When M. David Eckel, Allen C. Speight, and I asked a group of philosophers to consider the future of the philosophy of religion—in a pair of symposia, a lecture series, a graduate seminar, and finally in the essays collected in our recent book, The Future of the Philosophy of Religion (Springer 2021)—the question already felt urgent. One of the world’s most ancient subjects, the philosophy of religion in the modern era has come to feel not so much venerable, as antiquated, tired, passé. Obsolete. Many problems lodged deep in the roots of our field have been exposed in recent decades, and it has become increasingly clear that rethinking some of its once central aspects is now necessary. The business of evaluating religious truth claims and beliefs, once our meat and potatoes, is now thought to be fraught with bias and ideology, and normativity in the study of religion is a topic of serious concern. An exaggerated focus on beliefs, to the exclusion of rigorous treatments of religious practices and communities, has impoverished the philosophical conception of religion in general. Traditional Christian philosophical concerns—the rationality of theism, the problem of evil, the relationship between faith and reason—have crowded out other issues for centuries, and religions that don’t achieve the vaunted status of “World Religion” barely receive any attention at all, relegated to a sort of underclass on the discipline’s periphery. The philosophy of religion has, for a very long time, been insular, narrow, and myopic. Continue reading
Mikel Burley is Associate Professor of Religion and Philosophy at the University of Leeds, UK. We invited him to answer the question “Is there a future for the philosophy of religion?” as part of our “Philosophers of Religion on Philosophy of Religion” series.
A central concern articulated in recent years by critical voices both inside and outside Western philosophy of religion has been this subfield’s perceived lack of religious diversity. It has been claimed that Western philosophers of religion are too often preoccupied with “the rationality of theism” (Schilbrack 2014, p. 3), a theism detached from the particularities of historically and geographically rooted religious traditions (Knepper 2013). These critical voices have, on occasion, included my own.
In what follows, I wish to do three things. First, I acknowledge a qualification to the kind of critical assessment that I and others have made of Western philosophy of religion. Second, I give due recognition to the difficulties of expanding the subfield in ways that remain identifiably philosophical. And third, I advocate the need for methodological experimentation as a response to these difficulties. Continue reading
Graham Oppy is Professor of Philosophy at Monash University. We invited him to answer the question “Is there a future for the philosophy of religion?” as part of our “Philosophers of Religion on Philosophy of Religion” series.
As long as there are both philosophy and religion, there will be philosophy of religion. If there is religion, there will be questions about religion for which there is no expert consensus on either answers or methods to be used in seeking answers. If there is philosophy, there will be discussion of questions of that kind. Discussion of questions of that kind falls squarely in the domain of philosophy of religion.
Some seem to worry that there is no such thing as religion. If they are right, then philosophy of religion does not have a present, let alone a future. I think that this worry is best understood as a complaint against taking particular categories—gods, afterlives, faith, belief—to be essential or pivotal in adequate characterisations of religion. There is justice in this complaint. There are religions that have no truck with gods and afterlives; there are religions in which faith and belief are comparatively unimportant. Moreover, insisting that these particular categories are essential or pivotal in adequate characterisations of religion skews discussion in philosophy of religion. But there is nothing here that would ground error theory about religion; rather, what seems required is better understanding of what is essential or pivotal to religion. Continue reading
Stanley Tweyman is University Professor at York University in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. We invited him to answer the question “Is there a future for the philosophy of religion?” as part of our “Philosophers of Religion on Philosophy of Religion” series.
In an earlier blog, “What does Philosophy of Religion offer to the Modern University”, I argued that the philosophy of religion parts company with all other areas of inquiry when we attempt to understand God through contemplation and meditation, rather than through argumentation. My analysis was developed by reference to the last paragraph in Descartes’ third meditation. In the current blog, I propose to turn, once again, to Descartes’ third meditation,1 with a view to answering the question, by way of illustration, “Is there a future for the Philosophy of Religion”.
In seeking to provide an answer to the question raised in this blog, I want to focus on one concern, namely, is there an experience which we can have which is able to enlighten us about God? To pursue this topic, I propose to examine the philosophy of Rene Descartes on knowing God. I am not suggesting that Descartes has provided a definitive answer to the question highlighted in this essay. But, I do propose to show that he has provided a roadmap, as it were, for focusing on an experience which may be able to enlighten us about God, and as such, to reveal at least one strategy for providing a future for the Philosophy of Religion. Continue reading
Gregory W. Dawes is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Otago. We invited him to answer the question “Is there a future for the philosophy of religion?” as part of our “Philosophers of Religion on Philosophy of Religion” series.
