicist.

Demian Wheeler is Associate Professor of Philosophical Theology and Religious Studies and Director of Advanced Studies at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities. He is the coeditor (with David E. Conner) of Conceiving an Alternative: Philosophical Resources for an Ecological Civilization.


"This is a work of both descriptive and prescriptive (constructive) theology. It is about ideas: dense, challenging, evocative, and provocative … the author's broader themes, among them experimental theologies of religion and the divine and non-competitive ways to understand the world's many religious traditions, will be compelling to anyone interested in how some theologians are addressing ever-evolving conversations about authenticity, credibility, religious pluralism, and 'truth' in contemporary religious thought and life." — Journal of Lutheran Ethics

"The detailed development, the verbal bravura, and the measured knowledge in this book are astonishingly impressive." — American Journal of Theology and Philosophy

"Wheeler makes a significant contribution to the field of empirical theology and specifically to the field of pragmatic historicism. This book is a detailed, thorough, and nuanced treatment of the historical development of pragmatic historicism, and as a detailed history of an important strand in American religious thought, it makes a major contribution to an understanding of religion worldwide." — Daniel A. Dombrowski, author of Whitehead's Religious Thought: From Mechanism to Organism, From Force to Persuasion

"Wheeler is advancing not merely a position and argument, but a project and an agenda, and doing so with grace and verve. This is a very impressive book that will command the attention of all serious scholars working in the liberal theological traditions. It is a breathtakingly comprehensive, invigorating synthesis of the historicist, pragmatist, and naturalist lineages in American philosophy and theology." — Michael S. Hogue, author of American Immanence: Democracy for an Uncertain World