CALL FOR PAPERS
Philosophy of Religion in a Pluralistic World
Charles University, Prague
28-31 August 2018
Few parts of the inhabited world are unaffected by religious diversity. This has often been regarded as a philosophically, sociologically, and politically challenging fact, rather than as something to be celebrated. Within the philosophy of religion, in particular, religious diversity has typically been regarded as standing in need of a theoretical explanation that will defuse the challenge it seems to present to prevailing belief systems. This conference invites exploration of philosophical responses to religious diversity, and investigation of the epistemological, metaphysical, and socio-political questions that it raises.
Sub-theme 1: Philosophical Responses to Religious Diversity
In the last several decades it has become common-place to regard inclusivism, exclusivism and pluralism as the main forms of response to religious diversity. Is it time to move beyond these familiar categories, or are they still theoretically useful today? Within the philosophy of religion, one widely influential form of religious pluralism – Hickean pluralism, which posits a single noumenal Reality lying behind all the world’s major religious traditions – has dominated the discussion since the 1990s. However, it faces serious philosophical problems and other forms of pluralist theory have been developed which seek to avoid these. How might religious pluralism, as a theoretical response to religious diversity, best be articulated? What is the relation between it, as a philosophical response, and other approaches to religious diversity?
Sub-theme 2: Epistemological Challenges of Religious Diversity
The fact that the world contains a number of diverse systems of religious belief and practice raises epistemological issues that fall centrally within the range of concerns covered by the philosophy of religion. What are the implications of religious diversity for the ways we might think about the truth, reasonableness, or justification of religious claims? To what extent ought religious diversity undermine confidence in all religious belief systems? Does persistent disagreement about core religious claims among adherents of different religious traditions suggest that none of them are justified in their beliefs? Does diversity fatally erode the view that any religious claims are true? To what extent, if any, does religious diversity undermine claims made on the basis of religious experience? Might the phenomenon of cognitive penetration feature in an explanation of religious diversity? Does reflection on religious diversity suggest that philosophical approaches that do not focus on traditional epistemological notions like ‘truth’ and ‘justification’ are more salient in the religious domain?
Sub-theme 3: The Metaphysics of Religious Diversity
Religious diversity challenges philosophers of religion, and scholars in cognate disciplines, to explore different conceptions of the divine. How might philosophy of religion have to change in response to this challenge? Do the diverse religions of the world exhibit any common features in their ways of conceiving the Ultimate? Does the diverse religious experience of humankind point to an underlying Reality beyond all particular religious conceptions, as John Hick has claimed? How might the various conceptions of the divine that are advanced by different religious traditions be related to such an underlying Reality? Does a religious pluralist need to posit such a Reality to make sense of the idea that all major world religions are equally capable of putting their adherents on the path to the religious goal, however that is conceived? Is the distinction between personal and impersonal conceptions of the Ultimate the most fundamental one, or might other categorical distinctions be equally important to consider, such as causal and acausal, transcendent and non-transcendent?
Sub-theme 4: The Socio-theoretic Implications of Religious Diversity
How should the facts of religious diversity in different parts of the world impact philosophical reflection on the relation of religion and politics, religion and law, religion and the state, and the relation of religious organisations to each other? How are understandings of concepts such as freedom of religion, secularisation, and religious neutrality, affected by the way we think about religious diversity? How might theological or religious ethics assimilate the facts of diversity? How might doctrinal perspectives on religious diversity be fruitfully combined with sociological ones? To what extent does reasonable pluralism (as advocated by Rawls and Habermas) still offer an adequate response to the current societal challenges of religious diversity?
