Philosophers and their religious practices, part 7: Circumventing the philosopher
April 8, 2015 — 6:01

Author: Helen De Cruz  Category: Religion and Life Religious Belief  Tags: , , , , ,   Comments: 1

This is the seventh installment of a series of interviews I am conducting with academic philosophers about their religious practices. In this series of interviews, I ask philosophers about their religious practices and the influence on their philosophical work. Follow the links for parts 1, 2, 3, 45 and 6. The contributors are in various stages of their career, tenured and untenured. Interviews were conducted through e-mail and responses are not edited.

This interview is with Terence Cuneo, Professor at the University of Vermont.

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Philosophers and their religious practices, part 6: An eastward-looking Anglican
April 2, 2015 — 10:42

Author: Helen De Cruz  Category: Religion and Life Religious Belief  Tags: , , , ,   Comments: 1

This is the sixth installment of a series of interviews I am conducting with academic philosophers about their religious practices. In this series of interviews, I ask philosophers about their religious practices and the influence on their philosophical work. Follow the links for parts 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5. The contributors are in various stages of their career, tenured and untenured. Interviews were conducted through e-mail and responses are not edited.

This interview is with Steven Horst, Professor of Philosophy at Wesleyan University.

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Philosophers and their religious practices, part 4: The embodiment of the sacraments
March 17, 2015 — 5:27

Author: Helen De Cruz  Category: Religion and Life Religious Belief  Tags: , , , ,   Comments: 2

This is the fourth installment of a series of interviews I am conducting with academic philosophers about their religious practices. In this series of interviews, I ask philosophers about their religious practices and the influence on their philosophical work (follow these links for parts 1, 2 and 3). The contributors are in various stages of their career, tenured and untenured. Interviews were conducted through e-mail and responses are not edited, except for some occasional shortenings (indicated by ellipses).

The fourth interview is with Jennifer Frey, assistant professor of philosophy at the University of South Carolina.

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Philosophers and their religious practices, part 3: The SCP is my Church
March 11, 2015 — 8:45

Author: Helen De Cruz  Category: Religion and Life  Tags: , , , ,   Comments: 25

This is the third installment of a series of interviews I am conducting with academic philosophers about their religious practices (see here and here for previous installments). In this series of interviews, I ask philosophers  about their religious practices and the influence on their philosophical work. I have interviewed (and am in the course of interviewing) agnostics, theists and atheists, hopefuls and skeptics. The contributors are in various stages of their career, tenured and untenured. Interviews were conducted through e-mail and responses are not edited, except for some occasional shortenings (indicated by ellipses)

The third interview is with H.E. Baber, who is a full professor at the University of San Diego.

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Philosophers and their religious practices, part 2: Philosopher and priest
March 6, 2015 — 14:41

Author: Helen De Cruz  Category: Religion and Life  Tags: , , , ,   Comments: 0

This is the second installment of a series of interviews I am conducting with academic philosophers about their religious practices (part 1 is here). In this series of interviews, I ask philosophers who are religious practitioners—they go to church or temple, pray, utter blessings, engage in stoic meditation, read the Torah, serve in the capacity of priest—about their religious practices and the influence on their philosophical work. I have interviewed (and am in the course of interviewing) agnostics, theists and atheists, hopefuls and skeptics. The contributors are in various stages of their career, tenured and untenured.

The present interview is with Leigh Vicens, who is an assistant professor of philosophy at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, SD where she have been since 2012. This year she is on leave as a research fellow at Notre Dame’s Center for Philosophy of Religion. She is also an ordained priest in the Episcopal Church.

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Philosophers and their religious practices, Part 1: Homilies for a hoping agnostic
March 2, 2015 — 2:23

Author: Helen De Cruz  Category: Religion and Life  Tags: , , , ,   Comments: 4

[cross-posted at The Philosophers’ Cocoon] This is the first installment of a series of interviews I am conducting with academic philosophers about their religious practices. Curiously, there’s relatively little attention for religious practices, with most work in philosophy of religion strongly focusing on beliefs (this is changing thanks to excellent work by Terence Cuneo, Howard Wettstein, Sarah Coakley and others, but this work is still decidedly in the minority).

