Joseph Trabbic on “What is Philosophy of Religion?”


Joseph Trabbic

Joseph G. Trabbic is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Ave Maria University. His research and publications are in medieval philosophy, continental philosophy, philosophy of religion, and metaphysics. We invited him to answer the question “What is Philosophy of Religion?” as part of our “Philosophers of Religion on Philosophy of Religion” series.

A lot (and perhaps most) of what goes by the name “philosophy of religion” today standardly concerns itself with questions about the nature, existence, and cognitive accessibility of God and related matters. This holds true for both analytic and continental philosophy of religion. And it also happens to be the way that I think of the subject. But is this approach to philosophy of religion defensible? I believe it is.

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Jerome Stone on “What is Philosophy of Religion?”


Jerome Stone

Jerome A. Stone is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at William Rainey Harper College in Palatine, Illinois and on the adjunct faculty of Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago. His courses have included Environmental Ethics, Nonwestern Philosophy, World Religions and Racism in America. He is the author of The Minimalist Vision of Transcendence: A Naturalist Philosophy of Religion (SUNY) and Religious Naturalism Today: The Rebirth of a Forgotten Alternative (SUNY) and the co-editor of The Chicago School of Inquiry—Pioneers in Religious Inquiry. A United Church of Christ pastor for 18 years, he is now a Unitarian Universalist minister involved in adult religious education. 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 is disciplined thinking creating surmises about matters of importance. There is no consensus about the method of reaching or supporting these visions, hence they are surmises. A case can be made for such a surmise, but it is always subject to challenge. In the final analysis there is no final analysis (apparent contradiction intended).

Discipline is practiced by various means, including learning from other philosophies, being open to challenge, exploring the accumulated wisdom of humanity, seeking empirical fit where appropriate, and so forth.

In developing my own thinking I have attempted to define religion in such a way as to include religious naturalism and religious humanism. Most conceptions of religion involve a reference to a transcendent dimension. My working definition of religion is that it is an orientation of life in relation to the “Big Picture.” A humanist who tries to live her life in the light of the world as shown by the best current science is, insofar, religious. This is the naturalist analogue to standard notions of transcendence.

Thus philosophy of religion will involve disciplined thinking about how to live our lives in the light of the Big Picture.

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Michael Potts on “What is Philosophy of Religion?”


Michael Potts

Michael Potts is Professor of Philosophy at Methodist University in Fayetteville, North Carolina. His Ph.D. is from The University of Georgia. He is the co-editor of Beyond Brain Death: The Case against Brain-Based Criteria for Human Death (Kluwer, 2000), and has authored numerous articles and book reviews for academic journals as well as making over fifty conference presentations. He is also the author of a novel, End of Summer (WordCrafts Press, 2011) and an award-winning poetry chapbook, From Field to Thicket. His philosophical interests are in medical and applied ethics, the philosophy of religion, medieval philosophy, and philosophy and parapsychology. 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 are so many “philosophies-of-disciplines” that my wife, who does not share my love of philosophy, sarcastically asks if “there is a philosophy of toenail clipping.” However, philosophy of religion has been a stalwart and respectable sub-discipline of philosophy. There are philosophers who disagree—A. J. Ayer once replied to a philosopher who mentioned philosophy of religion, “Oh. . .I didn’t know there was any such thing.” Other than positivists such as Ayer, philosophers of all stripes, including atheists, agree that philosophy of religion is a legitimate field.

To answer the question of “What is philosophy of religion?” a person must have some definition of “philosophy” and “religion.” Continue reading

Merold Westphal on “What is Philosophy of Religion?”


Merold Westphal

Merold Westphal is Distinguished Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at Fordham 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.

I consider philosophy to be critical reflection on our being-in-the-world. By ‘being-in-the-world’ I understand our doings and our seeings-as insofar as they reciprocally condition one another.

By ‘reflection’ I mean a kind of stepping back to look at our lives, as if from outside, though, of course, this is itself one of those doings that is conditioned by various seeings-as. We are never outside ourselves in the sense of a neutral, universal, presuppositionless “view from nowhere.” We are always somewhere in a world of doings and seeings-as, but that world can have two levels, immediacy and reflection. This means that we can move. Reflection can lead us to new understandings of the world we already inhabit or even to some quite different world.

By ‘critical’ I do not mean negative opposition but rather something like Socratic questioning. Are we clear about what we believe, what we do,and why we do it? Do our doings and seeings-as measure up to the criteria by which we profess to support them? Are the criteria themselves clear and compelling? (Philosophy has this nasty habit of shaking the foundations of our being-in-the-world by putting our criteria in question.)

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