Scott Appleby (University of Notre Dame)
Mikel Burley (University of Leeds)
Tomáš Halík (Charles University, Prague)
Victoria Harrison (University of Macau/traveling from Britain)
Roger Pouivet (Universite de Lorraine)
Alister E. McGrath (University of Oxford)
Marianne Moyaert (VU University Amsterdam)
Ivana Noble (Charles University, Prague)
Christian Polke (University of Goettingen)
Mikael Stenmark (University of Uppsala)
Philipp Stoellger (University of Heidelberg)
Call for Short Papers
Scholarly short papers (with a reading time of 20 minutes) are invited on the above topics connected to the conference theme. In order to submit your proposal, please, send the abstract (max. 15 lines) to email@example.com.
Please, include information about your institutional affiliation and your academic qualifications (doctoral student, Ph.D., Professor, etc.)
Deadline for submissions is April 15th 2018
By the end of April 2018, you will receive notification about whether your paper has been included in the conference (if you need an earlier decision in order to be able to apply for funding, please state that clearly as you submit your abstract and submit the abstract as early as possible).
Inquiries should be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org
For further information about the conference, please, go to the conference webpage:
or to the ESPR website:
By Nevin Climenhaga, postdoctoral fellow at the University of Notre Dame
As I had the honor to attend the recent Templeton Prize Ceremony for Alvin Plantinga, Helen De Cruz has asked me to write a summary of the event for the Prosblogion audience.
For those who would like to see the ceremony for themselves, a video of the ceremony is available on YouTube here. I note to my satisfaction, though, that you will not get to see everything those of us at the event saw. In particular, the narrator on the tribute video at 8:16 on YouTube is different – those of us in attendance saw the same video, but narrated by Morgan Freeman. I presume that Templeton did not want to pay the fees to post the Morgan Freeman-narrated video online, proving that even Templeton money does have its limits.
The ceremony was held on September 24 at the Field Museum in Chicago. Templeton usually hosts their prize ceremonies in London, so those of us who were in nearby Notre Dame felt fortunate to be able to attend this ceremony closer to home. The auditorium was very full, and many of those in attendance were not only influenced by Plantinga’s work, but were his direct “academic descendants” through teaching and advising. (Plantinga was an advisor for two of my own undergraduate professors, Robin Collins and Caleb Miller, both of whom were in attendance.) The tribute video shown during the event also illustrated how many people Plantinga has impacted, at one point zooming through Skype conversations with philosophers from some 20 different countries influenced by Plantinga.
Welcome again to the Prosblogion Virtual Colloquium! This will be our last paper of the fall term. The Virtual Colloquium will return beginning Friday, January 20. There are still plenty of slots open for the spring, so please send me (Kenny) nominations (including self-nominations)!
Today’s Virtual Colloquium paper is “Rationality, Reasonableness and Religion” by Samuel Lebens. Dr. Lebens received his PhD in philosophy from Birkbeck College, London in 2010. After completing his PhD, he attended Rabbinical Seminaries in Israel and received Rabbinical Ordination in 2013. Currently, he is Research Director of the project on analytical Jewish philosophical theology at the University of Haifa, and also chair of the Association for the Philosophy of Judaism. His papers have appeared in journals such as Philosophical Studies, Religious Studies, and International Journal for Philosophy of Religion. Additionally, Dr. Lebens in a contributing blogger for Haaretz.
Rationality, Reasonableness and Religion
This paper was born during a summer seminar on the nature and value of faith run by Baylor University and Western Washington University, hosted at the University of Missouri. Accordingly, it owes its existence to Trent Dougherty, Daniel Howard-Snyder, and Jon Kvanvig, who ran the seminar. I won’t name all of the participants, but it was conversations with them that really helped me to hone my ideas into their current form. So I’m grateful to them all.
