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.
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.
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.
[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.
The Herzl Institute, Jerusalem
December 20-23, 2015
Philosophers often describe theism as the belief in the existence of a “perfect being” — a being that is said to possess all possible perfections, so that it is all-powerful, all-knowing, immutable, perfectly good, absolutely simple, and necessarily existent, among other qualities. However, there are reasons to question whether this conception of God’s nature is appropriate as a basis for Jewish theology, and indeed, for religious belief more generally. This conference seeks to bring together philosophers, theologians, scholars of Bible and scholars of rabbinic literature to take a fresh look at this notion of God as perfect being, asking whether it is consistent with Judaism’s foundational texts, or whether it needs to be revised or replaced by a theology that is better suited to Jewish thought.
For the past couple of years, I have organized a lively philosophy of religion work-in-progress group at Ryerson University in downtown Toronto.
– If you would like to be added to the mailing list for this group, please email me: email@example.com
– If you are (or plan to be) in the Toronto area this semester, and would like to give a paper to this group, please let me know.
– If you would like to give a paper to this group via Skype (we have the technology!) please let me know.
Department of Philosophy
The 2015 Conference of the Society of Christian Philosophers (Pacific Region)
March 20-21, 2015
Hosted by Azusa Pacific University
- Linda Zagzebski (University of Oklahoma),
- Robert Audi (University of Notre Dame)
Theme: Religious Epistemology in the 21st Century
Advances in technology and interfaith dialogues lead to questions about who or what to trust. Such questions include, for example:
- How does one decide who (or what) is an expert?
- How does technology help or hinder inter-faith dialogues?
- Is there a “virtue epistemology” for surfing the web for information?
- How can one remain justified in one’s own religious beliefs if one has good reason to believe that a Google search would return millions of arguments against those beliefs?
We invite submissions exploring any topic of interest to Christian philosophers, but those dealing explicitly with the conference theme may be given preference. The conference organizers intend to bring together a wide range of topics and ideas with the hope of fostering a rich and broad discussion among those interested in Christianity and philosophy. We welcome participation from both Christians and non-Christian philosophers as presenters and participants.
Papers (no more than 3000 words) are due by January 15th (extended from January 1st), 2014. Please include professional contact information and an abstract with your paper. Submit them to: firstname.lastname@example.org. We intend to notify those accepted by Jan 22nd, 2015.
Graduate and undergraduate students who wish to be considered for the SCP’s prize for the Best Graduate Student Paper or Best Undergraduate Student Paper must submit a final draft of their papers by January 1st, 2014. Each winner will receive a $400 award, which will be presented publicly at the conference. In your submission email, please indicate that you are a graduate student or undergraduate student.
Religious disagreements are conspicuous in everyday life. Most societies, except perhaps for theocracies or theocracy-like regimes, show a diversity of religious beliefs, a diversity that young children already are aware of. One emerging topic of interest in the social epistemology of religion is how we should respond to religious disagreement. How should you react if you are confronted with someone who seems equally intelligent and thoughtful, who has access to the same evidence as you do, but who nevertheless ends up with very different religious beliefs? Should you become less confident about your beliefs, or suspend judgment? Or is it permissible to accord more weight to your own beliefs than to those of others?
In November and December 2014, I surveyed philosophers about their views on religious disagreement. I was not only interested in finding out what philosophers think about disagreements about religious topics in the profession (for instance, do they consider other philosophers as epistemic peers, or do they take the mere fact of disagreement as an indication that the other can’t be right?), but also in the influence of personal religious beliefs and training. I present a brief summary of results below the fold; a longer version can be found here.
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]
What do philosophers think about religious disagreement? This is a brief survey (takes about 5-10 minutes) to find this out. The survey is aimed at academic philosophers, by which I mean people who hold a PhD in philosophy or are graduate students in philosophy. If you fit these criteria, please consider participating. Participation is fully anonymous.
The format of the study is a multiple choice questionnaire. I will ask some personal questions, amongst others about your religious views, but your name will not be asked. To further take care that your anonymity is preserved, I will not report on individual responses but report statistical patterns. There are a few places where you can provide an open response (optional). I will publish at most one open response per participant, making sure that there is no identifying information within your response. The full dataset will remain confidential and will not be shared with anyone. I will report the preliminary results on Prosblogion and two other websites.
The study is designed and carried out by Helen De Cruz, postdoctoral fellow of the British Academy at the University of Oxford. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact helen.decruz- at – philosophy.ox.ac.uk. To participate, please click here or paste this link in your browser: https://surveys.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_9TFkp1QkxnZkdTL