It’s been ten years since the publication of Sam Harris’s book The End of Faith kicked off the cultural phenomenon of “new atheism,” bringing frank criticism of religion into mainstream conversation. In the decade since, Harris has emerged as something of a maverick among nonbelievers and progressives, frequently at the center of controversy with his opinions on Islam and extremism, science’s role in morality, and his embrace of a kind of “spiritualism” grounded in science.
It is this last item that is the subject of his latest book, Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion, in which he seeks a rational approach to transcendence; one that puts the supernatural aside in favor of an honest, scientific exploration of the mind, altered states of consciousness, and other (as he puts it) “spooky phenomena.”
On this special episode of Point of Inquiry, Harris talks to host Josh Zepps about his foray into the mystical. In this fascinating interview, Harris asserts that experiences such as bliss and transcendence must be removed from the realm of sectarianism, but that “one of the great holes in secularism” is that “we don’t have a ready answer for someone who wakes up tomorrow morning with an extraordinary change in their conscious life which they deem positive.”
Harris talks about the search for this answer, as well as the illusion of the self, expanding our moral circle to include other creatures, and an evaluation of the progress secularism has made since the time “new atheism” was still new.