The paper was, initially, going to be a work of Jewish philosophy. I was interested by a number of Rabbinic texts that made it seem as if feeling alienated from the community, and setting yourself aside from the community, was in and of itself an act of apostasy. That struck me as counter-intuitive because apostasy is supposed to be an intellectual crime. I was interested in bringing those texts into conversation with Midrashic portrayals of Ruth’s conversion to Judaism. The authors of the Midrash seem to go to great lengths to downplay Ruth’s theological commitments, and to present her conversion as stemming first and foremost from her personal relationship with Naomi. These somewhat surprising threads of the Jewish tradition jibe well with work I had already published that sought to downplay the role that belief plays in the religious life, and to emphasise the role of the imagination. These new sources were downplaying belief in order to emphasise, not imagination, but communal affinity. It was these reflections that lead me in the direction of the central tri-partite distinction in this paper between (1) the propositional content of a faith, (2) communal belonging, and (3) imaginative engagement.
Before long, I realized that the picture wasn’t peculiar to Judaism at all. For that reason, the paper has evolved and barely contains any reference to the Rabbinic texts that inspired it. The paper considers religious traditions as far apart from one another as Zen Bhuddism and Quakerism. My idea is simple: all religions require (1) propositional faith, (2) communal belonging, and (3) imaginative engagement. There are putative counter-examples to this claim, but I think that they can all be dealt with (I try to deal with many of them in the paper). What’s more, I think that failure to conceive of religion in these terms stems either from a failure to recognize that religion is a sociological phenomenon, or from the failure to appreciate that religiosity has a distinctive psychology. The paper then became about the philosophical merit of regarding religiosity in terms of these three elements. The basic conclusion is that philosophers conceiving of religiosity in this way opens up new ways for thinking about what could make religiosity rational and/or reasonable.
In its own small way, I hope that this paper contributes towards a move within philosophy of religion to concentrate upon religion as a lived human experience. I love philosophical theology. But philosophy of religion needs to have broader horizons than mere theology. Religions often come along with theological commitments, but religions are much richer than that, and the philosophy of religion would do well to relate to religions as sociological and psychological phenomena too. The paper is still a little rough around the edges, and I look forward to hearing people’s comments and suggestions.
The full paper is available here. Comments welcome below!
It’s Friday again, and time for the Prosblogion Virtual Colloquium! A brief administrative note: there will be no colloquium next week (November 25) due to the American Thanksgiving holiday. We will return on December 2.
For today’s colloquium, Matthew Benton presents “Evil and Evidence,” a paper he co-authored with John Hawthorne (USC) and Yoaav Isaacs (UNC). Dr. Benton received his PhD from Rutgers in 2012 and subsequently held positions at Oxford and Notre Dame. Currently, he is assistant professor of philosophy at Seattle Pacific University. His papers on epistemology and other topics have appeared in such journals as Analysis, Philosophical Studies, Synthese, and Philosophy and Phenomenological Research. Additionally, he is co-editor (with John Hawthorne and Dani Rabinowitz) of Knowledge, Belief, and God: New Perspectives in Religious Epistemology, soon to be published by Oxford University Press.
Evil and Evidence
Introductory Comments by Matthew Benton
The problem of evil presents the most prominent argument against the existence of God. Recent probabilistic or evidential versions of the argument, due especially to William Rowe (esp. “The Problem of Evil and Some Varieties of Atheism,” 1979; cf. also 1984 and 1996), suggest that the existence of evil (or its distribution and magnitude) are evidence against the existence of God. As such, these arguments claim that at least in the abstract, evil makes less likely the existence of God; and perhaps even given all of the other available evidence, it is strong enough evidence to make belief in God problematic.
Skeptical theists contend that these are not good arguments, and many go so far to deny that evil is evidence against the existence of God. To cite just a few prominent examples: Peter van Inwagen (“The Problem of Evil, the Problem of Air, and the Problem of Silence,” 1996, 169-71) says that “While the patterns of suffering we find in the actual world constitute a difficulty for theism…, they do not—owing to the availability of the defense I have outlined—attain the status of evidence”. Daniel Howard-Snyder and Michael Bergmann (“Evil Does Not Make Atheism More Reasonable than Theism,” 2004, 14) argue for the conclusion that “grounds for belief in God aside, evil does not make belief in atheism more reasonable for us than belief in theism”; and Richard Otte argues that “theists should not believe [that] evil, or our ignorance of a good reason for God to permit evil, is evidence against religious belief or the existence of God, at all” (“Comparative Confirmation and the Problem of Evil,” 2012, 127), and that “at best, the theist should refrain from judgement about whether evil is evidence against the existence of God” (2012, 131).
