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BOOKTHINK: And closer to the truth-because we are all so different. It seems to me that, if what you believe is true for you, it becomes true.

HALLMAN: Yeah - I mean, that's the idea of pragmatism. That gets attacked as being relativistic. But James said that that kind of thinking about truth really ought to be used only for those questions that cannot be resolved via reason or logic-questions like, "Is there a God?" or, "What is consciousness?" and actually a lot of things we confront every day that science can't get at in a measurable, observable way. James is saying that we should apply a different definition of truth to those things. If you do that, then you become more forgiving as a person. If I say, "Okay, I don't believe in this other guy's God, but I respect that he needs to believe in that, or that he can believe in that, and I embrace that enough, then I can ultimately celebrate variety in a larger sense."

BOOKTHINK: I was reading an article today about a plan Harvard had to make a class called Reason and Faith a curriculum requirement, but there was such a big outcry about it that now they've backed off. Isn't it almost like the Victorian era in some way - how we treated sexuality then is similar to how we're treating religion now?

HALLMAN: At Harvard, that's particularly ironic because the psychology building is called William James Hall. They are not particularly inclined to celebrate the specifics of William James' thinking; there may be individual professors that I'm not aware of who do, but that part of James' thinking, which I think is the most useful part, is something that academics have a hard time with because again, like going back to the chess players where everything is rooted in science, they definitely have that attitude, and James is a tough pill to swallow if you are stuck in that way of thinking.

BOOKTHINK: Are you working on any new writing projects? You mentioned a book proposal on Utopian communities.

HALLMAN: Yes. I actually grew up in Southern California and, specifically, in these little technoburbs north of San Diego. For awhile I actually lived on a street called Utopia Road - from when I was about 5 until I was about 10. So when I first started writing some of my early published fiction I kind of relied on Utopian communities, vague understandings of what that was and how it expressed itself in suburbia. So for me this is sort of coming around full circle. Hopefully I'll be doing a number of journeys to modern utopias and stitching that all together.

BOOKTHINK: I know at one time there was a Utopian community not far from me here in upstate New York - in Oneida.

HALLMAN: Yes, I've been reading a lot about Oneida. Actually, when it starts to fall apart, it becomes one of the models for modern master-planned communities because they very gradually moved away from the Utopian model. They were essentially an early, well-put together suburb, but not one that emerged organically as the city sprawled, one that was more intentional. They are an important intellectual link between cities and where what modern suburbs are now.

BOOKTHINK: It's going to take a chunk of time to travel and do the research on that.

HALLMAN: That's the fun part. For both of these books, the traveling was wonderful.

BOOKTHINK: An interesting life you live. It's been a great pleasure reading your books, and I really appreciate your taking the time to talk with me.

HALLMAN: I really appreciate your taking the time out to do it.

The books:

The Chess Artist: Genius, Obsession, and the World's Oldest Game, Thomas Dunne Books (St. Martin's Press), New York, 2003. ISBN 0-312-27293-6

The Devil Is A Gentleman: Exploring America's Religious Fringe, Random House, New York, 2006. ISBN 1-4000-6172-5

The author:

In addition to books, J.C. Hallman has published fiction and non-fiction in GQ, Harper's, Chess Life, and other national magazines, and made Workshop and the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins. Currently, he is serving as the Banister Writer-in-Residence at Sweet Briar College. He can be reached at jchallman@gmail.com.

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