Ten Essential Texts in the Philosophy of Religion: Classics and Contemporary Commentary by Steven M. Cahn (Oxford University Press) Offering a new approach to teaching the philosophy of religion, this anthology is organized around ten of the most widely read texts in the field. Presented in their entirety or in their germane portions, these classic texts serve as a framework for a variety of accessible contemporary essays that include basic discussions of the issued raised. The book's distinctive structure gives students the opportunity to study in depth complete historical works while also conveying a sense of how today's philosophers have explored related issues. Editor Steven M. Cahn has annotated each text to clarify all unfamiliar references. He also provides introductions that contain biographical profiles of the authors and philosophical commentaries on their writings. The text definitely makes the bulk on any upper division philosophy course in the philosophy of religion and should become a staple for such courses.
Ten Essential Texts in the Philosophy of Religion includes the following unabridged classic works with modern essays offering current reflection and critiques on these classic issued raise in the works:
Philosophy of Religion: A Guide and Anthology by Brian Davies (Oxford University Press) provides a comprehensive, authoritative, and accessible overview of the philosophy of religion. Under the careful editorship of Brian Davies, the book contains a selection of the best classical and contemporary writings on the philosophy of religion together with substantial commentary, introductory material, discussion questions, and detailed guides to further reading. The editorial material sets the extracts in context and guides the reader through them. Taken as a whole, the book offers the ideal, self‑contained introduction to the questions that have most preoccupied Western philosophers when thinking about religion.
The selection is both very comprehensive and very generous.
65 sizeable extracts map out the full range of topics most commonly encountered
in courses on the philosophy of religion. Part I looks at the relation between
philosophy and religious belief; Parts II‑IV consider the existence and
nature of God; Part V addresses the problem of evil; and Parts VI and VII are
devoted to the relationship between morality and religion and to the question of
life after death.
No other book on the market offers this combination of introductory guide along with such a substantial anthology of key writings.
Philosophers Speak of God edited by Charles Hartshorne, William L. Reese (Humanity Books) This wide-ranging anthology of philosophical writings on the concept of God presents a systematic overview of the chief conceptions of the deity as well as skeptical and atheistic critiques of theological ideas. Considered by many American philosophers as the best presentation of the panenthestic conception of the divine, it has curried favor as an essential supplemental reading text in courses that deal with process theology as well as philosophical justifications for the idea of God. The selections cover key philosophical developments in this subject area from ancient to modern times in both the East and the West. Charles Hartshorne and William L. Reese have not only selected many arresting passages from the world's great thinkers but have also analyzed and evaluated the underlying ideas, showing how they fit into major, overarching systems of thought. This richly varied collection will provide the serious student with a thorough foundation in the philosophy of religion.Philosophers Speak of God remains one of the best orientations to the philosophy of Charles Hartshorne and Alfred North Whitehead. It is first-rate for a clear and concise explanation of Hartshorne's take on the classical philosophers defense of the idea of God. Hartshorne and Reese cover most of the major Western and a good number of the major Eastern philosophers in this wide-ranging analysis of the primary tenets of theology. Recommend for anyone who is first reading about process philosophy, and wishes to understand the differences between classical thought and the panentheist approach.
Philosophy of Religion by James
Franklin Harris (Handbook
of Contemporary Philosophy of Religion Volume 3: Kluwer Academic) is a thorough examination of the
major issues that have occupied twentieth-century Anglo-American, analytic
philosophy of religion and the positions that have been developed by the major
figures in the field. The author also develops his own critical reactions to
these positions and, in many cases, his own positions as well. Attention is
focused on what have proven to be the enduring, major problems of analytic
philosophy of religion: the development and nature of analytic philosophy, the
problem of religious language, the nature of God, arguments for the existence of
God, religious experience, religious epistemology, religion and science, the
problem of evil, naturalism and humanism, religion and ethics, and religious
pluralism. This book should prove to be an invaluable resource and reference for
both scholars and students interested in any problem in the area of analytic
philosophy of religion.
Contents: 1 Introduction: The Rise of Analytic Philosophy of Religion, 2 The Problem of Religious Language, 3 The Nature of God and Arguments for the Existence of God, 4 Religious Experience and Religious Epistemology, 5 Religion and Science, 6 Contemporary Challenges to Theism: Evil and Suffering, 7 Contemporary Challenges to Theism: Humanism, Naturalism, and Atheism, 8 Religion and Ethics, 9 The Problem of Religious Pluralism, 10 Summary and Conclusion
Editor's summary: With the rise of analytic philosophy in the early part of the
twentieth century and its emphasis upon linguistic analysis, it should not be
surprising that a significant crisis developed by mid-century among both
philosophers and theologians concerning religious language. That there was such
a crisis is evidenced both by the explicit recognition of the challenge in the
writings of several leading figures in both the philosophy of religion and in
theology and by the plethora of books and articles that appeared in print in the
period from approximately mid-century until ten years or so afterward. There was
much disagreement among different analytic philosophers; however, the one
underlying, common tenet upon which nearly all of them would have agreed is that
language is the one continuous thread from which the entire fabric of religion
and religious belief is woven. Some of the problems with religious language are
illustrated by the extreme positions, for example, A. J. Ayer's claim that the
language of theology is meaningless and nonsense and Paul van Buren's claim that
"the word `God' is dead." Other
concerns were prompted by the repercussions of attention to language by the more
moderate analytic philosophers and the elevation of the importance of the
analysis of language for philosophical or theological pursuits.
Editor's summary: With the rise of analytic philosophy in the early part of the twentieth century and its emphasis upon linguistic analysis, it should not be surprising that a significant crisis developed by mid-century among both philosophers and theologians concerning religious language. That there was such a crisis is evidenced both by the explicit recognition of the challenge in the writings of several leading figures in both the philosophy of religion and in theology and by the plethora of books and articles that appeared in print in the period from approximately mid-century until ten years or so afterward. There was much disagreement among different analytic philosophers; however, the one underlying, common tenet upon which nearly all of them would have agreed is that language is the one continuous thread from which the entire fabric of religion and religious belief is woven. Some of the problems with religious language are illustrated by the extreme positions, for example, A. J. Ayer's claim that the language of theology is meaningless and nonsense and Paul van Buren's claim that "the word `God' is dead." Other concerns were prompted by the repercussions of attention to language by the more moderate analytic philosophers and the elevation of the importance of the analysis of language for philosophical or theological pursuits.
