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Philosophy for the Study of Religion: Problems, Potentials, and Proposals

Panel Chair: Gabriel Levy | Thursday, August 27, 9-11 a.m. | Venue

Following a panel on “Philosophy of Science and the Study of Religion” at the 2005 IAHR Congress, published as a special issue of Religion (2009: 39/4) and a panel on “Possible Futures for Philosophy of Religion” at the 2010 Congress, published as a special issue of Studies in Religion (2012: 41/1) and also from similar panels at the North American Association for the Study of Religion and elsewhere and recent related publications such as Wesley Wildman’s Religious Philosophy as Multidisciplinary Comparative Inquiry: Envisioning a Future for the Philosophy of Religion and Kevin Schilbrack’s Philosophy of Religion: A Manifesto, we propose a session on “Philosophy for the Study of Religion: Problems, Potentials, and Proposals” explaining why the kind of integration of philosophy and the study of religion envisioned by such activities is desirable, what it might hope to achieve, and particularly moving forward to make concrete proposals for its implementation.

Steven Engler, Mark Gardiner

Philosophy and the Study of Religion: Intersection, Reciprocity, Collaboration

What role should Philosophy of Religion play in the Study of Religion? The extreme views are (i) that a Study of Religion reduces to a (suitably reformed) Philosophy of Religion and (ii) that Philosophy offers nothing of value for the Study of Religion. We suggest that the debate has taken an unproductive turn, not least due to the misleading ‘of.’ Rather, we should explore questions about Philosophy and (the Study of) Religion; we should look to philosophical advances no matter where they lie that may be of value to scholars of religion, and to any advances in the study of religion that may be of value to philosophers. This presentation will offer an informal and incomplete typology of collaborations between philosophers and scholars of religion, point to some normative implications of further collaborations, and prescribe some potentially productive directions.

Caroline Schaffalitsky de Muckadell

How to Provide a Definition of Religion

It is well known that the study of religions is abundant with definitions of religion and also that there is no sign of imminent concord on the matter among scholars. Part of the reason for this may be that discussions about definitions of religion have been tied to foundational questions such as whether definitions should be real/nominal, monothetic/polythetic, implicit/explicit, folk/expert, normative/descriptive, Western/global, and prior to/post theory. In this paper I suggest a way to bracket these and similar foundational issues in a way which allows us to proceed with the more practical task of providing a definition that is both academically fruitful and open to further refinement. I will argue that a definition is a necessary part of theorizing on religion, I will suggest a definition, but also – and more importantly – I will introduce a novel philosophical method of analysis to help provide the tools necessary to advance these discussions.

Bryan Rennie

The Undergraduate Course in Philosophy for the Study of Religions

Recent publications argue that “disciplinary” philosophy of religion has failed to differentiate itself from philosophical theology concerning the coherence of Christian belief and problems of Western monotheism. This is a significant failure to apply philosophy to all of the available data of the History of Religions. Suggestions have been made as to the direction that the philosophy of religion should take if it is to fulfill its promise as the philosophical analysis of the global human behavior identified as “religion”. I suggest an integration of Philosophy of Religion and “Theory and Method”. However, little has been done to make these theoretical interests and intentions accessible to undergraduate students so as to benefit the future study of religion. This paper proposes to describe such an undergraduate course, integrating the History and Philosophy of Religion in such a way as to benefit developing scholars of religion, whatever their future field of research.

Tim Knepper

The Comparison Project: an experimental program in comparative philosophy of religion

The Comparison Project (TCP) is an innovative, experimental approach to the philosophy of religion (at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa). Each year it organizes a series of lectures about a core, cross-cultural topic in the philosophy of religion. Specialist scholars of religion first explore this topic in their religions of expertise; comparativist philosophers of religion then raise questions of meaning, truth, and value about this topic in comparative perspective. TCP therefore stands apart from traditional, religiously narrow approaches to the philosophy of religion in its focus on historically grounded and religiously diverse acts of religious reason-giving. In its first full cycle of programming (2013-15) TCP investigated the topic of ineffability in ten different religious traditions as well as the adjacent fields of literature, poetry, music, and art. This presentation invites constructive criticism about both the specific conclusions of this programming cycle and the general goals and methods of TCP.


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