In this series of interviews, I ask philosophers who are religious practitioners—they go to church or temple, pray, utter blessings, engage in stoic meditation, read the Torah, serve in the capacity of priest—about their religious practices and the influence on their philosophical work. I have interviewed (and am in the course of interviewing) agnostics, theists and atheists, hopefuls and skeptics. The contributors are in various stages of their career, tenured and untenured. Interviews were conducted through e-mail and responses are not edited, except for some occasional shortenings (indicated by ellipses)

The first interview is with Marcus Arvan, who is an assistant professor at the University of Tampa. Arvan self-identifies as a hoping Agnostic and attends Catholic mass weekly.

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What can my grandmother know about Mary
November 22, 2014 — 20:42

Author: Helen De Cruz  Category: Concept of God Religion and Life Religious Belief  Tags: , , , ,   Comments: 40

In What can she know Lorraine Code argues for a feminist epistemology, in which our situation, community, position in society, matter to what we can know. Knowledge mainly available to men is implicitly regarded as gender-neutral; meanwhile knowledge traditionally associated with women is regarded as not knowledge at all. Consider the practices of some Catholic Latina women in the United States, who fend off the evil eye (especially of infants) with eggs, bury statues of saints like Mary and Joseph in their front yard when the saints refuse to grant requests, and dig them up again once the request is granted. As Michelle Gonzalez Maldonado details, this sounds rather irreverent, but the practice just illustrates how intimate the relationship is between the Latino community and the saints they revere. Home altars with pictures of Mary and the Saints are the territory of Latina Catholic women. Do these practices contribute to religious epistemology? If so, how?

 


The council of Trent wanted to eradicate these practices of saint reverence and fending off the evil eye, in which women prominently figured as practitioners and experts. However, it did not destroy these practices in Latina women. Neither did it destroy them entirely in European women, such as my grandmother. My grandmother was a devout Catholic woman who taught me the first things about religion such as the significance of the host, the meaning of infant baptism, how to pray. She had a wooden black statue of Mary (there is a tradition of revering Black Mary in Medieval Europe, and my grandmother’s home town had a tradition that still kept this alive), to whom she talked and prayed. When Mary refused to grant her requests, she would be unceremoniously turned facing the wall until Mary changed her mind.

By the time I was 12, I dismissed her practices as superstitious folk beliefs of an old woman who had not moved with the times, and as just plain silly. Her beliefs, I thought, were wrong also within her own epistemological framework of Christianity, given that statues aren’t actually the figures they represent (but in Latina culture, and my grandmother’s practice, they were), and Mary cannot autonomously grant requests but is assumed to intercede with God on our behalf (but for my grandmother, she clearly could do all sorts of things on her own). However, I am now wondering if it is true that my grandmothers religious beliefs (aka superstitions) were really inconsistent with the epistemology she held. After all, her epistemology was not the official teaching of the Catholic church, but something that was informed by her own practices.

Very few philosophers of religion discuss how specific religious practices can foster a religious knowledge that more cerebral thinking about God cannot. Sarah Coakley has some work liturgy as a form of doxastic practice (a tantalizing term she borrows from Alston, who did not do much with the concept, but fortunately, Sarah has and I hope to elaborate it in work further on in a talk I’ll be giving at Texas A&M). Coakley argues that the physical, multi-sensory experience of worship can mediate spiritual experience.  Howard Wettstein argues along similar lines about Jewish practices like blessings. He argues these practices provide access to a religious way of life even if there is no doxastic commitment to metaphysical claims about God. Do religious practices provide us with religious knowledge? Even practices that seem contrary to claims generally accepted in philosophy of religion?

