This week’s Virtual Colloquium paper is “The Shattered Spiritual Self” by Michelle Panchuk. Dr. Panchuk received her PhD from the University of South Carolina in 2016, and is currently a research fellow at the Notre Dame Center for Philosophy of Religion. Her previous work, some of which has been published in International Philosophical Quarterly, has focused on the relationship between classical theism and the metaphysics of universals. Currently, she is working on a monograph on the topic of religious trauma.
The Shattered Spiritual Self
Philosophical Reflections on Religious Trauma, Worship, and Deconversion
In this paper I argue that we should understand religious trauma as a kind of transformative experience that diminishes the individual’s capacity to engage in religious life, and that this diminished capacity is sometimes so severe that it constitutes an all-things-considered reason for the individual to deconvert, whether or not she maintains the beliefs associated with her former religion. In the first section I provide an introduction to trauma in a general sense. In the second I suggest two criteria that trauma must meet to count as religious trauma and then sketch a working definition of it. In the third section I narrow the scope of discussion to the non- cognitive effects of religious trauma and analyze two case studies relative to those effects. In the final section I argue that the non-cognitive effects of religious trauma may place worship out of reach of some survivors of religious trauma, and that this can give them an all-things-considered reason to deconvert. Even if this last argument fails to persuade the reader, I believe that this paper will successfully demonstrate that religious trauma is a kind of experience that deserves serious philosophical and theological consideration.
In its most severe forms trauma has devastating effects on the individual’s ability to function and flourish. Trauma theorists divide the effects of trauma into two categories: the epistemic/cognitive effects and the non-cognitive—emotional and physiological—effects. Examples of the former are things like believing oneself to be fundamentally unsafe in the world, while examples of the latter include intrusive memories, hyperarousal, hypervigilance, and sleep disturbances. At least two conditions must be met for an experience to count as religiously traumatic. First, the trauma must be inflicted by some aspect of the religion, and second, its effects must have a religious object. The fact that only a portion of the individuals who experience trauma more generally develop a post-traumatic disorder suggests that only a portion of those who endure a religiously traumatic experience will develop religiously significant post- traumatic distress, but there simply isn’t enough research to say exactly how common it is. It is enough for our current purposes that religious trauma exists, and as I will show below, raises philosophical questions about religious faith in those cases. Thus, I will define religious trauma as: any traumatic experience of the divine being, religious community, religious dogma, or religious practice that transforms the individual, either epistemically or non-cognitively, in such a way that her ability to participate in religious life is significantly diminished.
According to our definition, trauma is a kind of lived experience. It does not result from theoretical reasoning when someone contemplates the ontological argument and infers that it is invalid. The experience itself transforms the individual, and that transformation involves both epistemic and non-cognitive changes. Epistemically, the subject gains knowledge of what the experience is like, which would have been impossible for them to gain otherwise. Though this is knowledge gained, we may include it as an aspect of the shattered self because it does not involve propositions inferred from the experience. Personally, they may experience a range of changes in their values, preferences, and non-cognitive responses to religious life. For the most part, these results are outside of the individuals’ conscious control.
In most religions, maintaining the relevant set of propositional attitudes is not a sufficient condition for counting oneself an adherent of the religion. What is required beyond the appropriate propositional attitudes, we may call worship in a broad sense (e.g., religious rituals, proper attitudes toward the sacred and the divine, etc). However, there is another sense of ‘worship’ that is much more narrow, referring only to the attitudinal aspects of worship, so we can distinguish between the practice of worship and the attitude of worship, for the sake of simplicity. In this narrow sense, worship involves loving, adoring, revering, and desiring the divine being. Survivors of religious trauma may find themselves unable to worship according to the demands of their religion in both the broad and the narrow senses. If a survivor experiences intrusive memories while engaging in religious rituals, it may become physically and psychologically impossible for her to fulfill them. This would be an obstacle to worship in the broad sense. If, however, she experiences deep revulsion and utter terror toward the divine being, then even worship in the narrow sense may be out of reach, because the proper emotions are partially constitutive of this sense of worship. I argue that not only is the survivor of religious trauma nonculpable for these non-cognitive effects of trauma, but that in cases where they are severe enough to preclude that attitudinal state constitutive of worship, they may constitute and all-things considered reason to deconvert.
The complete paper is available here.
Welcome to the first Virtual Colloquium of the spring term! Today’s paper is “Anselm, not Alston: The Reference of ‘God’ Revisited” by H.D.P. Burling. Hugh Burling is a PhD student at the University of Cambridge (UK) and a Visiting Graduate Fellow at the Center for Philosophy of Religion at the University of Notre Dame. He work has been published in Religious Studies. His research concerns religious disagreement, method in theology, and the concept of God.
Anselm, not Alston: The Reference of ‘God’ Revisited.