Skeptical theists have various reasons for arguing as they do, involving such notions as ‘CORNEA’ (the ‘Condition Of ReasoNable Epistemic Access’; Wykstra “The Humean Obstacle to Epistemic Arguments from Suffering,” 1984), epistemic appearances, ‘gratuitous’ evils, ‘levering’ evidence, the representativeness of goods, and radical skepticism about the probabilities of evil on the hypothesis of theism, or of no good we know of justifying the kinds of evil in the world. In this essay, we consider each of these notions and aim to dispel some confusions about them, and along the way attempt to clarify the roles of such notions within a probabilistic epistemology. In addition, we examine the role that distinct accounts of evidence play in the discussion, and we develop new responses to the problem of evil from both the phenomenal conception of evidence and the knowledge-first view of evidence.
The full paper is available here. Comments welcome below.
This is the twenty-fifth 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.
Can you tell me something about your current academic position and work, and your religious affiliation/self-identification?
My current work focuses on rectificatory justice and argues that the negative social and moral perceptions of Black Americans work to prevent Blacks from gaining rectificatory justice. This is because of connections between American colorblind liberalism and gaining rectificatory justice within the liberal paradigm. Liberalism is a political philosophy that espouses the mutual equality of persons, individual liberty, and that a set of moral rights flow from their mutual equality. Rectificatory justice is the branch of justice concerned with setting unjust situations right, which may require a number of different actions. Within the liberal tradition, injustice is violating someone’s rights. When one’s rights are violated, the victim has the right to have their injustices rectified in some manner. I plan to defend these positions: rights have a social dimension that is based in being recognized as one’s equal; that Blacks have not received rectificatory justice; and that racial reconciliation (which includes the dominant group changing their negative perceptions about Blacks) is a necessary step for Blacks to receive rectificatory justice.
A particular institution that has indoctrinated and educated millions about ethical behavior, respect, and following the moral law is the Christian Church. My father is a Baptist (his side of the family having faithfully attending Christ Pilgrim Rest Missionary Baptist Church for decades), and his side of the family introduced me to what Baptist church services were like. My mother’s side of the family, however, is Catholic. Something I find interesting is how quickly I identify with having an upbringing in the Catholic Church, and yet I have little memory of choosing to be Catholic rather than Baptist. My older brother and I would attend church often as children, going to Dad’s church some weeks and Mom’s church (St. Bridget’s) other weeks. I surmise it was a decision more or less made by Mom that her sons would grow up in the same kind of faith that she did. Since the difference is more in how people praise rather than who people praised, Dad acquiesced on this issue. That said, it was never unheard of for the whole family to go to both churches on holidays or important services.
I was never confirmed, but I was baptized as an infant by the priest at St. Bridget’s. When I learned that being baptized meant that I chose to take God in, it struck me as peculiar that it was a choice made for me. Not that I wasn’t happy that the choice was made – I have an unwavering belief in the existence of God, thanks in no small part to God’s existence being indoctrinated in me from birth. The conviction in the value of a church community that my parents held meant St. Bridget’s to be my first church home: where I did a confession for the first time; I sang in the choir; I learned hymns and songs to affirm the story of Christ and the glory of God; and I knew church to be where I would see many of my cousins, aunts, and uncles regularly. My family loves to get together, and church was another excuse to get together as I grew up. The building itself was supposed to be respected as a place of worship, a concept that taught me how important the worship was to any sort of faith practice that I would adopt.