I would claim that if we assume that perfect being theology in western philosophy of religion is correct, and if the main theological claims are correct, my grandmother and the members of the Latino community Michelle Gonzalez Maldonado studied can have knowledge. It is hard to say if any theological claims are true, and of course, if naturalism is true, my grandmother’s views, and those of theologians are not knowledge; I am just here assuming the traditional theological views because practices like my grandmother’s are in this framework dismissed as superstitions without any epistemological value.

If my grandmother has knowledge of Mary, it is knowledge by acquaintance, afforded by intimate second-person interactions (manipulating the statue of Black Mary, speaking to her). This sort of knowledge isn’t available to people who do not engage in practices like this. In When God talks back, Tanya Luhrmann explains how this works for Evangelical Christians, but Gonzalez Maldonado offers another perspective (Yet another one is offered by Eleonore Stump on how reading scripture can give us second-person insight). I would like to think more about how embodied practices in religion, so often downplayed by mainstream churches as an embarrassment and relic of the past, can contribute to epistemological questions in philosophy of religion.

[this blogpost is inspired by a talk by Michelle Gonzalez Maldonado at the Annual Academy of Religion; in the talk Gonzales Maldonado discussed Latino religious practices in relationship to Luhrmann’s work on Evangelical spirituality]

Wettstein’s practice-based attitude to religious faith: Is realist theism no longer the only game in town?
March 31, 2014 — 14:24

Author: Helen De Cruz  Category: Religion and Life Religious Belief  Tags: , , , ,   Comments: 11

[this is X-posted at NewApps] In philosophy of religion, realist theism is the dominant outlook: belief in God is similar to belief in other real things (or supposedly real things) like quarks or oxygen. There is a rather triumphalist narrative about the resurgence of realist theism since the demise of logical positivism (see for instance, Plantinga’s advice to Christian philosophers) when logical positivism and its verifiability criterion held sway, philosophers were dissuaded from talking about God in realist terms: religious beliefs were not just false, but meaningless. With the demise of logical positivism, however, theists could again defend realist positions, using a variety of sophisticated arguments.

Nevertheless, the question is whether theists in philosophers of religion are not conceding too much to atheists by talking about theism mainly in terms of beliefs. To ignore practice is to ignore a large part of the religious experience, and what makes it meaningful to the theist. Such an exclusive focus can indeed be alienating, as it seems to suggest that theists believe a whole bunch of ideas that are wildly implausible, e.g., that a man resurrected from the dead, or was born of a virgin. This picture of religious life as believing in a set of strange propositions is, as Kvanvig memorably put it, a view that most theists will not recognize themselves in:

I hardly recognize this picture of religious faith and religious life, except in the sense that one can cease to be surprised or shocked by the neighbor who jumps naked on his trampoline after having seen it for years.

That is not to say that many theists do believe these things, even in a literal sense, but without looking at the larger picture of practices that help to maintain and instil these beliefs, our epistemology of religion remains woefully incomplete.

It is therefore refreshing to read philosopher Howard Wettstein’s recent interview in The Stone, who, coming from a Jewish background, emphasizes the practice-based aspects of a religious lifestyle. He argues that “existence” is the wrong idea for God, following Maimonides, and instead argues that “the real question is one’s relation to God, the role God plays in one’s life, the character of one’s spiritual life.”


Further on Wettstein says

The theism-atheism-agnosticism trio presumes that the real question is whether God exists. I’m suggesting that the real question is otherwise and that I don’t see my outlook in terms of that trio.

It is very interesting that this looking for alternatives is not unique to Wettstein, but was in fact a fairly common response in my recent qualitative survey on the beliefs and attitudes of philosophers of religion. Many of them, including those coming from a Christian tradition, hesitated to call themselves theists, atheists or agnostics. For example, one associate professor in my survey writes that her unbelief does not equate with atheism:

I could not call myself an atheist now, primarily because my thinking about the baggage connected to that word leads me to believe that it does not accurately describe my condition.