We instinctively characterise religious disagreement as disagreement either about what there is, or about what the same thing – God – is like. A common dialectical move made in modern theology, both academic and popular, sits between these two possibilities. Often, we read a theist of one stripe claiming that theists of another stripe don’t worship the same God. They are ‘idolaters’, or, more diplomatically, they just so badly misconceive God that they don’t ‘mean’ the same ‘thing’ by His names. It is not easy to explain what is mistaken about this move when it seems mistaken. My first publication concerned a particular version of it, in which natural theology is attacked as having to do with some other being than the God Christianity concerns. ‘Debunking’ local instances of the manoeuvre is worthwhile, but I wasn’t satisfied, and wanted a more general strategy which might show what is wrong with adopting partisan definitions of ‘God’ in order to avoid deeper engagement with others’ claims about God.
The strategy I adopt in the following article is to regard that manoeuvre as just one of the many features of theistic religious language which is curious – one of the explananda for a semantics for theism. So, we start by asking what we ‘mean’ by ‘God’, and answer that question by attempting to infer the rules of the ‘theology game’ by watching people play it. The conclusion I come to is that ‘God’ implicitly denotes, in Russell’s sense, whichever being is worthy of our worship. This secures co-reference between theists of extremely different stripes, whilst explaining the high-stakes nature of theological disagreement, and why parties to it o not just ‘walk away’ when apparent parity is reached, or one party attempts to squirrel his definition of “God” in favour of his claims about God. If both parties implicitly understand something Anselmian by ‘God’, then when the Christian insists that by ‘God’ he just means the Holy Trinity, the Muslim’s response to this makes sense. Rather than walking away (‘If they’re what you mean by ‘God’, I don’t care what you claim about them’), she will challenge him.
The article itself shows how my crypto-Anselmian understanding of God copes better with other desiderata for a semantics for theism than rival theories in the nascent literature. The view I defend makes it very easy for humans to successfully pick out God with ‘God’ because the basic ethics of worship are something we pick up fast, and, plausibly, most of us are introduced to God-talk in an appropriate context to get stuck in with worshipping the One we intentionally pick out with that Name. Kripkean views according to which ‘God’ is a proper name whose reference is passed down via a causal chain, however, threaten ease of access for speakers because the chain is so messy and fragile. Non-Anselmian descriptivist views struggle because their content is often harder for speakers to have in mind.
I hope the article is persuasive in defending a view about the semantics of ‘God’ which, I think, is the best candidate for being ‘the’ traditional view. (I think that Anselmian descriptivisms, and descriptivisms which appeal to lists of metaphysical divine names, only come apart in practice when our axiologies do not reflect those of the theologians responsible for the lists of divine names.) But I also hope it’s persuasive to theologians who lean towards identifying God in a confessional manner. Otherwise, I think identifying God the way I do can help explain a lot about the commonalities between different behaviours and literatures we call ‘religious’.
Within the scope of the article, I do not have space to go through alternative iterations of the ‘Specified Singleton’ view, other than my preferred option. So I’d be particularly curious to hear about alternatives which strike readers as preferable.
The complete paper is available here
Today’s Virtual Colloquium paper is “Against Religious Indifference” by Joe Milburn. Dr. Milburn recently received his PhD from the University of Pittsburgh and is now a Research Fellow at the Notre Dame Center for Philosophy of Religion. His papers have appeared in journals such as Metaphilosophy and Philosophia.
Against Religious Indifference
I want to thank Kenny Pearce for allowing me to present at the Prosblogion Online Colloquium. I want to thank in advance all who participate in the colloquium. I hope you enjoy reading my paper and that it stimulates your own thinking.
This paper is inspired by some of the remarks Pascal makes in F 427 of the Pensées. There, Pascal makes the following claim.
The immortality of the soul is something of such vital importance to us, affecting us so deeply, that one must have lost all feeling not to care about knowing the facts of the matter. All our actions and thoughts must follow such different paths, according to whether there is hope of eternal blessings or not, that the only possible way of acting with sense and judgement is decide our course in the light of this point, which out to be our ultimate object. Thus our chief interest and chief duty is to seek enlightenment on this subject, on which all our conduct depends. [Krailsheimer translation]
In this paper I attempt to unpack in my own way Pascal’s comments above. I make the following argument.
(P1) We should not be in a state of disengaged agnosticism regarding fundamentally significant questions.
(P2) But fundamental religious questions are fundamentally significant questions.
(C) Therefore, we should not be in a state of disengaged agnosticism regarding fundamental religious questions.
To be in a state of disengaged agnosticism regarding a question is to suspend judgment regarding this question and not look for a (good) answer to it. An individual S suspends judgment regarding a question, q, just in case S believes that there is an answer to q, and they judge that they don’t know the answer to q.
A question q is a fundamentally significant question for an individual S, just in case S recognizes (or can be expected to recognize) that she could give a wrong answer to q and that answering q is either a necessary means to, or constitutive of, her answering one of the following questions: What constitutes my flourishing? What are the central duties in my life? What is the purpose of my life?
I stipulate that there are two fundamental religious questions: the question of salvation “might I be saved and how?” and the question of the sacred “is there anything sacred, such that my flourishing consists in worshipping it; or such that one of my central duties is to worship it; or such that the purpose in my life is to worship it?”
I argue for P1 by taking it as given that we should not be in a state of disengaged agnosticism regarding the following questions: What constitutes my flourishing? What are the central duties in my life? What is the purpose of my life?
