Eric Steinhart on “What is Philosophy of Religion?”


Eric Steinhart

Eric Steinhart is Professor of Philosophy at William Paterson 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.

Philosophy of religion evolved out of the religions of the first Axial Age. At least in the West, it has evolved into reasoning for or against Abrahamic theism, mainly Christianity. But religion is changing rapidly, and we may even be in a second Axial Age. As religion evolves away from its past into the future, philosophy of religion will evolve with it. Thinkers like Schellenberg have pointed to this futurity.

Although philosophy has long been dominated by white men with European roots, it is growing more diverse. It is easy to imagine a future in which Hispanic philosophers write analytically about Santeria. Perhaps the indigenous peoples of the Americas will use modal logic to study the visions they get from ayahuasca or peyote. As more women do philosophy, they may leave the Abrahamic traditions. Women may lead the way in developing new religions, and new ways of reasoning about them.

But the data point to deeper changes. If the ARIS 2013 survey is right, then only one third of American college students are theists. Another third are irreligious or secular, while the final third is spiritual but not theistic. Similar surveys, done by Pew in the US, show young people rapidly rejecting the Abrahamic traditions. Religions are born; they mutate; and they can go extinct. To paraphrase Foucault, the Abrahamic deity may vanish “like a face drawn in sand at the edge of the sea”. New generations of nontheists will become spiritual, and religious, and they will philosophize.

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