I’m not saying we should throw realist theism overboard. Rather, practice is an important element of religious life whose philosophical significance has not received as much attention as it ought. Practice, I believe, can help us make sense about how people sustain and accept beliefs that seem prima facie very hard to make sense of.  Using insights from the extended mind thesis and other views of scaffolded and embodied cognition, our epistemology of religion should incorporate these practices into a more complete picture of credal and affective attitudes toward God.

Like many other critics, Gutting thinks there is a tension in Wettstein’s practice of prayer and his outlook of naturalism. I was similarly skeptical when I read Wettstein’s paper on awe and the religious life, and later his book. Now, however, I think we need to understand more about the range of attitudes that underpin religious practice and their relationship to religious doxastic attitudes to determine whether there is a tension. Can the practices stand independent from credal attitudes, as Wettstein suggests is the case for some mathematicians, who work with numbers without any ontological commitments to them? Do we need something like hope or another positive non-doxastic attitude at the very least to support religious practices like prayer?

Religious Epistemology Discussion (Plantinga & Sosa)
July 6, 2013 — 13:59

Author: Andrew Moon  Category: Existence of God Links Problem of Evil Religion and Life Religious Belief  Tags:   Comments: 0

Wow, I can’t believe I didn’t know about this religious epistemology discussion that happened earlier this year. It is in three parts: Sosa opening criticism, Plantinga response w/discussion, and more discussion.
Other participants I recognized included the following: Michael Tooley, Richard Fumerton, Linda Zagzebski, Trenton Merricks, Louise Antony, Nicholas Wolterstorff, Mark Murphy, and Meghan Sullivan. It was exhilarating to watch top rate philosophers discuss these fascinating topics!

Violation of freedom of conscience
June 21, 2012 — 7:03

Author: Alexander Pruss  Category: Religion and Life Virtue  Tags: , , ,   Comments: 5

Here are two plausible necessary conditions for a law to violate freedom of religion or freedom of conscience:

  1. Legislation L violates x’s freedom of religion only if L requires x to do something that is contrary to the requirements of x’s religion.
  2. Legislation L violates x’s freedom of conscience only if L requires x to do something that is contrary to the requirements of x’s conscience.

I am pretty sure that (1) is false, and am inclined to think (2) is false as well. (Let me specify that I am using “legislation” to mean something like a putatively authoritative enactment of an authority. The reason I say “putatively” is that I want to allow for legislation that is so unreasonably that it is null and void, has no authority. Aquinas will say such legislation–my term, not his–is not a law.)

Let me start with (1). There is a simple counterexample. Consider legislation prohibiting public religious worship on Saturdays. Such legislation seems to be a paradigm of legislation that violates the religious freedom of Jews. But it is my understanding (and if the understanding is flawed, just make this a hypothetical) that Judaism does not require public worship on Saturdays–the requirements of prayer do not have to be fulfilled in Synagogue worship. Hence (1) is false.

Now consider (2). Suppose that Sam is a typical vegetarian on grounds of conscience. Now, consider legislation M1 that requires everyone to eat meat on New Year’s Eve, under penalty of a week in jail. This legislation is a paradigmatic case of a law that violates Sam’s freedom of conscience. (Note: I am not taking it to be clear that “violates x’s freedom of conscience” entails that the legislation is unjustified; obviously that legislation violates someone’s freedom of conscience is a strong reason against having such legislation, but since consciences can be mistaken in all sorts of spectacular ways, there may be times where such legislation is justified.) But note that except in really weird scenarios, M1 isn’t like that.)

But now consider legislation M2 that is just like M1, except that now the penalty is death. Surely if M1 violates Sam’s freedom of conscience, so does M2. But Sam is a typical vegetarian. And typical vegetarians, I think, hold that it is permissible to eat meat when the alternative is death. Thus, M2 does not require Sam to do anything that is contrary to the requirements of his conscience: it requires him to eat meat, but eating meat is permissible given M2.

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