The Problem of Religious Language
Harris shows how the original attack upon the meaningfulness of religious language by the logical positivists and the more moderate objections to religious language that followed prompted a plethora of responses by different contemporary philosophers of religion. There was a significant burst of interest in and concern about religious language that dominated much of analytic philosophy of religion for a period that began roughly in mid‑twentieth century and lasted for approximately twenty‑five years. The different responses to the challenge of verification and falsification are spread across a continuum that ranges from the radically conservative, which attempt to preserve the literal meaningfulness of religious language, to the radically liberal, which abandon literal significance altogether. Harris demonstrates how both camps have their defenders and detractors. The fundamental positions and the fundamental issues at stake appear to have been clearly sorted through, so the last two decades before the close of the century saw few new attempts to construct different accounts of religious language. The issue of verification obviously does not occupy the center stage any longer in contemporary philosophy of religion, but the developments that have occurred in the treatment of religious language because of the challenge of verification are now commonly assumed as part of the context in which other issues and problems in the philosophy of religion are addressed.
The Nature of God and Arguments for the Existence of God
Theism is characterized by belief in a God that possesses a unique set of characteristics or attributes. The theistic conception of God that is formed by the combination of these attributes has been troublesome through the centuries and has given rise to many questions and criticisms ‑ by theists and nontheists alike both of the individual attributes and the collective set of attributes. These problems persisted throughout the twentieth century and intensified in the last few decades. Some of the issues concerning the attributes are old ones revisited in light of our changing knowledge of the natural world as a result of the development of science. Others are logical issues that have been given new "twists" by contemporary scholars, quite independently of contingent matters. The coherence of the attributes that comprise the concept of God is fundamental to theism since the viability of theism must begin with the viability of the concept of God. Sorting through the difficulties surrounding the traditional attributes of the theistic deity is such a fundamental problem that Richard Swinburne devotes approximately two‑thirds of what many consider his seminal work, The Coherence of Theism, to an explanation and defense of the coherence of these attributes. Although there are many disagreements among theists that need to be explored, Harris takes Swinburne's view as typical of the traditional theistic concept of God: namely, "that there exists eternally an omnipresent spirit, free, creator of the universe, omnipotent, omniscient, perfectly good, and a source of moral obligation.
Harris wonders what to conclude from this examination of the effect of new developments during the twentieth century upon the traditional arguments for the existence of God. On the one hand, various recent scientific developments have been taken by some to undermine those traditional arguments; on the other hand, those same various scientific developments have been taken by others to buttress those arguments. In this critical discussion, I have tried to show that neither of these conclusions is conclusively justified and that the force of the traditional arguments superannuated with the recent developments in science is still a matter of much controversy requiring further inquiry. There is still much work to be done involving the traditional arguments by natural theologians. It does appear that the theists can claim the modest victory that results from theism "holding its own" as a viable alternative explanation of the existence of the universe to a completely naturalistic, scientific explanation. As Harris shows in the case of the big bang and the cosmological argument and in the case of the anthropic principle and the teleological argument, scientific explanations of the universe eventually become as speculative and as metaphysical as theism. In this respect, Richard Swinburne is correct that strictly scientific explanations of the universe come to an end, and it is where science ends that theism finds a niche that has thus far withstood new scientific discoveries and the development of new scientific theories about the universe.
A second result of this consideration of recent developments involving the traditional arguments for the existence of God is a reinforcement of the notion made explicit by Kant and Hartshorne that the arguments are interrelated in rather crucial ways. The ontological argument (even the modern modal versions) proceeds only on the assumption in some form that the existence of God is possible. The cosmological argument in light of big bang theory just might demonstrate that even if this assumption cannot be proven to be true at least it is not an unreasonable assumption for the theist to make since science cannot offer any explanation of the original singularity from which the universe came. The teleological argument with the anthropic considerations can then be taken to demonstrate that some intelligent design by a personal creator is at least as plausible an explanation of the "fine‑tuning" of the universe for intelligent life as cosmic coincidence. While this may appear to be a modest advance for theism, it is still an advance that appears to give theism an equal "place at the table" with science, and, in this respect, there is little modest about it at all.
This unified view of the arguments for the existence of God supports what Richard Swinburne has called the cumulative case for the existence of God. No one of the arguments for God is decisive, as we have seen, but gradually, bit by bit, the case for the existence of God is strengthened, Swinburne claims, by each consideration. Other factors not yet considered ‑ particularly religious experience play a significant role in Swinburne's cumulative case argument.
Religious Experience and Religious Epistemology
The twentieth century saw significant new developments in and significant new directions for the treatments of religious experience and religious epistemology. The philosophical discussions in these areas have now taken on significant new dimensions. While natural theology, based upon evidentialism, dominated Anglo-American analytic philosophy in the early part of the twentieth century, antievidentialism ‑ either in the various forms of religious experience, Reformed epistemology, or fideism ‑ became very dominant in the last few decades of the century.
However, if a form of life is analogous to the thread of woven fibers of language‑games, then the question arises, "What makes a religious language‑game (or religious language‑games) so special? As Wittgenstein notes, language-games "come and go" and become "obsolete and forgotten." If language‑games are simply "given" instead of being based upon some empirical facts about human nature or the natural world or some "deeper," metaphysical facts, then it seems that there is nothing in particular to commend playing the religious-theistic-language-game. What commends the language-games) of theism over the language‑game of Santa Claus, or the language‑game of witches, or the language‑game of UFOs and intelligent aliens, or simply the language‑game of atheistic naturalism? If philosophy simply leaves everything the way it is and describes the grammar of the language‑game, then there can be no claims for the importance of playing one language‑game rather than another (expect internal to the language‑game itself). To account for the presumed special status of religious language-game(s), one must appeal to some descriptive claims about human nature or make some sort of claim about the consequences and benefits of the religious language-games) ‑ claims that are not a part of the religious language‑game(s). Theists want to defend theism by providing an answer to the question "Why ought one play this game?" Presumably, Phillips would not admit that this is a legitimate question that deserves or allows a legitimate response. However, if others wish to try and explain why the language‑game of theism is played, some appeal may be made to anthropological evidence in an attempt to support the claim that there is a universal religious urging or universal religious nature of man, but this is a long way from establishing theism. If one does rely upon any sort of evidential claims about human nature or about the benefits of theism to explain why "the language‑game is played," then this move would undermine the apparent autonomous nature of the language‑game. Without grounding the theistic language‑game in some such claims, however, the Wittgensteinian fideist is left in a position of being unable to recommend or commend the languagegames) of theism to himself or others.