In my early teens, St. Bridget’s closed. This destabilized my sense of church community and led me to seriously consider the purpose of attending church. By that time I understood certain theoretical differences between Baptists and Catholic, such as the existence of Purgatory, and had chosen Catholicism as my preferred brand of Christianity. For one, I figured that Heaven takes way too perfect a person to get in but that I wouldn’t be evil enough to deserve Hell and thought Purgatory would be a nice middle ground for eternity (at least it’s not Hell). The other thing that swayed me was how short the services were in Catholic churches; we come in, say a few prayers, sing a couple of songs, hear a good message from the priest, have communion and we’re done. In my mind, as long as we were genuinely engaging in religious rites that heaped praise and respect upon God then it shouldn’t necessarily take all day to do so. And man, Baptist church services just go on forever.
Most of my account has focused so far on my relationship with the church and how that helped me forge my religious view of the world. Losing St. Bridget’s put things in perspective for me about what the important part of going to church is – building a relationship with God. Attending church wasn’t a requirement for building a relationship with God, prayer was. So I went into my parent’s bedroom around 15 or 16 and told them I didn’t want to go to church anymore because I didn’t know what I was supposed to get out of it. At least as a youngster, I knew that church meant family time in a sacred place. Without a church community, it felt like I was going to church to sing songs and hear a story and none of it made sense. God exists, that made sense. Jesus story? Sure, I can roll with that. But I wasn’t very clear on the point of church any longer, and that moment of truth with my parents emboldened me to my newfound beliefs. I was nervous that they would be upset or even punish me for not wanting to go to church, but church felt like a chore that was not providing me any benefit. I distinctly remember my parents asking me if I still believed in God, which was met with a crystal clear, “Of course!” God wasn’t the issue – church was the issue.
Since that moment, I really avoided taking on any labels regarding my belief structure. If asked, I respond that I’m a Christian, and that I was raised Catholic. It doesn’t concern me if I’m considered nondenominational, Catholic, or whatever someone thinks of me. The only thing that matters is maintaining a relationship with God, which I do through prayer and appreciation. Since May 1, 2009, I try my best to say daily, “Thank you God for today, thank you for yesterday, and thank you for a chance at tomorrow.”
My Labrador retriever, Blue (pictured), died recently. She was my constant companion for almost fifteen years. So my assigned question hits home just now. Will God include animals in Heaven? In The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis speculated that some animals become so deeply ingrained in our lives, so much a part of our identities, that we could not really be ourselves, or truly happy in the next life, without them. I am hopefully inclined to agree.
But if so, what should we think will become of the billions of other animals that will have existed on earth? Will they have served their created purpose as important instruments of evolution in this life? Or do they have a future after death in an afterlife? Put in canonical Jewish and Christian terms, will animals inhabit the messianic kingdom of God on a “new earth” together with human beings?
One reason to think they will do so simply is that God created them in the first place. Should we think that the value of non-human beings is merely instrumental, and that they will have exhausted their evolutionary purpose prior to death? In Genesis 1, the author depicts God declaring non-human beings “good” in their own right, as having very high intrinsic value as parts of the “very good” cosmic whole. Should we think, then, that this ontological status would ever end, and not obtain in the messianic cosmic whole promised to come?
Furthermore, billions of animals fail to flourish as individuals prior to death. The evolutionary carnage is unimaginable. Should we think that God accepts this mass failure as the inevitable cost of creating valuable life by naturalistic means? Somehow, this way of thinking does not seem either aesthetically or morally right. It seems reasonable to expect an omnicompetent and morally perfect God to bring the being of all creatures and things to fruition according to their created natures.
More straightforwardly, it also seems that many species of animals are sentient, so that they can suffer in a morally important sense. Presumably, the profusion of undeserved suffering of animals in the world is a morally bad thing, a wrong that a morally perfect God would wish to make right. In Keith Ward’s words: “If there is any sentient creature which suffers pain, that being—whatever it is and however it is manifested—must find the pain transfigured by a greater joy.” And it seems clear that such evil-rectifying (and God-justifying) joy could only happen post mortem, in Heaven.
