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Philosophy of Religion

Philosophy of Religion

Author: Ted Fairchild

This lesson discusses the philosophy of religion, which considers such questions as the existence or non-existence of God, the compatibility of faith and reason, and the nature of divinity, among others.

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Hello. Welcome to this tutorial on the philosophy of religion.

OK. Philosophy, religion. Put in the preposition and you identify a relationship, possibly a subject-predicate relationship that needs some exploration and investigation. Well, I'll point you in that direction by defining our terms. I'll provide a bit of history and offer some brief examples of how the philosophy of religion can and has been applied to the study of religion.

The questions and concerns of religion also concern philosophy. And they've always been good friends in this endeavor. However, the term philosophy of religion wasn't officially used until the 17th century. And it wasn't until the 18th and 19th centuries really that it became an official discipline of academic study.

One of the most well known philosophers of religion-- philosophers who approached the philosophy of religion and really helped define it as a field of study-- he had a strong religious background himself, a strong orientation, this was Hegel in Germany. His work was part of the inspired movement of German idealism, a period when many philosophers and philosopher theologians, in fact, were wrestling with the issues of faith and reason. Particularly at this time, when the discovery and advances of modern science were happening. Particularly Newton and Newtonian science. Hegel applied the structure of metaphysical and historical thought to his understanding of the religions and religious experience. You can find it in his lectures on the philosophy of religion.

So philosophy of religion asks questions about many different things. Religious pluralism and its place and significance for society. It looks at how religions deal with questions like good and evil, the existence of God, all of these questions within their respective traditions. And it's interested in the nature of religious experience and its potential relevance or not for the individual, and for the individual within society.

Unlike religious philosophy and theology however, which might be closely tied to a specific religious world view and grounded in the commitments of faith, philosophy of religion tries to do its work to ask its questions from outside any particular set of religious beliefs. In this way you might say it's more objective, or it can be, and therefore offers fresh insight that could potentially complement any particular religious view. As well as non-religious views or secular views regarding similar questions about religion, and life and death, and the human condition in general.

Because philosophy of religion is interested in religion as a social and individual practice, it engages with other disciplines like sociology, science, linguistics, et cetera. All of these complementary fields have their own interaction with religion and philosophy of religion wants to know about this as well.

Because it's subject matter that is not exclusively about philosophy, it's found to be important for many practical concerns. Like exegesis or textual analysis. For example, critical studies of religious texts like the Nag Hammadi library, which was found in Egypt in 1945. This kind of analysis could be useful for understanding certain historical elements of the Judeo-Christian tradition which in turn could have a direct influence on how these religions might be understood and practiced in the modern day.

So a few moments ago I mentioned individual and collective experiences concerning ultimate questions- questions that religious traditions are faced with on a regular basis. So history of religions, religious behavior, and custom, and various forms of religious experience. All of these are important elements for philosophy of religion.

Looking at mysticism, for example, as one type of religious experience. A philosopher of religion might incorporate other disciplines in its study and analysis like psychology and neuroscience. Certainly this interplay between the rational, the non-rational, and the extra-rational, the realm of transcendence for a mystical experience, this would be of interest to the philosopher of religion as well as the religious mystic. Rational, non-rational, extra-rational, they're all within the field of religion for the philosopher of religion.

So philosophy of religion. Let's review. Philosophy, religion. They're good friends. They've gone together for a long time. And philosophy of religion, however, is a relatively new field in terms of being an academic discipline. It really got its start the 17th century, but mostly in the 18th and 19th century. And we mentioned the work of Hegel as being a motivating force for the discipline of philosophy of religion.

So the questions of philosophy and the questions of religion, they go together. The German idealist movement and the German enlightenment and what that meant for the world brought philosophy and religion closer together, in a way. And it gave that potential, and offered that potential.

Philosophy and religion have had, like any good friendship, have had moments of separation and questioning. But this has all been dynamic material for this relationship. And it is a field that one can engage with from either within a particular religious commitment or from without. Philosophy of religion is a fairly broad and open-ended field that incorporates many different disciplines because it's interested in religious experience, the history of religions. It's interested in the philosophical questions and existential questions that religion wants to know about as well.

So it's a very dynamic, open-ended field that one might want to try to approach from an objective standpoint. However, one can orient oneself or be oriented from a religious standpoint and still engage in the philosophy of religion.

Like I mentioned, Hegel was a theologian to begin with. And he really energized this field of philosophy of religion because of his prior religious commitments and his curiosity and intrigue and fascination with this whole complex dynamism between faith and reason. Particularly with the advance and the movements of modern science.

So we did mention a couple-- I'd recommend reading some Hegel if you're interested in philosophy of religion. Just check out his lectures. They're very inspiring. And it gives you an idea of the historical evolution of some of the religions of the world. So that's it for today. Thanks.

Terms to Know

The process and methodology of accurately determining and interpreting the meaning of texts.

Philosophy of Religion

An academic discipline that considers religious questions from a broad, scholarly standpoint.