Religion and Science: Arguably, in the course of Western intellectual history, the rise of Christian theology and the development of modern science stand alone as the most influential and widespread among all the different ideas, theories, and developments since the beginning of recorded history. When we think of the many fundamental ways in which Christianity and science have been responsible for shaping and molding and otherwise influencing the fundamental concepts, values, and structure of modern Western societies, it is difficult to argue with such an assessment. It is not surprising then that religion and science are frequently found to have been in conflict for control of the hearts and minds of men and women. In modern times, the scientific revolution stands alone in terms of both the breadth and depth of the social changes that have accompanied it. It is not a matter of simple hyperbole that the scientific revolution is called a revolution. Its changes have proven to be global; in contrast, the Protestant Reformation, as revolutionary as it might have proven to be, was a "domestic affair" among people in Western European countries.
By examining two different historical "case studies" of major pivotal periods of conflict between religion and science, Harris demonstrates the current relationship between religion and science. In the history of the relationship between religion and science, there are two periods that are most significant: one is the rise of modern science in the seventeenth century and the resulting conflict between Copernicus's heliocentric astronomy and the Roman Catholic Church, and the second is the development of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution in the late nineteenth century and the resulting conflict between evolutionists and fundamental Protestants.
This discussion of the relationship between religion and science in the twentieth century reveals a full range of reactions by theists. Some religious believers still regard religion and science as being in conflict because of perceived differences in the respective methods of each. Various developments in the philosophy of science in the twentieth century have had a direct bearing upon how the method of science is understood. The influences of the Kuhnian paradigm-based view of science and the "strong program" that reduces all knowledge and method to sociology have been strongly felt in both science and religion. On the one hand, such influences provide religion with an increased autonomy and separate existence from science, but on the other hand, they raise the specter of relativism and antirealism for religion as well as for science.
The changing content of scientific theories has had the
opposite influence of reducing the "gap" between religion and science
by providing a view of the universe that is neither materialistic nor
The continued debate over the epistemological status and the method of science and the influences of Kuhn, postmodernism, and Wittgensteinian language‑games all exert pressure in the direction of separating religion and science into distinct spheres of discourse and influence. At the same time, both the scale and the content of the scientific description of the universe as a dynamic, nonmaterial, and nondetermined expanding cosmos exert pressure in the direction of drawing religion and science closer together, making their understandings of humanity and nature more similar.
Contemporary Challenges to Theism: Evil and Suffering
There has been perhaps no greater challenge to theism than the perceived existence of evil and suffering in the world. The challenge is an ancient one and has persevered through many centuries of analysis and response because the problem of reconciling the existence of evil in this world with the existence of an all‑powerful, all‑knowing, and all-loving God seems to be so utterly basic and intractable. In Judaism and Christianity, the problem can be traced back at least as far as the book of Job, where the ancient writer tries to address the profound human bewilderment at the sometimes overwhelming effect of the existence of evil and suffering in this world when God has seemingly "hidden his face" from human beings. The response provided by the book of Job is one that takes refuge in the total mysteriousness and transcendency of God and God's nature. In the dialogue between Job and God when God finally responds to Job's questioning, we find one of the classic representations of mysticism, which emphasizes the finite limitations and worthlessness of human beings and their inability to understand God, God's nature, or God's ways. The biblical passages from this exchange between Job and God have become cornerstones of a certain kind of response even by contemporary theists. In apparently angry and defiant words, God overwhelms Job as a whirlwind: "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements ‑ surely you know. Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?" (Job 38:4-7). God concludes the response to Job by asking (rhetorically and angrily), "Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it" (Job 40:1‑2). Leaving the problem of the existence of evil and human and animal suffering simply as an unresolved matter that human reason cannot fathom because of the incomprehensible nature of the deity does not address the problem adequately. The inadequacy of such a response is evidenced by the fact that, in the history of the philosophy of religion, more attention has been devoted to what is now called "the problem of evil" than to any other single aspect of modern theism, and the same certainly continued throughout the twentieth century.
Perhaps the best-known and most frequently cited way of developing the problem of evil is traced to Epicurus through several notable sources, including David Hume's Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. Hume has Philo cite Epicurus's way of developing the dilemma for the theist: "Is he [God] willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then is he malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?"' This classic representation of the problem clearly exposes why the problem of evil is such a particularly intractable problem for traditional forms of theism ‑ including Judaism, Christianity, and Islam ‑ by making explicit the apparent conflict between the existence of evil and the existence of a deity with the characteristics normally attributed to the deity within theism. In particular, the attributes of the deity (examined in detail in Chapter III) that describe the nature of the deity as omnipotent, omniscient, perfect, and omnibenevolent circumscribe a deity whose nature appears to be incompatible with the human pain and suffering (as well as the animal pain and suffering) that exist in our world.
This discussion of the problem of evil demonstrated how fundamental and central the problem of evil is to theism. We have seen how the questions and issues surrounding the problem of evil touch upon nearly every other aspect of the philosophy of religion. The problem of evil generates questions concerning the attributes of God, particularly the attributes of omnipotence, omniscience, and omnibenevolence. The discussion about evil and possible worlds leads into consideration about what kinds of limitations there might be on possible worlds and on what God can and cannot do. Similarly, consideration of the notion of gratuitous evil leads to both empirical and metaphysical considerations about human nature, free will, and God's omnipotence. Considerations related to both the logical problem of evil and the evidential problem of evil raise issues about the nature of moral agency and what is required for a moral agent to act freely and with moral responsibility.
The free‑will defense has significantly reduced the threat to theism from the logical problem of evil; however, the evidential form of the argument from evil and the different theodicies that have been offered in response to the evidential problem are still hotly debated.