Beyond these philosophical considerations, Jewish and Christian canonical texts explicitly encourage belief that animals will inhabit Heaven, as envisioned.
Besides Genesis 1, which underscores God’s assessment of animals as “good,” and as essential to a cosmic whole that is “very good,” other texts suggest the inclusion of animals in the messianic age to come. In Genesis 6-7, God commands Noah to include all “kinds” of animals on the ark. Notably, after the flood, in Genesis 8-9, God makes a covenant with Noah that promises divine protection and preservation to all human and non-human beings. God makes this promise and repeats it two more times:
I now establish my covenant with … every living creature that was with you—the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you—every living creature on earth” (Genesis 9: 9-10).
The speaker declares the covenant to be irrevocable—“everlasting” (Genesis 9: 16).
In the speeches of God from the windstorm in Job, God speaks at length about God’s intimate care even for animals living in wild realms that God seems to have abandoned—they, too, fall within the scope of the messianic vision. In Isaiah, that vision has the wolf at peace with the lamb, lions eating straw like the ox, and serpents venomous no more (Isaiah 65: 25).
In the New Testament, the apostle Paul writes that the whole creation “groans” in bondage to pain and futility, in the throes of decay and longing to be set free (Romans 8: 18-23). The emphasis on pain in nature suggests an allusion to the experience of animals, and that Paul’s expressed hope of the coming cosmic redemption includes them.
There is one last distinctly Christian reason for hoping that animals will inhabit Heaven. I suggest that the Christian doctrine of the Atonement provides unexpected grounds for that belief.
In Christian history, theologians have treated Atonement as a matter of reconciliation between God and human beings, who have allegedly wronged God. But animals have not done anything wrong, much less wrong to God. If anything, God has wronged animals by inscribing undeserved suffering into their existence. Can it be that the Atonement also had the aim of resolving that moral problem? Perhaps.
Christian writers have traditionally referred to Christ crucified as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1: 29). In Hebrews, the writer likened Jesus to the Scapegoat slain painfully on Yom Kippur (Hebrews 5-7). In all these typological metaphors, Christ is identified with blameless sacrificial animals. Is it far-fetched to think that this imagery conveys reconciliation between God and the animals?
Some modern writers (notably, Holmes Rolston II and Christopher Southgate) have referred to the evolutionary narrative of species as cruciform, as a “slaughter of innocents,” as a via dolorosa and a Darwinian kenōsis analogous to the “self-emptying” of Jesus on the cross (Philippians 2: 5-11). Meanwhile, the writer of Hebrews stressed that Christ’s death has brought an end to the need for animal sacrifice (Hebrews 10). Perhaps, then, the Atonement is not only a manifesto of liberation from sin and death for human beings, but also a symbolic declaration of an impending freedom from suffering in store for non-human beings in the messianic kingdom of Heaven that is promised to come.
What joys await animals—including Blue—in Heaven, we can only guess. But I suggest that canonical Jewish and Christian traditions together make it reasonable to believe that gloriously good things do await them, nonetheless.
Theology emeritus, Calvin College
Philosophy, Grand Valley State University
 Keith Ward. The Concept of God (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1974), 223. Cited by Southgate, 78.
In this brief post—based somewhat on a section of my book The Problem of Animal Pain: A Theodicy for All Creatures Great and Small—I defend the thesis that animals are created in the image of God. I will argue that the notion of bearing the imago dei is “graded.” That is, bearing the image is a property that comes in degrees, of, if it is not the same thing, there are many ways of bearing the image of God, which can be placed along a spectrum from triviality to very substantive.
