Paul Draper is Professor of Philosophy at Purdue University. 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 academic study of religion is a tricky business, because religions make claims about reality that are as cherished by their members as they are incredible to non-members. Thus, both philosophy of religion, which is a sub-discipline of philosophy, and the relatively new discipline of religious studies face an important question about their aims. Do those aims include addressing the truth question – the question of whether any of the claims about reality that religions make are true? On the one hand, inquiry in religious studies has generally avoided this question, especially in the United States, where great effort has been made to distinguish the secular and “scientific” discipline of religious studies, which is properly taught in public universities, from the sectarian discipline of theology, which is taught only in private religious institutions and which, at least historically, sought not just to identify, clarify, and systematize the beliefs of a particular religious community (dogmatics), but also to justify them (apologetics). Philosophy of religion, on the other hand, can’t completely ignore the truth question and still be philosophy. This is not to say that the truth question is the only question philosophers of religion should address, but it is one such question, and thus it is worth asking how this one part of philosophy of religion is best approached. I offer four recommendations.
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Gordon Graham is Henry Luce III Professor of Philosophy and the Arts at Princeton Theological Seminary. We invited him to answer the question “What is Philosophy of Religion?” as part of our “Philosophers of Religion on Philosophy of Religion” series.
Philosophy of religion has for several decades been thought identical with philosophical theology – brilliantly revitalized by a host of very able philosophers, most notably perhaps, Richard Swinburne and Alvin Plantinga. Before the publication of Swinburne’s Existence of God, and Plantinga’s God and Other Minds, philosophy of religion was largely in the doldrums. Metaphysical questions had been abandoned, and the subject was for the most part confined, (as moral and political philosophy were for a time), to the application of philosophy of language to religion. A few decades later, however, the subject had been transformed. It now has substantial metaphysical and theological content. The number of both prominent and promising philosophers engaged in it continues to grow, and they have produced innumerable very high quality books and journal articles.
There is, however, a different kind of philosophy of religion. This alternative is not incompatible with the traditional arguments of philosophical theology, or indifferent to the philosophical exploration of divine attributes, and it relates to the science/religion debate, if somewhat obliquely. Its principal aim, though, is neither to sustain nor to undermine the rational foundations of religious belief, but to arrive at a philosophical understanding of religion as a human phenomenon. It is, in other words, ‘philosophy of religion’ properly so called, rather than theistic metaphysics.
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Matthew Davidson is Professor of Philosophy at California State University, San Bernadino. We invited him to answer the question “What is Philosophy of Religion?” as part of our “Philosophers of Religion on Philosophy of Religion” series.
This is a difficult question to answer for the same sorts of reasons it is difficult to say what philosophy itself is. First, there is disagreement not only at the margins, but as to the very nature of the discipline; and second, even among like-minded practitioners of the discipline, it still is difficult to give anything approaching an analysis (that would look like a Chisholm-style definition) of the nature of philosophy of religion. (Indeed, it is hard to give an analysis of the nature of all sorts of important things.)
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Rem Edwards is the Lindsay Young Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at the University of Tennessee. We invited him to answer the question “What is Philosophy of Religion?” as part of our “Philosophers of Religion on Philosophy of Religion” series.
Anyone attempting to answer this question inevitably expresses his or her own approach to it, interests in it, and limited perspective on it, so I will try to be as forthright as possible about my own involvements. No one can give a complete and definitive answer to it, so my own efforts make no such pretensions. Many different interests and concerns guide philosophers of religion. My own have been passionate curiosity and quests for true beliefs and defensible values and practices, spread over the whole of philosophy, and not limited to the philosophy of religion. The whole enterprise must be qualified from the outset by a fallibilism which recognizes that after we have done our best, not all competent rational authorities will agree. Philosophers are no more agreed than theologians about what philosophy (or revelation) authorizes us to believe, practice, and value; so personal perspectivism and commitment are inevitable and inescapable in all of philosophy and theology.
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