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!
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.”
This is the eighteenth 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, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 and 17. The contributors 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 Saba Fatima, assistant professor at Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville.
Can you tell me something about your current academic position and work, and your religious affiliation/self-identification?
I am an Assistant Professor at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville in the Philosophy Department. I am also the current Religious Studies Advisor. Among other courses, I teach contemporary Islamic social & political thought, and philosophy of race. My research interests include non-ideal theory, philosophy of race, and feminist philosophy. I employ the tools these sub-fields provide me to better understand the current political context surrounding Muslims. My teaching and research interests were influenced quite a bit by own experiences.
I am a Muslim. I belong to the Shia sect (Fiqh-e-Jafria) of Islam. I grew up in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Early in my life, I didn’t realize we were Shia. I have a faint memory from when I was a kid, realizing one day that we were Shia and being very scared in school. I thought that ‘they’ would come take me away. It was of course unfounded fear of a child, but even as a child, I knew that Saudi Arabia was far from a friendly place for Shia Pakistani expats to work. Our family would host and attend religious gatherings in secret because of fear of persecution. The government still sees Shias as polluters of Islam, and has a contentious political relationship with Shias (within its own borders and elsewhere).
When I moved to Karachi, Pakistan, I never discussed my religious identity. Because my school friends did not know, anti-Shia sentiment would occasionally rear its head. However, it was certainly not anywhere as terrible as Saudi Arabia. Since our extended family had lived there for many years, our neighbors knew we were Shia, but they were friendly and it was a non-issue. When I came to the United States for my undergraduate studies, I again encountered anti-Shia sentiment in the immigrant Muslim communities. This is all, of course, one (very important) aspect of who I am and what my upbringing has been like. For example, one cannot escape anti-Muslim sentiment in the West, or sexist attitudes, both within religious community and the wider society. Even as an adolescent, I always had strong feminist tendencies, but I remain wary of feminist threads which drown out women of color voices or justify imperialism. These experiences were fundamental in my decision to pursue graduate studies in Philosophy and they continue to guide my research.
This is the twelfth 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, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, and 11. 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 Amber Griffioen, a US-American postdoctoral researcher at the University of Konstanz (Germany), where she has worked since 2010. She currently has a 5-year fellowship from the Margarete von Wrangell Program aimed at completing the Habilitation (which would qualify her for a full professorship in Germany). Her primary areas of research are Philosophy of Religion, Philosophy of Action, and Philosophy of Sport, and her current research focuses on non-doxastic models of religious faith. She is also currently working on a side project with an Iranian scholar on Christian and Islamic mysticism and will be affiliated with a project on Religious Minorities next year in Konstanz.
Can you tell me something about your religious affiliation/self-identification?
Both my religious background and current affiliation/identification are rather complicated. Both my parents come from conservative Dutch Reformed backgrounds, and my primary and secondary education was (for better or worse) in the CSI school system (first in Milwaukee, later in West Michigan). However, “unofficially” I had a very ecumenical upbringing, which profoundly informs my religiosity (or what remains of it) to this day. My father (a theologian) received his Ph.D. from a Jesuit school, and as a young child I was often surrounded by his Catholic colleagues, many of whom were priests and nuns. We ended up attending a Missouri Synod Lutheran church that was known for its music, and we also attended an Episcopal church for a time. Importantly, I also received what one might consider a “religious” education in baseball (i.e., American civil religion), and I’m pretty sure the closest I’ve ever come to what people tend to call a “religious experience” has occurred at the ballpark. All of these factors instilled in me a deep reverence for (and aesthetic attraction to) religious symbol, ritual, and liturgy – much of which was in tension with the heavily Protestant (and increasingly Evangelical) traditions associated with my formal schooling. So I’ve always been a bit of a “religious outsider” wherever I found myself.more…
This is the eleventh 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 parts1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10. 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 David McNaughton, currently Professor of Philosophy at Florida State, having previously been Professor at Keele University. He is a member of the Church of England, and a regular attender at St. John’s Episcopal Church, Tallahassee, Florida.
Can you tell me something about your current religious affiliation/self-identification?
I was brought up agnostic, but my parents sent me to Methodist Sunday School (for as long as I wished) so I might find out for myself. After considerable prayer and heart-searching I joined the Methodist Church around 1960 and stayed there for ten years, including being a very active member of the Methodist Society at my undergraduate university. I did my graduate work at Magdalen College Oxford and attended College Chapel, at the end of which I was received into the Church of England.
Shortly thereafter I drifted away from Christianity, eventually becoming both sceptical and slightly hostile until my mid-30s when I began slowly to re-evaluate my position. Strong influences here were C. S. Lewis and William James, as well as teaching philosophy of religion with Richard Swinburne. I remained a highly sympathetic agnostic until 2004, when I decided to recommit to the church.
October 8-10, 2015
Indiana University, Bloomington
The beautiful wooded campus of Indiana University, Bloomington will be the site of a conference focused on social dimensions to the eistemology of religious belief. Topics to be addressed include testimony and trust, intellectual authority in science and religion, the role of faith communities in individual faith development, and religious disagreement.
Speakers/Commentators: Charity Anderson, Michael Bergmann, Caleb Cohoe, Trent Dougherty, Peter Graham, John Greco, Adam Green, John Hawthorne, John Kvanvig, Maria Lasonen-Aarnio, Ben McMyler, Tim O’Connor, and Steve Wykstra.
For further details, including conference registration and securing local housing, please visit the conference website: https://sites.google.com/site/religiousbeliefiu/
Organized by Tim O’Connor and Tim Perrine, this conference is sponsored by the John Templeton Foundation and by the Philosophy Department at Indiana University, Bloomington.
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, 4, 5 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.
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.