I write from a Christian perspective, but won’t focus on the biblical data. However, it is very much worth noticing one feature of the Genesis narrative. One frequently hears—including in sermons—that the imago dei doctrine is taught in Genesis 2:7. Man “becomes a living being” when the “breath of life” is “breathed into his nostrils.” God had just said “Let us make man in our image” and nothing follows that is a better candidate for the imaging happening than the instilling of the breath of life. As with the Greek pneuma, the use of the Hebrew neshamah evokes a connection between breath and soul. And it is often thought that the soul, whatever else it is, is the locus of the image of God. But Genesis 1:30 had just abbreviated a long list of animals with the covering phrase “everything that has the breath of life” (1:30). And, like its cousin neshamah, nefesh—used here—is sometimes rendered “soul.” And, again, there is nowhere else in the creation narrative that is a plausible ground for the imago dei. Nowhere in Scripture is a premium put on abstract thought and there’s certainly nothing about it in the creation narrative. (It is perhaps there by implication in the act of speech in the naming of the animals by Adam, but that’s a bit obscure.) And speaking of abstract thought…
Once when presenting a paper at a regional meeting of the American Catholic Philosophical Society in Western New York, I made reference to Sosa’s distinction between animal knowledge and reflective knowledge. A guy pointed out to me than “animal knowledge” might not be an apt phrase, since, in certain respects, apt belief (in Sosa’s sense) is more like God’s knowledge than human knowledge. The relevant respect was that animal knowledge is “direct” in a way that included being non-discursive but also included being “hooked up” to the world in a way that “skips” ratiocination involved in much human knowledge, especially Sosa’s reflective knowledge. This is inchoate, but it points the direction to a way in which animal cognition might be much more in the image of God’s cognition than distinctively human cognition. An extension of this is the fact that humans are plagued by doubt in ways most animals don’t seem to be.
This is the twenty-second 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 links for parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20 and 21.
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 Owen Flanagan, James B Duke University Professor of Philosophy at Duke University
Can you tell me something about your academic position, and about your current religious affiliation/self-identification – please feel free to say something about your religious upbringing or history, or anything else that might be relevant to your current religious affiliation.
I am James B. Duke University Professor of Philosophy at Duke University in Durham NC, where I am Co-director of the Center for Comparative Philosophy. I was raised as a Roman Catholic and still have that Catholic boy inside me. I received a fantastic education from nuns, most of whom had never been to anything that we would call college. I get Catholicism. It is in my blood and bones. It is familiar. In Rome last year, my wife and I visited Saint Peter’s, many other churches, went to vespers at a convent, and I was consistently moved, engaged. But I haven’t practiced since I was a young teenager. I was bothered by hell, specifically the idea that a good God would have such a place, by the emphasis on sexual sins, and by a sincere worry that although Jesus might be understood as a prophet, as he is in the Koran, but was simply nowhere good enough to be God.
So, I am a certain kind of atheist, a philosophical one, who has never heard a substantive conception of God, the sort that is presented in creedal religions (I believe in god the Father almighty…) that I thought the weight of reasons supported belief in. The reasons always seem to weigh against actually believing in THAT God. This philosophical orientation goes well with a certain resistance to epistemic over-confidence that is needed to speak confidently about the existence or nature of one’s God or gods.
In part, I have been too impressed, in a good way I think, by my interest and study of other great world religions to be confident about the creedal parts of the Catholicism I was raised in, which I was told was the one true religion. Confucianism, which treads lightly on the divinity stuff, and Buddhism, Jainism, and Daoism, are beautiful without being theistic in the familiar senses. Some say Buddhism is atheistic, which is true as far as a creator God goes. But Buddhism, like almost every spiritual tradition seems committed to ideas, which are hard to take literally from the perspective of the scientific image such as rebirth and karma. These ideas can however easily be taken poetically and embodied in rituals without literal commitment.
That said, I get the religious impulse, embrace the feelings of mystery, awe, and existential anxiety about the meaning and significance of life that most every religion responds to. I love the part of most religious traditions that enact, express, and acknowledge the mystery of things. In fact I preferred the old pre-Vatican 2 masses in Latin with more dramatic music, incense, mystery, drama.