When the free-will defense is turned into a theodicy, it has failed to command the same wide approval and assent enjoyed by the free‑will defense. Neither has any one of the greater good theodicies managed to gain widespread acceptance. The problem of evil that has plagued theism for centuries will obviously continue to do so in the twenty‑first century as well.
Contemporary Challenges to Theism: Humanism, Naturalism, and Atheism
There are many questions that must be raised, problems that must be resolved, and consequences that must be traced as results of the claims that William James makes in his "The Will to Believe." Harris discussed some of those questions and problems in Chapter IV; therefore, I will simply draw out here some of the presuppositions and consequences of James's introduction of psychology into religion. The dispute between James and William Clifford serves to illustrate the fundamental epistemological difference, as it is usually drawn, that underlies the difference between theism and naturalism. Clifford and naturalists generally think that we are limited in terms of what can justify any belief in terms of adequate evidence based upon our sense experience of natural phenomena. Such evidence, naturalists claim, limits our beliefs to the natural world and the natural phenomena in that world. The restriction that naturalists place upon what is considered to be adequate evidence for beliefs leads to a naturalism that will not allow justification of beliefs that extend beyond the natural world. The evidence must be empirical evidence of natural phenomena, and the scope of our theories is determined by the limits of sense experience. Although he regarded himself as a strict empiricist, James clearly held that beliefs based upon and limited simply to natural phenomena do not exhaust all there is to the world or all that we are justified in claiming to know about the world. According to James, "tough‑minded" naturalism only goes so far, and then we must admit that there is more to the world than simply that for which our sense experience provides evidence. Alternatively, one can understand James as broadening the field of naturalistic data by the introduction of psychological data, and one should keep in mind that James's understanding of psychology was not nearly so empirical or scientific as is the contemporary understanding. In The Varieties of Religious Experience, James replies upon an "armchair" style of doing what is now called "humanistic psychology," which would hardly pass as rigorous social science today. His "data" concerning religion, which he subjects to philosophical and psychological analysis, are the result of literary accounts, biographical reports, or second‑hand information. It was James's student, Edwin Starbuck, who was to become known for introducing more empirical and more scientific methods into the study of religious experience and religious phenomena that rely upon the now commonplace, controlled field studies. James, however, opened the door for the study of the psychology of religion and provided the clear juxtaposition of naturalism and theism for the social sciences.
For the present discussion, it would be difficult to improve upon the definition of naturalism offered by St. Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica:
It is superfluous to suppose that what can be accounted for by fewer principles has been produced by many. But it seems that everything we see in the world can be accounted for by other principles, supposing that God did not exist. For all natural things can be reduced to one principle, which is human reason, or will. Therefore, there is no need to suppose God's existence.
Thus understood, naturalism maintains that the universe can be explained solely in terms of the objects, events, and processes that occur in nature, along with the scientific principles and theories that explain the "natural order" of the universe. In particular, naturalists deny that there is a supernatural reality to which one can justifiably appeal to explain any aspect of the universe. Following the suggestion of Aquinas, if everything in the universe can be explained with the assumption of the non‑existence of God or any other supernatural power or being that is "outside" the natural realm, then following the law of parsimony, such an assumption is superfluous and should be rejected.
Of course, the rejection of theism on the grounds of naturalism is not a twentieth‑century development. The pre‑Socratic Greek atomists, Leucippus and Democritus, were naturalists of a sort. In his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, Hume has Cleanthes suggest naturalism as an alternative explanation for the first cause in the cosmological argument and for the design in the teleological argument for the existence of God. Not only the ancient Greek atomists and Hume, but also the materialists and deists of the nineteenth century were working with a very limited understanding of naturalism. Technically, reductive materialism is a form of naturalism, since it appeals to no principles outside natural ones to explain the universe; however, because of its reductive nature and its limited explanatory power concerning the organic features of the universe, it is best to simply treat reductive materialism as completely separate from naturalism ‑ especially twentieth-century naturalism.
Harris shows how naturalism, humanism, and atheism have made continuing progress during the twentieth century in extending and defending their claims to explanatory prowess. Gradually, natural science has replaced "the God of the gaps" in a plausible, reasonable fashion with completely naturalistic explanations for natural phenomena that hitherto seemed to require supernatural explanations. Of particular importance is the plausibility that Darwinian evolutionary theory by natural design provides of a naturalistic explanation of design (or "apparent design" or order) in the universe. More detailed knowledge and more sophisticated theories about human nature and how that nature is related to human neurophysiology have posed new obstacles to traditional theistic doctrines concerning immortality that are based upon a substance theory of the self. At the same time, religion and religious beliefs have resisted explanation in terms of a reduction to either psychology or sociology, and the cumulative case approach seems to make belief in the existence of God at least a plausible and reasonable alternative for the theist. In the continuing ebb and flow of the competition between naturalism and theism, it appears that naturalism has made the most significant gains during the twentieth century ‑ so much so, in fact, that there has been a significant turning away from natural theology among philosophers of religion during recent decades. There are other important fronts on which the battle between naturalism and theism is waged. In Chapter III, Harris examined the competing explanatory powers of the big bang theory and the cosmological argument for the existence of God.
Religion and Ethics
The philosophical dispute concerning the relationship between religion and ethics is an ancient one. Perhaps the most often used text to introduce the issue is the part of Plato's dialogue, Euthyphro, in which Socrates and Euthyphro debate whether the gods love piety because it is pious or whether piety is pious because the gods love it. In the first case, of course, there is some pious‑making quality that is independent of and prior to the gods' loving of piety. In the second case, the gods' loving of piety is the pious‑making quality, and the nature of piety thus derives from that loving. The fundamental question is whether ethics and ethical obligations and responsibilities are independent of God or whether they are dependent upon God. Within a traditional theistic framework, the first alternative establishes an independent moral order according to which moral obligations and moral responsibilities are derived from. some source other than God and thus acquire whatever moral force they might have independently of God.
On the one hand, such an alternative is problematic because it appears to limit God's omnipotence, since presumably even God could then be subject to such independent moral obligations and responsibilities or at least not the standard of what is morally right and wrong for human beings. z On the other hand, a secular moral theory that is independent of God seems to buttress the integrity and autonomy of moral agency. As another famous Greek story illustrates, when Achilles is warned by his goddess mother, Thetis, not to avenge the death of his friend, Patroclus, who was killed by Hector during the Trojan War, he disobeyed his goddess mother and did so anyway, thereby abandoning his claim to immortality (and presumably eternal happiness) because it was "the right thing to do." Secular moral theory thus places a human moral agent in the position of acting on one's own as the result of an autonomous, deliberative moral judgment ‑perhaps, as the case may be, even in defiance of the gods.
