The University of Iowa LibrariesThe Biographical Dictionary of Iowa: Jacket Art - Agriculture - Cresco, Iowa by Richard Haines ca 1934 -  Photo by Scott Christopher courtesy of Gregg Narber

THE BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY OF IOWA

University of Iowa Press Digital Editions
Starbuck, Edwin Diller
(February 20, 1866–November 18, 1947)

–pioneering author, scholar, and teacher primarily in the fields of psychology of religion, religious education, and character education—was an eighth-generation descendant of Starbucks in America. The youngest of 10 children, Starbuck was born to Quakers and spent his childhood years in "Centre-Neighborhood," at the crossroads of five Quaker communities, about 12 miles southwest of Indianapolis, Indiana. There Starbuck was raised in the gentle manner of that tradition, his values, ethically and religiously, subtly shaped by nurture and encouragement toward morality and a sense of responsibility rather than direct demands.

    Without denouncing his pietistic Quaker heritage, its religion of good conduct, and its way of living religion rather than merely talking about it, Starbuck purposefully pursued higher education in ways that pushed him in more liberal directions academically and religiously. After receiving his B.A. in philosophy at Indiana University, a "storm-center" of "New Thinking," Starbuck taught briefly at Spiceland Academy and then at Vincennes University in Indiana. In 1893 he entered Harvard, chosen because of its breadth of coursework in religion as well as philosophy and psychology, where he began his classic study of conversion under William James, whose own classic Varieties of Religious Experience would likely not have been written had Starbuck not pursued there his own study of the conversion experience. Starbuck pioneered in the application of the questionnaire method to an interpretation of religious phenomena, and graduated with an M.A. in 1895. While at Harvard, Starbuck met Anna Maria Diller, one of the first two women to study at Harvard. Married on August 5, 1896, Starbuck took his wife's maiden name to make it his own middle name. Unable to receive credit toward a Ph.D. in the psychology of religion, by now his exclusive interest, Starbuck was granted a fellowship and transferred to Clark University. There, under G. Stanley Hall, the first person in the United States to receive a Ph.D. in psychology, Starbuck continued to pursue the application of psychology to religion, and in 1897 received his Ph.D. Before leaving, Starbuck helped Hall develop the first journal devoted exclusively to the study of the psychology of religion, the American Journal of Religious Psychology and Education.

    In 1897 Starbuck was appointed assistant professor of education at Leland Stanford Junior University and was asked to do interdisciplinary study in education and psychology. There Starbuck offered the first university courses ever in educational psychology, char acter education, and psychology of religion. In 1904 Starbuck accepted an invitation from Earlham College to be professor of education and director of a new school of education. Within two years, however, Starbuck joined the faculty of the State University of Iowa as a professor of philosophy. Starbuck's major contributions to the fields of religious education and character education and training were made during his long tenure at Iowa (1906- 1930). A year before his retirement, and shortly after his wife's death, Starbuck was asked to carry on his work in character education at the University of Southern California. Although with less vigor, he engaged his dream of character education in the public schools until his retirement in 1943.

    With the 1899 publication of his classic study of religious conversion, Psychology of Religion, Starbuck established himself as a pioneer in the field. He was the first to initiate an empirical study of individual religious consciousness, whose content and methodology were repeated later by other leading pioneers in the field. His study objectively delineated the normal development of religious growth and the mental and organic factors that affect that growth. Starbuck claimed that conversion was a manifestation of "natural processes."His classification of types of conversion stands as a classic codification. Starbuck defined religion as the complete response to one's most intimate sense of reality. He sought not to explain religion away, but to discern its insights for living.

    Starbuck saw the "spiritual life," or moral life, as the end of education. At the State University of Iowa, his teaching, research, and writing reflected his devotion to that principle. In 1921 Starbuck chaired an Iowa state committee that won a nationwide contest for the best plan in character education for public schools. As a result of that "Iowa Plan," Starbuck established a Research Station and later the Institute in Character Education at the State University of Iowa, the first and only one of its kind officially connected with a state university. Starbuck edited a significant series, University of Iowa Studies in Character (1927-1931), and with his staff tirelessly conducted research to systematically evaluate and select the "best" character-building literature to supplement public school curricula.

    Although his dream was never completed, his work stimulated better programs of character education in schools. His work, along with that of others such as John Dewey, with whom he worked, seemed to penetrate entrenched patterns of traditional and authoritarian education.
Sources Starbuck's major publications include The Psychology of Religion: An Empirical Study of the Growth of Religious Consciousness (1899); University of Iowa Studies in Character (ed., 1927–1931); A Guide to Literature for Character Training, vol. 1, Fairy Tale, Myth and Legend (1928); A Guide to Books for Character, vol. 2, Fiction (1930); The Wonder Road, 3 vols. (1930); and Living Through Biography, 3 vols. (1936). For Starbuck's own autobiographical sketch, see Religion in Transition, ed. Vergilius Ferm (1937). For a posthumous tribute, see Look to This Day: Selected Writings by Edwin Diller Starbuck (1945). The definitive study of Starbuck's life, career, and writings is Howard Booth, Edwin Diller Starbuck: Pioneer in the Psychology of Religion (1981).
Contributor: Howard Booth

Cite as: Booth, Howard. "Starbuck, Edwin Diller" The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009. Web. 25 May 2017