Bruce Langtry is Senior Fellow of philosophy at the University of Melbourne (Australia). We invited him to answer the question “What is Philosophy of Religion?” as part of our “Philosophers of Religion on Philosophy of Religion” series.
I largely agree with Donald A. Crosby’s and Gordon Graham’s explanations, on this website, of what counts as philosophy of religion. Here I’ll supplement what they say by making a couple of points about the extent to which philosophy of religion is tied to religious doctrine, and about the propriety of philosophers engaging in religious apologetics.
Peter Jonkers is full professor of philosophy at Tilburg University (the Netherlands). We invited him to answer the question “What is Philosophy of Religion?” as part of our “Philosophers of Religion on Philosophy of Religion” series.
Do you have to be religious in order to be a good philosopher of religion or is a pious heart, by contrast, an obstacle for a philosophical examination of religion? Let me introduce this tricky question through a personal experience. A few years ago, I participated in a conference on Rawls’s ideas about the role of religion in the public sphere. The overall majority of the delegates were political philosophers, presenting excellent papers on religious comprehensive doctrines as expressions of non-public reason, on the fact that these doctrines have to fulfill the ‘proviso’ of using proper political or public reasons (and not reasons given solely by comprehensive doctrines) in order to be introduced in the public political discussion, etc. However, none of them paid any attention to On My Religion, an autobiographical essay in which Rawls explains why he abandoned his orthodox Christian beliefs in spite of the deeply religious temperament that informed his life and writings. Although there is no direct link between his life and his philosophy, this essay sheds an intriguing light on Rawls’s personal struggle in answering the leading question of his Political Liberalism: “How is it possible for those affirming a religious doctrine that is based on religious authority, for example, the Church or the Bible, also to hold a reasonable political conception that supports a just democratic regime?”
With these considerations in mind I asked some of the Rawls-experts at the conference whether they would qualify themselves as religious or perhaps even as Christian. Almost all of them replied that they were not religious, and considered their secular stance as an important or even necessary condition for the unprejudiced, philosophical study of religion. I found this answer rather odd, because it prevents them from understanding the deeper reasons and motives of Rawls’s struggle, which are highly relevant for the understanding of his philosophy.
Ronald A. Kuipers
Ronald A. Kuipers is Associate Professor of the Philosophy of Religion, and Director of the Centre for Philosophy, Religion, and Social Ethics at the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto, Canada. Most recently, he is the author of Critical Faith: Toward a Renewed Understanding of Religious Life and its Public Accountability (Rodopi, 2002), and most recently Richard Rorty (Bloomsbury Contemporary American Thinkers, 2013). We invited him to answer the question “What is Philosophy of Religion?” as part of our “Philosophers of Religion on Philosophy of Religion” series.
For a philosopher with an interdisciplinary bent, there has perhaps never been a more exciting time to make a contribution to the Philosophy of Religion. Workers in this field are becoming increasingly open to a greater range of disciplinary avenues in pursuing their scholarly task. That task, as I understand it, involves reflecting philosophically on religious phenomena in their entirety, taking into consideration more than just the cognitive dimensions of religious belief. While this dimension remains important and undiminished, there is a growing sense among many philosophers of religion that any philosophical reflection on religious phenomena that restricts itself to this arena will remain truncated and incomplete. An adequate philosophical understanding of religion must also attend to its social and public dimensions, and these latter should not simply be left to historians and sociologists of religion alone. It is imperative, therefore, that philosophers of religion stay abreast of contemporary developments in social and political thought, as well as related discussions in the philosophy of language, especially those that highlight the social/discursive dimension of human language use.
William D. Hart
William D. Hart is Professor of Religious Studies at University of North Carolina, Greensboro. We invited him to answer the question “What is Philosophy of Religion?” as part of our “Philosophers of Religion on Philosophy of Religion” series.
The philosopher of religion is the ultimate peripatetic: traveling across spacetime, rummaging among the texts, discourses, and performances of various religious traditions that provide grain for an interpretive mill. The philosopher of religion is a provocateur who corrupts youthful, naïve, staid, and common sense notions of what religion is. “Philosophy of religion” is an abstract noun that refers to the concrete work of particular philosophers. Western in provenance—that is, Greek, Roman, and Christian, the philosophy of religion is an old form of what Edward W. Said famously describes as “traveling theory.” In the world of “post” imperial/colonial modernity with its international flows of capital, labor, and culture, where the distance between metropole and periphery has shrank almost to the vanishing point, the wisdom traditions of the east and the global south are challenging and dislocating a western-born philosophy of religion.