The Problem of Religious Pluralism
Much of the current discussion in the philosophy of religion concerning religious pluralism has resulted from the continuing revelations by the social sciences of the tremendous diversity among the belief systems of different peoples of the world. The development of the social sciences in the early part of the twentieth century and the ever-increasing expanse and variety of data from the study of other cultures have resulted from technological innovations in both communication and transportation. The study of cultures that were once remote, unknown, or inaccessible is now commonplace, and the results are available, through television, video, and the print media, on a scale that has certainly been unequaled before in human history. The diversity of different peoples takes many forms, both ethnic and cultural, and the plethora of different religious practices and beliefs now known to exist among peoples of the world has naturally given rise to many questions about if and how such diverse beliefs systems might be related.
Cross‑cultural, comparative philosophy of religion is, for the most part, a twentieth‑ century discipline. Rather than being a definitive study, William James's The Varieties of Religious Experience was simply a portent of the explosion of cultural and religious diversity that was to be revealed by the work of social scientists in the first few decades of the twentieth century. During this period, the scholarly disciplines of comparative religion and the history of religion were provided with an enormous wealth of empirical data by social scientists over a relatively short period. We are now aware of a greater variety of religious diversity, and we are aware of this diversity in greater detail than scholars have ever been in any other period of human history.
By midcentury, some scholars began to recognize the importance of the increased knowledge of different cultures and of different religions provided by the social sciences for the issues normally regarded within the purview of the philosophy of religion. The impetus for the development of comparative philosophy of religion or cross‑cultural philosophy of religion first came from the side of those who were historians of religion or those who were in the field of comparative religions. One of the earliest and most influential books was Ninian Smart's Reasons and Faiths, in which he urges, for the first time, that the philosophy of religion should incorporate the perspective from the comparative study of religions.' Adopting a quasi-Wittgensteinian, language‑game approach, Smart analyzes key, fundamental epistemological concepts such as revelation, belief, faith, conversion, and knowledge by comparing the roles of these concepts in the Brahman‑Atman doctrine in Hinduism and the incarnation in Christianity? Smart "pushed the envelope" of the philosophy of religion by focusing upon data from the history of religion and the comparative study of non-Western religions, while at the same time abandoning the straightforward descriptive approach of a simple historical or comparative study. Smart later describes the new approach as a "more integrated conception of the study of religion in which various religions and worldviews, Christianity included, are dealt with together.
Wilfred Cantwell Smith followed Smart in advocating the importance of our increased knowledge of religious diversity based upon the careful studies of the social sciences for the philosophy of religion. Smith also generated a far ranging debate about the problem of defining the word `religion' and the appropriateness of using this word. Smith contends that the notion of a religion is a linguistic creation of Western scholars and gives a false sense of permanence and substance to what are very dynamic, fluid, and loosely associated patterns of religious beliefs, experiences, and practices. According to Smith, Westerns scholars have thus projected a definite and definitive substance upon Eastern "religions," where only something resembling a loosely related system of Wittgensteinian "family resemblances" is appropriate. b The use of the term `religion' is thus distorting and should be abandoned, according to Smith.' The current preferred replacement for `religion' among several scholars is now `worldviews.' However, the term `religion' and the phrase `philosophy of religion' are so thoroughly ingrained in academic scholars that they are not likely to be changed, no matter what the purpose. Peter Byrne is correct, I think, in maintaining that while we should be sensitive to Smith's concerns about the possibility of oversimplification and/or distortion, the use of `religion' is a linguistic convenience and giving it up is a remedy that is too drastic. Thus, I will continue using `religion' and `the philosophy of religion' as I have throughout this volume.
Like many of the other problems that have been faced by contemporary analytic philosophy of religion, "the problem of religious pluralism" is ancient in its origin; however, the problem came to occupy a central location in the philosophy of religion in the last half of the twentieth century as the plethora of books and articles on religious diversity, pluralism, exclusivism, and inclusivism attest. I have shown at the beginning of this chapter how the sources for such increased interest and attention are deeply seated in the changes that took place in philosophy and the social sciences during the same period. With the increased contact among different cultures and the increased information that is now easily available concerning different religions, the problem of religious diversity and reactions to it will undoubtedly continue to dominate much of the philosophy of religion well into the twenty‑first century. Certainly, more and more attention is now being given to the effect of religious diversity upon the philosophy of religion as evidenced by the new designations such as "cross‑cultural philosophy of religion," "comparative philosophy of religion," "world theology," "the theology of world religions," "global theology," "philosophies of religion," and even "the Christian theology of world religions." Ironically, the central questions raised by religious diversity and the question of the proper responses to such diversity must eventually lead back to the kind of philosophical considerations discussed in the early chapters of this volume. Inevitably, questions concerning the meaning of central words and phrases in different religions, questions about the truth of various, differing religious claims, and questions about the referents of different referring expressions must all be considered. The matter of making meaningful comparisons and evaluations of different claims will be a fundamental issue. Wilfred Cantwell Smith has proven to be right about the importance of language in the philosophical investigation of the different world religions. Attention to fundamental issues in the philosophy of language, such as a criterion for meaningfulness and the problem of reference, cannot be avoided.
For any progress to be made beyond where we are now in handling the problems raised by religious pluralism, and in order to avoid extreme relativism, some understanding and some judgments must be made about the relative merits of different claims made by believers of different religions. This means that some progress must be made in dealing with the matter of religious truth. For the comparison and evaluation of different religious traditions to take place, there must be some way of determining and assessing competing truth claims that come from these different traditions. This means that we must arrive at some agreement concerning explicit and definite criteria for evaluating such claims and resolving competing claims. At the moment, although several scholars have suggested different approaches to this problem (and, in some cases, explicit criteria), there is no wide agreement about such criteria, the need for such criteria, whether such criteria can be objective, or even the possibility of such criteria. Some will maintain that we simply must continue to "muddle through." However, further progress in the future in the study of cross‑cultural philosophy of religion seems to depend upon some progress in making judgments and evaluations concerning different religious claims made within different religious traditions. It is in this area that I predict the most important work will be done in the next century. Otherwise, cross‑cultural philosophy of religion will simply amount to replowing the same fields that have already been tilled repeatedly.