In The Really Hard Problem: Meaning in a Material World (2007), I make the distinction between assertive theism, where one asserts certain supernatural claims as true, and expressive theism, where one expresses various extra-mundane impulses, feelings, emotions, and expansive not-humanly-possible love. I prefer the latter to the former.
You might think this makes me a familiar type: spiritual but not religious. Maybe. But I am pretty allergic to New Age style religions because they seem self-indulgent, egoistic, and in addition often assert empirically irresponsible stuff such as one hears in homeopathy. So to make things maximally confusing and to conclude this part of our interview: When people ask about my religion, I sometimes say I am Catholic. I say it in the same spirit many of my Jewish friends say and mean they are Jewish. Catholicism is part of me. It is like when I go home to Westchester County, New York where I was raised. The dirt smells right, the way dirt is supposed to smell, the sky, the trees look right; it is familiar, comforting, and grounding. But in both cases, I don’t live there anymore.
October 20-22, 2016
New Brunswick, NJ
Conference Theme: Acquiring Faith
Call for Papers
Submissions exploring any topic in the philosophy of religion, and more generally topics of interest to theistic philosophers, are welcome. Papers on the conference theme will be given special consideration. The theme should be interpreted broadly. It includes not only consideration of the viability, legitimacy, and rationality of Pascalian approaches to acquiring faith, but a variety of other issues including, for example, the importance of various putative elements of faith (e.g., affect, trust, belief) and how else these may or may not be acquired. Submissions are encouraged from all philosophers with interests in these topics — Christians and non-Christians, including members of other religious traditions. Submissions should be 3,000 words or less and prepared for blind review (please send a .doc, .docx, or .pdf file with no identifying ‘marks’). Include a cover letter with your name, institutional affiliation, email address, paper title, and an abstract of 150 words or less. Submissions are due by July 15, 2016. Please send your paper to email@example.com. If you do not receive an e-mail acknowledgement within one week of your submission, please re-submit.
The SCP offers a $500 prize for the best graduate student paper. For a paper to be eligible, it must be submitted by July 15, 2016. The $500 award will be presented publicly at the conference. If you are a graduate student and would like your paper to be considered for the prize, please indicate that you are a graduate student in your submission email.
The conference will culminate in a round-table panel discussion of Pascal’s Wager, with our Plenary Speakers as participants.
Plenary Speakers & Panel Participants:
Laurie Paul (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
Daniel Garber (Princeton University)
Alan Hájek (Australian National University)
Lara Buchak (University of California, Berkeley)
This is the sixteenth 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. Follow the links for parts 1, 2, 3,4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 and 15. 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 Kristen Irwin, an assistant professor of philosophy at Loyola University Chicago.
Can you tell me something about your current academic work, and your religious affiliation/self-identification?
I specialize in the early modern period, particularly the seventeenth century. My 2010 dissertation was on the nature and function of reason and belief in the thought of Pierre Bayle, but I have broad interests in the treatment of rationality, religious beliefs, and moral beliefs by modern philosophers. I also dabble in contemporary philosophy of religion and metaethics.
My religious affiliation is… not entirely straightforward! My most obvious identification is as a follower of Jesus Christ in the sense indicated by traditional statements of Christian belief such as the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed, interpreted in the context of the Sermon on the Mount. Beyond that, however, things get… complicated. I’ve found that I’m a bit of an oddball, religiously speaking: With respect to religious practices, I have a deep appreciation for—maybe even a love of?—traditional liturgy, and I find a certain freedom and invitation in its privileging of embodiment in one’s interaction with God. At the same time, I value the spontaneity and sincerity of more contemporary forms of worship, and acknowledge the vitality and authenticity of those practices. I also tend to shy away from the hierarchical authority structures generally associated with groups that adopt traditional liturgical practices, especially in light of the ways that this authority has been misused and abused, to the detriment both of those within the church, and outside of the church.