Sobia Tahir on “What does philosophy of religion offer to the modern university?”

sobia-tahirSobia Tahir is Chairperson of the Department of Philosophy and Interdisciplinary Studies at Government College University Lahore in Pakistan. We invited her to answer the question “What does philosophy of religion offer to the modern university?” as part of our “Philosophers of Religion on Philosophy of Religion” series.

Philosophy of religion makes an important subject, not only of philosophy, but also of the humanities in general. It is the need of the hour that philosophy of religion must be sustained as part of the syllabus at all the major universities and colleges globally. It is not an exaggeration to say that it should be introduced as a compulsory subject at undergraduate level.

The author of this paper and the holder of this opinion has strong arguments and justifications to support her point of view. Our syllabi, specifically in the natural sciences, have turned out to be an utter failure in imbibing and incorporating a “scientific outlook” in our students. Unfortunately, when it comes to religion and religious beliefs, we find the scientist on par with the ignorant masses in terms of bias and drawing false causal connections/ interpretations.

To sustain this claim, let me give two examples. There is no shortage of able and competent gynecologists among Hindus and Christians. Both of them know well about human conception, the growth of the embryo in the womb, and so on. In their role as gynecologists working in their clinics, labour rooms, and laboratories; they are perfectly sane and sensible. Now come to religion; lo and behold, here the Hindu gynecologist will start believing vehemently that Cow—yes the same animal with four legs—is his (and of all Hindus’) mother, knowing well that a cow may never bear a human child!!

At this point, he would forget his entire scientific knowledge and experimentation and would insist on this incorrect and empirically falsifiable belief. Let us move now to the Christians. Are they not the most qualified and capable gynecologists in the world, who have made revolutionary progress in the field? They know well through observation and experience that no woman may conceive without having intercourse with a man. However, when it comes to the birth of Christ, they immediately start believing in the Immaculate Conception and consider Mary a virgin mother.

The case of psychiatrists is not very different; hallucinations and delusions are the hallmark symptoms of schizophrenia, the sufferers of which hear voices, see images, and have false and distorted beliefs. Nevertheless, when Abraham listens to the same voices from his Lord and takes his son to slaughter in order to fulfill the murderous command of his God; no psychiatrist questions his mental condition. No one actually bothers to question whether the voice he heard was of God or of Satan. Hence the scientists and technologists have given us a huge quantity of science and innumerable technological products, but have failed to inculcate critical thinking, not only in other people, but in themselves too. That is why the world we are inhabiting is full of science and technology but is totally devoid of civility, law, morality, rationality, tolerance, peace, and harmony.

Now, I would like to coordinate and harmonize what I want to say and what is my actual thesis. Till now, I have made two major claims:

  • Science itself does not produce a scientific outlook;
  • Excessive technology has led us towards more bloodshed and violence instead of sanity, sobriety, and sensibility.

Now, I shall move towards my final and conclusive claim or judgment. The question is: “What is the root-cause of this rampant violence, excessive terror, wars, and conflicts”? Definitely it is neither science, nor technology; these are only means not causes or reasons. The real bone of contention and the primary source of discord is religion itself. This has remained the oldest, tested and most effective tool of hatred, dispute and friction in the world since the beginning of human history and civilization.

  • Thus to create a civilized, urbane, and humane world based on the dictum of “live and let live,” we will have to promote, back, and support philosophy of religion and not religion.

And what is philosophy of religion? It is a rational, logical, impartial, neutral, dispassionate, and independent inquiry of the fundamentals of faith, beliefs, and dogmas. It analyzes the structure of religion and explores the deep seated prejudices and age-old vested interests which shape the framework of religion in order to exploit the masses; to keep them backward, poor, and illiterate; and to incite them to fight, kill, murder, and create disorder in the world.

Until philosophy of religion is introduced as a compulsory subject to all undergraduate students; we will not produce suave, moral, sophisticated, and courteous people having respect for all creeds. Instead we will continue to produce the parrots, pygmies, robots, and senseless human machines controlled by their biases, aggressive emotions, and baser sentiments.

It is to be noted at the end that philosophy of religion must not be misconstrued as a hostile and destructive campaign against religion; it does not undermine, insult, or humiliate any religion; nor does it hurt the followers of any specific belief. It only philosophically elucidates and explicates the assumptions, hypotheses, and postulates of the religion.

Philosophy of religion is an enlightening and illuminating discourse and I have the honour of not only doing my doctorate in the same, but also, I have been teaching it in the Department of Philosophy and Interdisciplinary Studies, GCU Lahore for the past eight years. It has the capacity of answering many burning questions which arise in the mind of the students, who otherwise have no way to expound them. It leads them to a more moderate, sober, and balanced way to see teligion, both its pros and cons and its origin and foundations.

Since it is a general study and no particular religion as such is its focus; it does not cause any inter-faith tension or conflict amongst the students, even if they belong to different faiths. The study of the philosophy of religion guides readers towards objectivity and the use of intellect in the most serious spheres of life. It purges epistemology of fake sources of knowledge too.

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