Analytic philosophy of religion is a predominantly English‑speaking enterprise and, hence, a predominantly Western enterprise. It is distinguished both by the particular topics, issues, and problems addressed and by the philosophical method used, and the main focus has been on the particular problems and issues generated by and of importance to theism. Analytic philosophy of religion has gone through several very distinctive phases of development, which are the result of the more fundamental phases that analytic philosophy itself has gone through as well as various developments in science. In this volume, Harris has identified the developments in contemporary analytic philosophy of religion and situated these developments in the broader philosophical context in which they have taken place. He has also described the various issues and problems generated by those developments and examined critically the positions taken by the major figures in the field.
Analytic philosophy is a rich and varied philosophical development that is identified by a group of Wittgensteinian family resemblances regarding the nature of the proper methodology for philosophical inquiry and the nature of the kind of philosophical problems and issues that can be the proper objects of philosophical inquiry. There are similarities and differences to be found amongst analytic philosophers and differences in the similarities and similarities in the differences. What commonality there is amongst analytic philosophers can be explained in terms of some common agreement concerning the fundamental importance of the role of language and linguistic analysis in philosophical inquiry. We can at least say that such an agreement characterized what has been a dominant part of what is now called "analytic philosophy" ‑ especially since the time of Wittgenstein.
While this may not sound like much, it is hard to say much more without provoking disagreement from one quarter or another of the analytic tradition. There is also a certain kind of conceptual reductionism that is built into the very notion of analysis, which involves an investigation that proceeds through a breakdown or division of the matter under scrutiny into its constituent parts.
Ninian Smart was a prolific author who pretty much set the tone for the academic approach to religion in Britain and the USA. His contributions embrace history, philosophy, anthropology and sociology. Much of what he contributed set the terms of how basic categories of human experience might be approached. Though his work is often original and usually arresting it tends to be general and introductory except for a few titles listed below. He wrote with an effortlessness grace and fluency, publishing over thirty books. Some, such as his paperback on Mao, were light and ephemeral but others, such as his magisterial study of World Religions, published in 1989, were works of enormous learning and scholarship, tempered with deep sympathetic understanding and tolerance.
Roderick Ninian Smart was one of three sons of Professor W. M. Smart of Glasgow University, all of whom themselves became professors: Jack, a somewhat eccentric but lovable Professor of Philosophy in Canberra; Alistair, Professor of History of Art in Nottingham (and himself a considerable painter), and Ninian, founding Professor of Religious Studies at Lancaster and later Professor of Religious Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Smarts second appointment was in 1956 at Kings College London, where he spent five years. At 34 he was appointed Wood Professor of Theology at Birmingham University. While there he was invited to be the external assessor on the about-to-be-established Chair of Religious Studies at the new University of Lancaster, and the terms of the post so attracted him (it was advertised as being for persons of any faith or of none) that he asked if he might be a candidate, and was duly appointed.
The Religious Studies at Lancaster department he created after 1967 was significant. Many faiths were represented Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, Christian and Chinese specialists (Smart had himself learnt Mandarin Chinese during a visit to China), and many disciplines too, with sociologists, anthropologists and philosophers all contributing to its work.
The most recent works by n Smart tended to reflect the dumbing-down tendencies in academic publishing where his works attempted to reach the vast mass of undergraduate studies to introduce an interesting but not simple area of human creativity.
World Philosophies by Ninian Smart (Routledge) World Philosophies is a comprehensive survey of the world's philosophical and religious traditions by one of our foremost religious thinkers. Ninian Smart discusses notable figures such as Plato and Kierkegaard in the West, the Buddha and Mao Zedong in Asia, Tempels and Knibanga in Africa, and Rodo and Royce in America. Covering a wide range of topics including Indian ideas of testimony and evidence, Chinese notions of moral development, Buddhist concepts of cosmology and Latin American critiques of materialism, Smart sheds new light on the astonishing diversity of philosophies that have developed throughout history.
As comprehensive as this title no doubt is it suffers from too much in too little space. Still it is excellent for general survey courses if supplement with good readings.
Contents: Preface 1. The History of the World and our Philosophical Inheritance 2. South Asian Philosophies 3. Chinese Philosophies 4. Korean Philosophies 5. Japanese Philosophies 6. Philosophies of Greece, Rome and the Near East 7. Islamic Philosophies 8. Jewish Philosophies 9. Europe 10. North America 11. Latin America 12. Modern Islam 13. Modern South and South-East Asia 14. China, Korea and Japan in Modern Times 15. African Philosophies 16. Concluding Reflections Bibliography Index
Dimensions of the Sacred: An Anatomy of the World's Beliefs by Ninian Smart (University of California Press) A world-renowned religion scholar explores the world's major religions and comparable secular systems of thought in this unusually wide-ranging and readable work. Ninian Smart considers Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Shintoism, as well as Marxist-Leninism, Maoism, nationalism, and Native American, African, and other systems of belief. His goal is to advance our understanding of how we as human beings interact thoughtfully with the cosmos and express the exigencies of our own nature and existence.
Smart's book is a summation of his work as a subscriber to the morphological/Eliade branch of the "Chicago School" of Religious Studies, also called "Religionswissenschaft" or History of Religions. He divides religion into "Theistic" and "Non-Theistic" and then proceeds to identify, buffet-style, bits and pieces of different religions as fitting into his schema, with little attention to the particular historical, and social contexts involved.
The discussion on Magic, Mysticism, and Heresy are especially banal. Smart either ignores or refuses to engage much of the scholarship of the last 100 years, presenting theories of magic and heresy that have long since been refuted. The discussion on mysticism is only marginally better, only half-heartingly engaging post-Steven Katz work on mysticism and mystical experience. You won't find any of the work of Francis Yates, Ioan Couliano, Walter Bauer, Bruce Janz or anyone else who has brought the fields of magic, mysticism and heresy out of Protestant Dogma. Smart's Episcopalianism shows through with little attempt to hide it, or openly acknowledge it as a prejudice.
