Betty M. Bayer, Senior Fellow

2014

Betty M. Bayer is professor of Women’s Studies at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, NY, where she teaches courses on notions of human nature in histories of women’s psyche, imagining peace, and debates amongst psychology, science, religion and spirituality. Most recently, she has published essays on Spirituality (2014) and Enchantment in an Age of Occupy (2012). While a senior fellow at the Martin Marty Center she will be working on her book “Revelation or Revolution? Cognitive Dissonance and Persistent Longing in an Age Psychological.” This book entails a history and rethinking of the renowned 1956 book When Prophecy Fails by social psychologists Leon Festinger, Henry Riecken and Stanley Schachter. 

Prof. Bayer writes that "It is an honor to be at the Marty Center this year for I can think of no better world than here to pursue my project, where interdisciplinary dialogue is so ideally upheld and given to deepening overlooked arguments such as those my book pursues.  That is, When Prophecy Fails is rarely, if ever, examined for its place in a much longer and larger history of debate amongst religion, psychology, spirituality and science.  Situated in mid-1950s America, When Prophecy Fails enters the scene at the dawn of cybernetic science, a time of reframing religion to become “newly psychological,” a shift in psychology toward cognition and away from behaviorism, and the stirrings of new age spirituality.  When Prophecy Fails, as the theory of cognitive dissonance it introduces, was thus poised at a significant crossroads for academic disciplines and everyday life, a moment telling of histories of contention between forms of faith and forms of reason; a contest over the soul/psyche central to the founding of American psychology, and to that more fundamental question of what is it all about.  The significance of this contest in When Prophecy Fails is found in how it issued anew ways to understand inner and outer worlds of revelation and revolution in meaning making, ways that surface directly in debate today on cognition, neuroscience, and religion."