In the first post to this blog, Troy has remarked that the philosophy of religion, as currently practised, is ‘insular, narrow, and myopic’. I entirely agree. The one sign of hope is that an increasing number of authors are realising this and are trying to offer an alternative vision of the discipline. I have done this myself in a couple of short works, one entitled Religion, Philosophy and Knowledge, and the other Deprovincializing Science and Religion. So I welcome the publication of The Future of the Philosophy of Religion, which continues this discussion.
What I want to pick up here is just one idea from that volume. It is the idea that scholars of religion should focus less on beliefs and more on practices. As Kevin Schilbrack writes,
the philosophy of religion has traditionally had an intellectualist bias to the extent that the discipline has focused on religious truth claims and therefore engaged only with a relatively small fraction of what religious people do and care about.
That is true. What I want to argue, however, is that we are not forced to choose. It is not a matter of focusing either on religious beliefs or on religious practices, for we should not set the two in opposition. A few reflections on some recent theories of knowledge will show why. Continue reading
Peter Jonkers is emeritus professor of philosophy at Tilburg University, the Netherlands. He has published extensively on questions regarding religion in the public space, in particular religious truth, pluralism and identity, religious violence and tolerance, and wisdom. From 2008 to 2020 he was member of the board of the European Society for Philosophy of Religion, and from 2010 to 2012 he served as president of that Society. We invited him to answer the question “Is there a future for the philosophy of religion?” as part of our “Philosophers of Religion on Philosophy of Religion” series.
My response to the question whether there is a future for philosophy of religion is definitely affirmative. I would even argue that nowadays philosophy of religion holds a more prominent place on the philosophical scene than, say, during the second half of the twentieth century. This has to do with a transformation of the place of religion in many societies around the globe, to which philosophy of religion is reacting by developing some new, promising approaches and rephrasing some of its old questions.
Let us start with the changes in the religious landscape. Although the secularization theory was correct in predicting the gradual decline of the number of church-goers and the decrease of the influence of the churches in most modern societies, its more speculative assumption, namely that religiosity as such would fade away in modern societies and be replaced by a scientific worldview and a procedural ethics of (individual) autonomy, has turned out to be empirically invalid. What we see is not so much a disappearance, but rather a transformation of the religious landscape: in most modern societies, people have not stopped searching for spiritual nourishment and substantial values to orientate their lives. Continue reading
Kevin Timpe is Professor of Philosophy at Calvin University. We invited him to answer the question “Is there a future for the philosophy of religion?” as part of our “Philosophers of Religion on Philosophy of Religion” series.
In an earlier blogpost, Troy DuJardin asked “Is there a future for the philosophy of religion?” I think the answer to this question is, obviously, yes. After all, the excellent book that he, M. David Eckel, and C. Allen Speight recently edited itself is a great example of what I take to be the continued flourishing of the field. One notices that the book’s title doesn’t contain the question mark that adorns the blogpost, and I think there’s good reason for that.
Despite my disagreement with the implied uncertainly from the blog post’s title, I think that DuJardin, both in the post and especially along with his co-editors in the volume’s introduction raise some great issues. This, I take it, is at the heart of the critique of philosophy of religion:
Many problems lodged deep in the roots of our field have been exposed in recent decades, and is has become increasingly clear that rethinking some of its once central aspects is now necessary.
Eric Steinhart is Professor of Philosophy at William Paterson University. We invited him to answer the question “Is there a future for the philosophy of religion?” as part of our “Philosophers of Religion on Philosophy of Religion” series.
One of my last fully in-person classes, in the fall of 2019, was philosophy of religion. My class had a large percentage of atheists, not surprising for the northeast United States. What was surprising was that the atheists, who were all deeply anti-Christian, spent much of their time discussing how they charged their crystals (full moon or in the sun?), their favorite tarot decks (Waite-Rider or the Wild Unknown?), and the pros and cons of astrology apps (Co-Star or the Pattern?). But they didn’t care much about New Age spirituality, or identify as “spiritual but not religious”. They didn’t care much about atheism either. They just did their things. Since then many mass media articles have detailed the rise of these practices among younger Americans.