Doctrine and Argument in Indian Philosophy by Ninian Smart (Indian Thought and Culture, Vol. 4: Brill Academic) This study, one of Smarts earliest contributions is still an exceptional introduction to Indian philosophy. A revised and updated edition of Ninian Smart's well-known work, long out of print, this study provides a lucid and helpful introduction to the chief systems and debates found in Indian (Hindu, Buddhist, Jain etc.) traditions of philosophy. Part 1 discusses the metaphysical systems, Buddhist metaphysics, Jain metaphysics, materialism and exegesis, distinctionism and yoga, logic-atomism, non-dualism, qualified non-dualism, dualism and Saivite doctrine, analysis of the religious factors in Indian metaphysics. Part 2 examines arguments for and against the existence of God, arguments about rebirth and the soul, epistemological questions, causation, and induction and inference.
Reflections in the Mirror of Religion by Ninian Smart (Library of Philosophy and Religion: Palgrave) is a collection of Smarts best essays. They reveal some of his most wide-ranging and original work. The essays listed below show just how wide ranging his reach was.
Preface: Reflections in the Mirror of Religion Acknowledgements Introduction by John P. BurrisPt. I. A Hermeneutics of Comparison: Reflections on the Possibility of a Science of Religion 1. What would Buddhaghosa have made of The Cloud of Unknowing? (1992) 2. The Purification of Consciousness and the Negative Path (1984) 3. Our Experience of the Ultimate (1984) 4. Foreword to Religion in Essence and Manifestation (1986) 5. Identity and a Dynamic Phenomenology of Religion (1985) 6. Western Society and Buddhism (1989) Pt. II. Religion of the Ground: Some Examples of Method for Developing a Sociology of Religious Knowledge 7. Consciousness: Permanent or Fleeting? Reflections on Indian Views of Consciousness and the Self (1989) 8. Reflections on the Sources of Knowledge in the Indian Tradition (1989) 9. An Analysis of Hinduism in the Modern World (1986) 10. Action and Suffering in the Theravadin Tradition (1984) 11. India, Sri Lanka and Religion (1989) 12. Discontinuities and Continuities between Mao Zedong Thought and the Traditional Religions of China (1990) 13. Asian Cultures and the Impact of the West: India and China (1982) Pt. III. The New Discipline: Religion as an Academic Study 14. Introducing the Study of Religion (1990) 15. Teaching Religion and Religions: The 'World Religions' Course (1991) 16. The Pros and Cons of Thinking of Religion as Tradition (1991) 17. Graduate Education: Some Practical Issues (1988) 18. Reflections on the Future of Religion (1989) Bibliography Index
ANXIOUS ANGELS: A Retrospective View of Religious Existentialism by George Pattison ($59.95, hardcover, 304 pages, St Martins Press; ISBN: 0312220111)
Existentialism was one of the most important influences on twentieth-century thought, especially in the period between the 1920s and early 1960s. Best known in its atheistic representatives such as Sartre, it also numbered many significant religious thinkers. ANXIOUS ANGELS is a critical introduction to these religious existentialists, who are treated as a coherent group in their own right and not merely as derivative of secular existentialism, and it is shown that they constitute a distinctive voice in the history of modem religious thought. Written for students unfamiliar with the primary sources, it summarizes and comments on the existential element in each of the major figures concerned, from Kierkegaard and Dostoevsky through to Tillich, Bultmann and Marcel, and includes less familiar representatives of the group such as Berdyacv, Shestov and Unamuno. Their interest in questions of language and communication and political and social life is also explored, and it is argued that they continue to merit attention in an era of postmodernity.
George Pattison is Dean of Chapel at King's College, Cambridge. Widely known for his work on Kierkegaard: The Self in Society. He has written on many aspects of modern religious thought and philosophy. From 1994 to 1998 he was editor of Modern Believing, and he has also written and broadcast on religion and the arts. His books include Poor Paris : Kierkegaard's Critique of the Spectacular City (Walter De Gruyter, 1999) and Agnosis : Theology in the Void (St Martins Pr ess, 1997Existentialist Approach to Philosophy of Religion
Existentialists are not engaged in abstract speculation intent in making a final judgment on the contents of the great faith traditions. Their main intent is the clarification of concrete existence, in understanding a way of life as striving for authenticity and overcoming the many forms of dispersion and alienation in daily worldly living. Religion, then, is much more than a persistent element of human culture and a fact of history. It is a way of being-in-the-world that may contribute to, or distract from, a worthy life. Existentialist thinkers' attention to the question of God neither eliminates nor introduces arguments for God's existence. Their suspicion about final systems of thought and otherworldly transcendence raises the question about the place and meaning of God. The decisive issue consists in wondering about the meaning of God in and for human living. The question of God, Camus suggests, is connected with the experience of absurdity, with the possibility of finding meaning in a conflicting, paradoxical relation between the human nostalgia for clarity and the obscure silence of the world. The absurd calls into question the logic leading to the affirmation of God. Neither the idea of God nor the adoption of religiosity should function as a consolation or compensation of a future illusion for current hardships and for the absence of a profound meaning in the present.
KIERKEGAARD's critique of institutionalized religion was coupled with his notion of the individual's facing religious truths and paradoxes. His attacks on Hegelian system building and his Socratic irony exposed the pretensions of scientific, calculative rationality as the embodiment of detachment from the dynamic of existence, from the task of becoming an individual. The individual's struggle against anonymity and crowd-mentality, leading to aesthetic dispersion and to the false self-certainty of following a code of rules, spares him or her anxiety. Yet anxiety can lead to the leap of faith in God. Religion is assumed as personal, as responsibilty before God, as a concrete living relation with Christ as the paradox of the finite and of the infinite. This perspective may help to recover the lost or diluted inwardness of religion, of becoming and striving for authentic, responsible existence. Thus, the religious way of being is born out of the most personal decision in choosing God (like Abraham) in a personal leap of faith and in putting the concrete, personal relation with God above everything else, in giving oneself to God as the ultimate source. Authentic existence, the life of the responsible individual standing alone and finding one's true self before God, takes place in fear and trembling, in the experience of anxiety. Religion is a way of life of striving for the inwardness of Personality in enacting the truths of faith, the hard, ascetic, daring demands of New Testament Christianity. Genuine becoming and finding one's self take place before God, in the life of personal relationship with the absolute. Religious existence overcomes the alienation and fragmentation of the self, the abolition of the individual, the identification of the individual with the general idea of humanity. Soviety, marked by crowd-mentality, is a threat to individuality, to the uniqueness and integrity of individual existence. The horizontal dimension of existence, the relation with others and the world, is based on the vertical axis of life, on the personal faith-relation to God. Thus, religion lived as witnessing to the truth of Christianity leads to the inner peace with God and to the true self; it is the way to overcoming alienation and loss of the self. In finite time, the religious individual alone makes a decision for eternity and thus transcends to God in personal relationship and makes the immediate relation to God the central fact of and guide for living.
