Religion, philosophy of

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-K113-2
Version: v2,  Published online: 2015
Retrieved April 17, 2024, from

Article Summary

Philosophy of religion comprises philosophical reflection on a wide range of religious and religiously significant phenomena: religious belief, doctrine and practice in general; the phenomenology and cognitive significance of religious experience; the authority and reliability of religious testimony; the significance of religious diversity and disagreement; the relationship between religion (or God, or the gods) and morality; the doctrines, practices and modes of cognition distinctive to particular religious traditions; and so on. It is as old as philosophy itself and has been a standard part of Western philosophy in every period (see Religion, history of philosophy of). Since the latter half of the twentieth century, there has been a great growth of interest in it, and the range of topics that philosophers of religion have considered has expanded considerably.

Philosophy of religion is sometimes divided into philosophy of religion proper and philosophical theology. This distinction reflects the unease of an earlier period in analytic philosophy, during which philosophers felt that reflection on religion was philosophically respectable only if it abstracted away from particular religions, focusing on doctrines and problems shared in common by multiple religious traditions. But most philosophers now feel free to examine philosophically any aspect of religion, including the doctrines and practices peculiar to individual religions. Not only are the doctrines and practices of particular religions philosophically interesting in their own right, but also they often raise questions that are helpful for issues in other areas of philosophy. Reflection on the Christian notion of sanctification, for example, sheds light on certain contemporary debates over the nature of freedom of the will (see Sanctification). Likewise, reflection on Buddhist expressions of gratitude toward those who do one harm, or toward those whom one benefits, has been taken to shed light on the proper analysis of gratitude.

As a result of the blurring of boundaries between philosophy of religion proper and philosophical theology, philosophy of religion has in recent years taken on an increasingly interdisciplinary character, with work in philosophy of religion engaging to a much greater degree with relevant work in systematic theology, historical theology and cognate areas in the study of other religions. Within the analytic tradition of philosophy, this interdisciplinary shift is perhaps most visible in the rise of ‘analytic theology’ (see Analytic theology).

    Citing this article:
    Stump, Eleonore and Mike Rea. Religion, philosophy of, 2015, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-K113-2. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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