Charles Taliaferro is Professor and Chair of Philosophy at St. Olaf College. We invited him to answer the question “What is Philosophy of Religion?” as part of our “Philosophers of Religion on Philosophy of Religion” series.
There is good reason to believe that the first philosopher writing in English to employ the term ‘philosophy of religion’ was the 17th century Cambridge Platonist Ralph Cudworth. Cudworth and the other Cambridge Platonists (including Henry More, John Smith, and others) saw philosophy of religion as a central practice to philosophy (the love of wisdom) itself: the philosophical exploration of our relationship to God, the nature of the soul and cosmos, animals and created order, and the pursuit of the good, the true, and the beautiful in both practice and theory.
Nancy Frankenberry is John Phillips Professor of Religion at Dartmouth College. We invited her to answer the question “What is Philosophy of Religion?” as part of our “Philosophers of Religion on Philosophy of Religion” series.
I often tell my students that philosophers of religion are odd ducks. We are at once too philosophical to interest many of our colleagues in religion departments, and too interested in questions about religion to please most members of philosophy departments. Our critical craft is at least as old as the Hellenistic posing of questions to Hebrew texts, but today we are seeking to move beyond the Western religious presumption of ethical monotheism as well as the Eurocentric cast of philosophy.
As I see it, then, the major task of philosophy of religion in our time is to become more global in its orientation, comparative in its methodology, and empirical in its inquiry into the differences between specific religions. The comparative philosophy of religions is necessarily interdisciplinary, making as much use of history of religions and cultural anthropology as previous practitioners have made of speculative metaphysics and hermeneutical phenomenology. Insofar as the discipline faces the challenge of encounter with traditions expressing practices and beliefs that are not predominantly associated with European, white, male modes of understanding, it will be required to elaborate new models of interpretation, a broader theory of evidence, a cross cultural conception of human rationality, and a more complex appraisal of the norms applicable to cases of divergent, rival claims on comparative topics. Obviously, this is a tall order and only a few philosophers of religion currently execute it with any skill.
Michael S. Jones
Michael S. Jones is Associate Professor of Philosophy and Theology at Liberty University and Executive Editor for the Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies. We invited him to answer the question “What is Philosophy of Religion?” as part of our “Philosophers of Religion on Philosophy of Religion” series.
What is philosophy of religion? Without even a dash of hyperbole, I’d say that philosophy of religion is the greatest of all intellectual human endeavors. It is a logically rigorous and intensely creative attempt to probe subjects at least some of which transcend human comprehension. The ideas that we find in the world’s religions – the idea of a pantheon of competing gods or a single supreme God, the concept of a being that is incorporeal and yet omnipresent, the question of if and how human cognition can lead to beliefs about such a being that accurately reflect that being’s nature, and many other fascinating but difficult issues – are carefully analyzed, using the tools of logic, linguistic analysis, reflection on the insights of great thinkers of the past, and dialogue with current philosophers in order to arrive at conclusions that are as clear and accurate as is humanly possible. All this is done with a spirit of open-mindedness toward the eventual outcome of the investigation, the goal being a deeper understanding of ultimate reality. Yes, it’s grandiose. Philosophers of religion aim at the stars. Why aim lower?
Hermann Deuser is Professor of Philosophy of Religion and Systematic Theology at Goethe University (Germany). We invited him to answer the question “What is Philosophy of Religion?” as part of our “Philosophers of Religion on Philosophy of Religion” series.
Religion as a (cultural-historical) summary term and, in individual cases, lived religiosity denotes a specific form of life that arises from the finite existence of each and every human being. This is because, while we are never able consistently to master our own lives, we understand ourselves, and need to be understood, in terms of a context of ultimate experience. The concept formation ultimate reality/ultimacy (R.C. Neville) does not refer to a specific content, but is a placeholder for the status of religious valuations, experiences, objects, functions, attitudes, etc., without however pre-forming them. The special significance of this status obtains in the exclusion of conditionalities: the ultimate – whether it is first or last, connotes a personal God, a plurality of gods or non-personal transcendence – expresses what is always already prior due to the perception, experience and awareness of derivativeness. Conditions are then either not to be specified at all or at least not until afterwards (perspectivally and partially), which is why the peculiarity of religion lies precisely in the simultaneous treatment of withdrawal and revelation, i.e. in the processing of the ultimate so that it can find representation.
The way of accessing the specific character of religion that is simplest, most universal, and familiar to our life-experience is through the use of signs, which is generally supposed to be a precondition for human communication. In their phenomena-disclosing character, they are described (with C.S. Peirce) as categorical and formal-semiotic: any immediate presence/perception (firstness) has an objective reference to experience (secondness), and these stand in direct relation to each other in an interpretive behavior (thirdness). This trichotomy (of sign, object and interpretant) forms linkages and networks, such that previous interpretants become new signs for subsequent events etc. Immediate perceptions (resulting from unmediated impressions and feelings), object relations and behavior remain dependent on each other and can themselves become present in their derivativeness. The preceding perception of quality always persists as an accompanying, irreducible premise. And the immediacy of the first appearance, of the original moment, that enters into all the necessary mediations can either now not be further spoken of in a mundane way (its underlying function concealed), or a special kind of access may be activated through the use of signs that expresses its peculiar derivativeness as such and make immediacy capable of being processed. Herein lies the power of religion.
Maurice Boutin was John W. McConnell Professor of Philosophy of Religion at McGill University, Montreal, from 1991 to 2010, and he taught Philosophical Theology at the University of Montreal from 1972 on. He received a State Ph.D. from the University of Munich, Germany, with a dissertation published in 1974 in the series “Beiträge zur evangelischen Theologie” with the title Relationalität als Verstehensprinzip bei Rudolf Bultmann (Munich: Chr. Kaiser Verlag –“Relationality as Understanding Principle in R. Bultmann’s Thought”). Since 1975, he is a member of the International Colloquiums on Hermeneutics (Rome, Italy) founded by Enrico Castelli. From 1981 to 1987, he has been President of the Canadian Corporation for Studies in Religion. He has published articles in German, French, Swiss, American, and Canadian journals and chapters in books in Germany, Italy, France, Canada, and the US. Since June 1st 2010, he is John W. McConnell Emeritus Professor of Philosophy of Religion, McGill University. Papers on his achievements given at a two-day symposium at McGill, which took place on November 12-13, 2010, have been edited under the direction of Jim Kanaris and published under the title Polyphonic Thinking and the Divine by Rodopi, Amsterdam & New York, in 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.
The following three statements may lead to a new paradigm for philosophy of religion: (1) Human is fragile (with reference to Yves Ledure [1920-2012], Transcendances: Essai sur Dieu et le corps [Paris 1989]); (2) Human is fallible (with reference to Paul Ricoeur [2013-2005], Finitude and Guilt, the second volume [French 1960 & New York 1986] of Ricoeur’s Philosophy of Will), and (3) Human is finite. The latter directly challenges Ricoeur’s question “whether human transcendence is merely transcendence of finitude or whether the converse is not something of equal importance,” and thus also Ricoeur’s “working hypothesis concerning the paradox of the finite-infinite” whose full recognition – essential to the elaboration of the concept of fallibility according to Ricoeur – implies a moving from human finitude to infinitude, from perspective, desire, limited nature and death, to discourse, demand for totality, love and beatitude.