For Nietzsche, the overcoming of alienation and nihilism is atheistic, or at least anti-ontotheological; it means the liberation of the individual from the illusion of another, higher world. The experience of the self consists in descending into the depths of human existence and into the unexplored possibilities of the earth, of this world; in the final analysis, one experiences only oneself, not the immediacy of the divine or of an afterworld. Christianity, as vulgarized Platonism, devalues and instrumentalizes this life; it turns the attention from the wealth and depth of yet unexplored meanings of this life, of the present, to the illusory promise of another, higher, transcendent realm, to an afterworld. Rituals, traditions, conformity and mediocrity, and the submission to the burden of religious transcendence suffocate the self. Christianity creates resentment in the obeying individual and thus destroys the joy and value of this life.
Nietzsche's attack on cultural, historical, and political Christianity claims to bring about the overcoming of nihilism, the creation of new values, the discovery of the potentials of human freedom and creativity, the joy of living, the affirmation of life returning without end, without being replaced or displaced. His teaching of the eternal recurrence of the same proclaims the self worth and value of this life, of this world. This way of thinking and living overcomes the consequences of the phenomenon of the death of God, the lack of direction after the rejection of the moralistic God and religious transcendence. It recovers the human self in this time without its metaphysical-religious illusion. His insights and language teach the art of thinking and free inquiry.
According to Buber, religion is holding fast to the existing God, not to an image of God as a human construct. Philosophy, especially in the twentieth century, is the intellectual letting go of God. The existence of God cannot be proven; it is not a matter of inference from the world, history, or the self. God is the absolute person, the eternal Thou that never becomes an It, an object. The holding fast to the living God, facing God as Thou, is not the result of dialectical speculation. It comes about in turning to the Other; through meeting the human, finite Thou one obtains a glimpse to the eternal Thou. Religion, as holding fast to the living God, is connected with human relationships, with the affirmation of the fullness of dialogical living. It is the response of the human to the divine in concrete living, in the process of becoming. Humans can enter into direct relation with God because God enters into direct relation with humans. A person cannot speak to God while ignoring other humans.
Sartre suggests that human self understanding includes discarding the idea of God and the recovery of responsibility for one's existence. Human freedom, choosing oneself while acting in a specific situation, cannot be reconciled with a God who determines one's essence, as held in many religions. The basic nature of human relationships is conflict, not dialogue; intersubjective relations are frequently based on conflicting projects, leading neither to the other nor to God. The death of God renders possible the liberation of the human to choose genuine, authentic existence. Sartre regards religion as teaching conformity, as preaching resignation to the lower classes of society.
Tillich's definition of religion as ultimate concern for being indicates the depth and existential implications of life as relating to God through faith. A main difficulty of this understanding of religion consists in the fusion of ontological and theological perspectives. To philosophize, Merleau-Ponty suggests, means to seek; it does not consist in returning to, or defending, a specific tradition. Philosophy should seek to see. Theology often uses philosophy for its own purpose and thus ends philosophy; it frequently makes use of philosophical wonder for the purpose of motivating an affirmation that ends the wonder. Philosophy never comes to an end. It arouses us to what is problematic in our existence and in that of the world so that we shall never be cured of searching. Thus philosophy arouses the problem: What is responsible for the birth of God in human consciousness? The thinker wonders about the constant manifesting of religious phenomena through world history and about the continual rebirth of the divine. The thinker attempts to describe this rebirth. The philosopher tries to understand religion as an expression of consciousness. However, understanding religion and accepting it are not the same.
FEUERBACH AND THE INTERPRETATION OF RELIGION by Van A. Harvey (Cambridge studies in religion and critical thought:Cambridge University Press) (Hardcover) Ludwig Feuerbach is traditionally regarded as a significant but transitional figure in the development of nineteenth-century German thought. Readings of Feuerbachs The Essence of Christianity tend to focus on those features which made it seem liberating to the Young Hegelians: namely, its criticism of reification as abstraction, and its interpretation of religion as alienation. In this long-awaited book, the first of an important new series, Van Harvey claims that this is a limited and inadequate view of Feuerbachs work, especially of his critique of religion. The author argues that Feuerbachs philosophical development led him to a much more complex and interesting theory of religion which he expounded in works which have been virtually ignored hitherto. By exploring these works, Harvey gives them a significant contemporary restatement, and brings Feuerbach into conversation with a number of modern theorists of religion.
Table of Contents
Note on the text and abbreviations
1. "Projection" in The Essence of Christianity
2. The interpretative strategy informing The Essence of Christianity
3. The criticism of religion in The Essence of Christianity
4. Feuerbach's intellectual development
5. The new bipolar model of religion
6. The new interpretative strategy
7. Feuerbach and contemporary projection theories
8. Feuerbach, anthropomorphism, and the need for religious illusion
A series such as Cambridge Studies in Religion and Critical Thought might be expected to comprise works that are clear and authoritative and, taking the word critical seriously, provocative. Van Harveys study of Feuerbach fulfills all these expectations and is a book that should be read carefully by anyone concerned with the study of Feuerbach. This work refocuses critical attention on the work of Feuerbach offering a delightfully provocative account of his philosophy of religion.
Van Harvey's study of Feuerbach offers one of the most extensive re-evaluations of Feuerbach this century. It should become a major source for refocusing upon this thinker who is germaine to the study of religion. This is a stimulating and thought-provoking book that is destined to become a classic in Feuerbach studies and essential reading for all engaged in the social-scientific study of religious belief.
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