I’d like to try to understand my young students (obviously, they’re the future). But there aren’t any philosophy articles (much less books) about their practices or how they integrate them into their ways of thinking about reality. Nothing. Crickets. In this context, it would be absurd to say astrology or crystals involve consorting with demons. The Gallup organization recently reported that for the first time in their eighty-year history, less than half of adult Americans attend a church. By all demographic accounts, Christianity is declining rapidly in America. For the last decade, there have been many calls to expand philosophy of religion beyond Christian theism. Yet philosophy of religion, at least in the English-speaking world, remains intensely christo-normative. As far as I can tell, the academic journals and presses have not changed one bit. Continue reading
N. N. Trakakis teaches Philosophy at Australian Catholic University and writes and translates poetry. We invited him to answer the question “Is there a future for the philosophy of religion?” as part of our “Philosophers of Religion on Philosophy of Religion” series.
In his film, State Funeral (2019), director Sergei Loznitsa has assembled fascinating, and until now unseen, archival footage of the funeral staged for Joseph Stalin after the dictator’s death on March 5, 1953. We see Stalin lying in state in Moscow’s House of Trade Unions (the very site of the 1930s show trials), before being transported to the mausoleum in Red Square to lie beside Lenin’s embalmed corpse. One of the extraordinary features of the film is its beautifully stark and solemn, but perhaps also unintentionally subversive, portraits of the multitudes of ordinary people, officers and dignitaries that had descended upon the capital in the freezing cold to pay their last respects to the Great Leader, some in hysterics and tears (of sorrow? or secret satisfaction?), but most with blank faces, unwilling to show their hand, as they had learned so well to do.
Loznitsa provides no contextualising commentary (except for the closing credits where Stalin’s crimes are adumbrated). Instead, the viewer is compelled to make sense of what is happening, not as a detached observer but as a Muscovite immersed in the mourning throng. The director’s gambit is that one will emerge, not nostalgically glorying in the past (as the footage originally intended), but stupefied and despondent (which is how many critics have reportedly felt). This sense of disillusion and disorientation arises from the dark truths that the images reveal, subtly aided by the director’s editorial hand. Continue reading
Mikael Stenmark is Professor of Philosophy of Religion at Uppsala University in Sweden. We invited him to answer the question “Is there a future for the philosophy of religion?” as part of our “Philosophers of Religion on Philosophy of Religion” series.
How should we think about the future of the philosophy of religion? What challenges and, we should not forget, opportunities does the philosophy of religion face today and in the foreseeable future? The first thing we must consider is that, looking worldwide, the philosophy of religion is often located within three different academic settings: as a part of a department of philosophy, or religious studies, or theology. Let us call this the philosophy of religion’s “disciplinary setting,” and the challenges and opportunities will differ significantly depending on this type of academic situation. For instance, one risk the philosophy of religion faces in a theological context is being reduced either to systematic theology or theological ethics, but that is, of course, not a challenge it faces within a department of religious studies. Continue reading
John Schellenberg is Professor of Philosophy at Mount Saint Vincent University. We invited him to answer the question “Is there a future for the philosophy of religion?” as part of our “Philosophers of Religion on Philosophy of Religion” series.
Philosophy of religion is going through a period of turmoil in which it is deciding what it wants to be when it grows up. I suggest that we may ease a number of current tensions and find a way forward by noting how a philosopher of religion’s direction of thought might be characterized by either of two importantly different aims. The first is the aim of understanding and rationally evaluating religious practice, bringing such philosophical disciplines as ethics, metaphysics, and epistemology to bear in the examination of religion. Perhaps, for example, one employs theories of metaphysics to illuminate the doctrine of God. Here one’s thinking moves from philosophy to religion. The second aim is the aim of investigating the philosophical potential of religious ideas, considering, as it were reciprocally, whether there is anything that religion might contribute to ethics, metaphysics, or epistemology. For example, one may use arguments for the existence of God to seek to establish a conclusion that, if established, would clearly advance metaphysical discussion. Here, rather differently, one’s thinking goes from religion to philosophy. Continue reading