If we suspend judgment regarding a fundamentally significant question then we should suspend judgment regarding these questions concerning flourishing, central duties, and purpose. Thus, given my assumption, we should inquire into these questions. But in order to answer these questions about flourishing, central duties, and purpose, we must answer the fundamentally significant question for which we have suspended judgment. So inquiring into the fundamentally significant question is either a necessary means for, or constitutive of, inquiring into these questions about flourishing, central duties, and purpose. Thus, given that we should take the necessary means to our ends, if we suspend judgment into a fundamentally significant question, we should inquire into it.
I spend a little time trying to show that what I am calling the fundamental religious questions are fundamentally significant questions.
Finally, I spend a little time responding to what I call the waste of time objection. This objection goes as follows.
(P1*) We should not inquire into questions if we know on the outset that we cannot find good answers for them.
(P2*) But we know on the outset that it is impossible to find good answers to the fundamental religious questions.
(C*) Therefore, we should not inquire into fundamental religious questions.
In my response to the waste of time objection I put pressure on both of the first two premises. I point out that skeptics seem to call (P1) into question. (Here I have in mind Licentius’s view in Book I of Augustine’s Contra Academicos that human happiness consists in seeking for the truth, not in finding it.) I also point out that P2 is hard to establish in a way that does not undermine P2 itself.
I am thankful for any comments, but I would especially like feed-back on the following: 1.) Is it ok for me to assume that we shouldn’t be in a state of disengaged agnosticism regarding the questions, What constitutes my flourishing? What are my central duties? What is my purpose in life? 2.) Are there better ways of formulating the waste-of-time-objection than I have? 3.) Are there better ways of formulating my argument for P1?
Once again, thank you for this opportunity!
The full paper is available here. Comments welcome below!
This is the nineteenth 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 and 18. 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 J. Aaron Simmons, Associate Professor in philosophy at Furman University, Greenville, South Carolina.
Can you tell me something about your current academic position and work, and your religious affiliation/self-identification?
Currently, I am an Associate Professor in the Philosophy Department at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina. I have been at Furman for five years and prior to coming here I held positions at Hendrix College, The University of the South (Sewanee), and Vanderbilt University.
Most of my work is in philosophy of religion and occurs in light of phenomenology and existentialism. That said, I have also done work in political philosophy, environmental philosophy, and the history of philosophy (especially focusing on the thought of Søren Kierkegaard, Emmanuel Levinas, and the “new phenomenology” of Michel Henry, Levinas, Jacques Derrida, Jean-Louis Chrétien, and Jean-Luc Marion).
In general, there are two questions that keep me up at night and continue to cause me to get up every morning and keep working. The first is “What are the possibilities for and the fate of determinate religious belief and identity in postmodernism?” The second is “How might philosophers stop calling for the overcoming of the so-called analytic/continental divide and simply do constructive work that no longer reinforces the divide?” Ultimately, these two questions dovetail together in my thinking and writing.more…
This is the tenth 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 and 9. 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 James Faulconer, professor of philosophy at Brigham Young University. His area specialization is on contemporary European philosophy, particularly Heidegger and French thought from approximately 1960 to the present.
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 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.
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.
On behalf of John Hick’s daughter Ele:
For any queries please contact her directly (firstname.lastname@example.org ).
My brothers and I would like to thank you all for the wonderful support we have received from you all. The messages we have received have been so generous and we have particularly appreciated that you speak so warmly of John the friend and person you knew as well as John the academic, scholar and philosopher.
I shall be collecting up all of those tributes and messages which will be posted on John’s website in due course. A life well lived without doubt!
My brothers and I wish to make an open invitation to friends, colleagues and students of John’s work to attend a memorial service for John to take place on Friday May 11th at Carrs Lane Church Centre, Birmingham B4 7SX. It will be at 2pm.
We are still working on the details but wanted to give you the date as soon as possible. One reason for choosing this particular venue is that is large enough to enable all who wish to attend to do so. The other reason is that he had long associations with Carrs Lane.
We anticipate that we will invite a small number of speakers to reflect on John’s life and work and will then hold a Quaker service (meeting) reflecting his choice of worship. Refreshments will be available after the service and hopefully plenty of opportunity for family, friends and colleagues to meet and talk together.
I will be in touch in due course with final details, maps etc. In the meanwhile, if you know you are likely to attend or know of others who intend to come, it would be helpful to know.
Ele Hick (email@example.com)
- Every attitude that humans take that cannot be constructed out of simpler attitudes is appropriate on some occasions. (Premise)
- There are properly religious attitudes that humans take that cannot be constructed out of simpler attitudes. (Premise)
- Therefore, some properly religious attitudes are appropriate on some occasions. (by 1 and 2)
- If a properly religious attitude is appropriate, then there is a numinous being. (Premise)
- If there is a numinous being, there is a supernatural and numinous being. (Premise)
- Thus, there is a supernatural and numinous being. (by 3-5)
The argument is valid, but has four premises, not one of which is uncontroversial. [The above has been edited: The first version of the argument had "holy" in place of "numinous" in 5, which mistake a sharp-eyed commenter pointed out. A typo was also fixed. – ARP]