Gregory W. Dawes – “The Future of Philosophy of Religion: From Practices to Beliefs”

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 – “Philosophy of Religion: Alive and Kicking!”

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 on “Is There A Future For The Philosophy of Religion?”

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.

Continue reading

Eric Steinhart on “Is There A Future For The Philosophy of Religion?

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 on “Futures and Funerals”

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 on “Is There A Future For The Philosophy of Religion?”

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 on “Two Aims of the Philosophy of Religion”

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 on “Taking Neo-Paganism Seriously”

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 on “Is There A Future For The Philosophy of Religion?”

UCI professor of philosophy Duncan Pritchard
photo: Steve Zylius/UCI

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 on “Is There A Future For The Philosophy of Religion?”

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