This is the twenty-first 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, 17, 18, 19 and 20. 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 Kevin Timpe, who will be the Jellema Chair of Christian Philosophy starting this fall.
Can you tell me something about your current academic position and work, and your religious affiliation/self-identification?
I’m actually in transition this summer. We’re in the process of moving to Grand Rapids, MI where I’ll be the W. H. Jellema Chair in Christian Philosophy at Calvin College starting this coming fall. I just finished my seventh year at Northwest Nazarene University in Idaho, and before that I taught for six years at the University of San Diego in southern California. As you can tell from this, I’ve been at a number of fairly different Christian universities over the course of my career.
I’m joked a few times that I’ve gone from teaching in a Catholic school to a Wesleyan school and now to a Reformed school without substantively changing my philosophical or religious views, but I actually think there’s a fair bit of truth in that description. I have a strong affinity for what my friend and frequent co-author Tim Pawl calls ‘conciliar Christianity’. I lean toward the medievals (more so than toward modern or postmodern theologians) in a lot of my theological views, which helps explain why I have many Catholic sympathies. A few of my papers have drawn heavily on parts of Augustine’s and Aquinas’s thought. Some of my views are a little unusual for a Protestant, such as my thinking that purgatory fits very nicely with what I think about character formation and a recent paper of mine exploring a particular understanding of limbo. Last year for a paper on grace, I read a fair bit of Maximus the Confessor and would love to engage his thought more in the coming years.
In terms of research, most of my early work focused on issues relating to the metaphysics of free will and various issues in the philosophy of religion. At the University of San Diego, I taught a general-education ethics course entitled “Virtues and Vices” that got me thinking more about virtue ethics, particularly about the connections between our actions and our moral character. Though initially primarily a teaching interest, I came to write some on moral character and virtue, and eventually edited a collection (with Craig Boyd) entitled Virtues and Their Vices (OUP, 2014). A little over a year ago, I started a new research project on philosophy of disability, largely as the result of having a disabled child and having to do some significant advocating for him once he entered elementary school. Though my other interests remain, I think that disability (including how it intersects with agency) will be the primary focus of my research for the next few years.
This is the fourteenth 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 and 13. 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 Michael Rea, Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Center for Philosophy of Religion at the University of Notre Dame. Most of his work to date has been in metaphysics and philosophy of religion. The project that is currently occupying most of his time is a book, and a corresponding set of lectures, on the hiddenness of God.
Can you tell me something about your current religious affiliation/self-identification?
When people ask me about my religious upbringing, I usually say that I grew up in a liberal PC-USA church with a renegade conservative Calvinist youth minister. That characterization is misleading in certain respects, but there is more truth than falsehood in it. Probably the best way to illustrate the divide is with a story. The church was (and still is) located in Redondo Beach, California—just a couple of blocks from the ocean, and just 26 miles by boat from Catalina Island, where we held our summer youth camps every year. Our camp was popular; every year some 100+ high school students attended; many would commit or recommit their lives to Christ around the campfire at the end of the week, and the ranks of our youth group were accordingly swollen for months afterward. Some of the students at camp thought that it would be extremely cool to be baptized in the ocean right there at camp; and so one year, our youth minister—not yet ordained, and not yet even a seminary graduate—obliged them. (“See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?”) Predictably, the youth minister was brought before the elders of the church. His defense appealed to scripture: Philip did not wait to be ordained by the Presbyterian Church before baptizing his Ethiopian convert; so why should he? The response from one of the elders was, “Don’t bring the Bible into this.”
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.
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 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?
In the epistemology of religion, authors like Swinburne and Alston have argued influentially that mystical experience of God provides prima facie justification for some beliefs we hold about God on the basis of such experiences, e.g., that he loves us, is sovereign etc. Belief in God, so they argue, is analogous to sense perception. If I get a mystical experience that God loves me, prima facie, I am justified in believing that God loves me.
Alston relies critically on William James’ Varieties of Religious Experience (1902). This seminal, but now dated psychological study draws on self-reports by mystics to characterize mystical experience. The mystical experiences James (and others) describe are unexpected, unbidden; they immediately present something (God) to one’s experience, i.e., they provide a direct, unmediated awareness of God. More recent empirical work on the phenomenology of religious experience, such as that conducted by Tanya Luhrmann and other anthropologists, suggests that ordinary sense perception is a poor and misleading analogy for mystical perception.
Here are two plausible necessary conditions for a law to violate freedom of religion or freedom of conscience:
- 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.
- 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.
Social Science Research Council (SSRC) has a new project and grants program, New Directions in the Study of Prayer. Supported with funding from the John Templeton Foundation and led by a multi-disciplinary advisory committee, to be chaired by Columbia University’s Courtney Bender, the program will make grants to both researchers and journalists.
