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
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
Keith M. Parsons is Professor of Philosophy at University of Houston, Clear Lake. 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.
Late in the fourth century CE the emperor Theodosius I issued a number of decrees making Nicene Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire and effectively outlawing the ancient Greco-Roman pagan religious practices and rites. Perhaps the most symbolically significant act was the disbanding of the order of Vestal Virgins and the extinction of the eternal fire in the Temple of Vesta. The full conversion of the “barbarians” of northern and eastern Europe took several centuries longer. The last European conversion from paganism occurred in Lithuania in 1386, but in Europe as a whole conversion was effectively accomplished, often by force, by the year 1000.1 Continue reading
Duncan Pritchard is Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at University of California, Irvine. 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.
I think the short answer to the question I’ve been posed is simply ‘yes, of course there is a future for philosophy of religion’. Given how fundamental religious questions are to the human condition, and given how philosophy is deeply concerned with the nature of the human condition, then it is hard to see how philosophy could have a future without philosophy of religion being a part of it. On the assumption that I’m right about this, and that philosophy of religion does have a future, the natural next question is what this philosophy of religion of the future will be like. Futurology has a notoriously poor success rate, but I think I can with some confidence offer one general trend that will occur, which is a greater interest within philosophy of religion beyond the Christian traditions that have tended to preoccupy philosophers hitherto (especially philosophers of the broadly analytical tradition). My confidence in this is grounded in the fact that philosophy more generally has become more open to a wider set of cultural reference points (rightly so, in my view), and it is hard to see how this could fail to have an effect on mainstream philosophy of religion. I suspect that this particular trend will also go hand-in-hand with a more geographically diverse reading of the history of religious ideas too, particularly since I think philosophers of religion tend to be more historically-minded than most philosophers anyway. Continue reading
Charles Taliaferro is Professor of Philosophy and Overby Distinguished Chair at St. Olaf College. He is the author or co-author of over 30 books, including the two editions of the Blackwell Companion to Philosophy of Religion. He is the author of the Philosophy of Religion entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and Editor-in-Chief of Open Theology. 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 my 40 years in higher education and in giving invited lectures in philosophy of religion at major universities in the USA and UK (Harvard, Yale, U of Chicago, Oxford, Cambridge…) and elsewhere (Russia, China, Brazil) I have found eager audiences hungry for philosophy of religion. Given the overwhelmingly large population of religiously identified persons on this planet (PEW estimates 84%) for philosophers to ignore the importance of religious belief and practice would be negligent. While some popular news media report a decline in religion in parts of the world, sociologists of religion like Randy Stark (in his book The Triumph of Faith; Why The World is More Religious Than Ever) contend that low numbers are often generated if ‘religion’ is defined in terms of membership in churches, temples, and so on; but if ‘religion’ is measured in terms of frequency of praying, believing there is a God or Higher Power, visiting shrines, and so on, numbers are extraordinarily high. I have also seen a study where it was assumed that if persons are self-described atheists then they are classified as non-religious (see chapter one of Stark’s book). But Buddhism is widely considered a religion and it is atheistic. The most well recognized and perhaps best loved religious leader today, the Dalia Lama, is an atheist (or, if you prefer a more modest term ‘a non-theist’; either way, he is quite explicit in denying the reality of a Creator-God). Continue reading
Robert Cummings Neville is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, Theology, and Religion at Boston 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.
To recall my previous blogs here, I believe that the primary meaning of philosophy of religion is when someone with a really big philosophy says something interesting about religion. A secondary meaning is when someone lacks the big philosophy but deals with some aspect of religion. The former is what we usually teach, the latter is what we publish, those of us who lack big philosophies.
What is the future of all this? Let’s project a 15 year future and a 50 year future, beginning with the 15 year one. Continue reading
Dale M. Schlitt is Professor of Theology, Philosophy and Spirituality at the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, Texas. 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.
Perhaps a little musing about religion in relation to lived experience and then about the relationship between it and philosophy of religion would prove helpful. Focusing on religion as arising out of lived experience might help situate anew philosophy’s essential roles in relation to religion. Though religion, like philosophy, pretty well concerns all forms of experience, that to which it relates most basically is the past and present lived experience of an ultimate or, more generally stated, of some way “beyond.” Whether that be a divinity, an ideal way of living, a specific way of relating to reality as a whole or in one or more of its particulars. Such experience may be characterized more by a self-other structure as, for example, in theistic religions and quasi-religious attitudes toward reality or one or more aspects of it. But such experience may also be witnessed to as a pure experiencing, for example, that affirmed in Advaitic a-dualism. Mutatis mutandis, whether structured or not, such experience could be communal, shared, personal, individual, or several of these forms taken together. It could also be them considered cumulatively. It may also be something witnessed to in the past as, for example, by the architecture and sculpture at the immense Angkor Wat temple complex in northern Cambodia, which provides access to, and a certain understanding of, Hindu and then Buddhist experience centuries ago. It may be originary, giving rise, in each case in its own way, to subsequent religious or quasi-religious communities. Such has occurred in Buddhism with Siddhārtha Gautama and his experience, to put it too simply, as extinction of desire, and in Christianity with Jesus of Nazareth and his experience of God as Father and Spirit. Experience of an ultimate or a “beyond” may be affirmed as occurring in the present, which is the case with the seven-hundred-year-old tradition of entrancing Dervish whirling or with Pentecostal/Charismatic experiences of the Spirit renewing the first Pentecost experience. And such experience may continue to be witnessed to as well as further encouraged in the singing of Charles Wesley’s thousands of often lilting hymns. It may live on as expressed in indigenous attitudes toward sacred reality, for example, the case of aboriginal respect for and honoring of the perhaps 500-million-year-old sacred monolith Uluru in north central Australia. Continue reading
Gary Colwell is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Condordia University of Edmonton. 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.
Thesis: As long as there is a future with a sufficient number of humans philosophy of religion will have a future.
(For, if there is no future, nothing has a future; and if there are no humans, no human endeavour has a future; and if there is not a sufficient number of humans philosophy of religion may not be one of the human endeavours.)
Definition PR: Philosophy of Religion is philosophical thinking about a religion.
(Briefly, it’s questioning the foundations of religious belief; i.e., deep questioning involving analysis and synthesis. PR is here taken to refer to a human cognitive activity, one not limited to the requirements of an academic course titled “Philosophy of Religion.”) Continue reading