Grant awards will range from $50,000 to $200,000 in the case of researchers and up to $50,000 in the case of journalists. Letters of inquiry for both fields of competition are due by December 1, 2011. Further information is available on the SSRC’s website:
A central religious practice among much of the world’s population, prayer has been a part of every known culture and is manifest in some form in every known religion. And yet scholarly research on prayer is lacking and often not concentrated in any given field or discipline. With this in mind, New Directions in the Study of Prayer will support research that adopts innovative approaches to the study of prayer and will seek to foster an interdisciplinary network of researchers dedicated to this topic.
The SSRC invites proposals from scholars in all disciplines for studies that will enhance knowledge of the social, cultural, psychological, and cognitive dimensions of prayer, and of its origins, variations, and correlations in human life, as well as from journalists interested in pursuing projects on these themes. Those researchers or journalists interested in submitting proposals are encouraged to consult the detailed Requests for Proposals posted on our website.
New Directions in the Study of Prayer is a project established in conjunction with the SSRC’s work on religion and the public sphere. For more details on the SSRC’s work on religion, please visit: http://religion.ssrc.org/.
If you have any questions regarding the new grants program or the SSRC’s broader work, please do not hesitate to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This post doesn’t come out of extensive research but just a wondering about petitionary prayer. Consider the following two scenarios:
1) When Percy learns of his wife Sally’s sickness, he says a prayer for her. However, when he hears from the doctor that this sickness is life-threatening, he calls his relatives and church community, asking them to also pray for her healing.
2) Hermione says a prayer for her friend’s well-being. However, Hermione desires more than anything else for her daughter’s well-being in college. She goes to bed every night, asking God for this.
From what I know, many religious communities find the actions in (1) and (2) to be commonplace, normal, and even rational. (We see an analogy to persistent prayer in Jesus’ parable of the woman asking the judge for justice, and we see communal prayer all throughout Acts and the epistles.) But I wonder why, exactly, more petitionary prayers are supposed to be helpful. Here are some possibilities:
Assume we know theism is true. Can we theists ever tell that our prayers have been answered? I pray for E and E occurs. Can I ever know that God acted on my prayer rather than E occurring completely independently of my prayer? It turns out that the answer is simpler than one might think, and that we can know this much more often than one might think.
Consider the property of Reasons Maximalism (RM) that an agent might have. An agent has RM if and only if whenever she chooses an action A, she chooses it on account of all the unexcluded reasons she is aware of in favor of A. Suppose, for instance, that I have a duty to visit a sick friend and I enjoy her company even when she is sick, but, on the other hand, it’s a long drive and the hospital is depressing. Nonetheless, I do visit her. If I don’t have RM, I might be visiting her only out of duty or only for pleasant companionship. But if I have RM, I am visiting her because of both duty and pleasant companionship. And if I have RM and decide not to visit her, then I will decide to do that because of both the long drive and the depressingness of the hospital.
I submit that God has RM. Being perfectly morally good and perfectly rational, in every decision God takes into consideration all the unexcluded reasons he has. Of course, in the end, it may not be possible for him to act on all the reasons, because some of the reasons will pull in different ways. But his choice will have been made on the basis of all the reasons he is aware of in favor of it. Moreover, in the case of an omniscient being, the reasons she is aware of in favor of A is the same as the reasons she has in favor of A. Thus, God chooses A on the basis of all the unexcluded reasons he has that favor A.
Now, that I’ve requested something good and grantable is always a reason to grant the request. In rare cases, it will be an excluded reason–perhaps I earlier authoritatively commanded the person to stop granting my requests for a day. But I cannot think of an exclusionary reason God might have against considering our requests for good things. (If God promised not to hear our requests, that would be an exclusionary reason, but he made no such promise.)
I don’t know exactly how to analyze “grantable”. One class of non-grantables are states of affairs ruled out by divine promises. Another class of non-grantables are states of affairs that cannot be brought about, whether because they are metaphysically impossible or because they are metaphysically necessary. It may also be that people’s free choices are non-grantables. However, perhaps when we pray that x (where x is not God) might freely do A, God reinterprets our prayer charitably as a prayer that x be given lots of reason to do A, and that is a grantable. I do not know whether things that God has already promised are grantables, but I am inclined to think they are (cf. the sick friend visit case).
So, our requests for grantable good things are always an unexcluded reason for God to grant the request, and God being omniscient is aware of this. Moreover, God is a concurrent cause in all good events (in fact, in all events, because evil is a mere privation, but nevermind that), so that all good events count as caused by God. Therefore, by RM, if I pray for grantable good, and God brings about the request, then God produces the good in part because of the request. So, a sufficient condition for my knowing that an event has happened as a result of my request is that (a) I prayed for it, (b) it was good, (c) it was grantable and (d) it occurred.
In particular cases, these conditions are very commonly satisfied. If you pray for someone’s safety during a trip, and she returns safely, she does so in part because of your prayers. If you pray that you find a lost object, and you do find it, you find it in part because of your prayers. If you pray that a friend might recover from an illness, and she recovers, she recovers in part because of your prayers.