Access to the full content is only available to members of institutions that have purchased access. If you belong to such an institution, please log in or find out more about how to order.


Phenomenology of religion

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-K066-2
Version: v2,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 17, 2024, from

Article Summary

The phenomenology of religion is a descriptive approach to the philosophy of religion. Instead of debating whether certain religious beliefs are true, it asks the question ‘What is religion?’ It seeks to deepen our understanding of the religious life by asking what (if anything) the phenomena we normally take to be religious have in common that distinguishes them from art, ethics, magic or science. Since the search for what is common presupposes difference and brings to light an astonishing array of divergent beliefs and practices, the quest for the essence of religion unfolds quite naturally into questions of typology ‘What are the most illuminating ways of classifying religious differences?’

Sometimes the phenomenology of religion is motivated by a desire for quasi-scientific objectivity, combined with at least a soft scepticism about metaphysical speculation; if we cannot decisively resolve the metaphysical mysteries of life, people with this approach argue, at least we can give an unbiased description of those interpretations of the world we normally designate religious. At other times the phenomenology of religion has a more existential orientation: whether or not our arguments can settle questions about the ultimate shape of being, we have to choose our own mode of being-in-the-world; and if we are to decide intelligently whether or not to be religious, we need to be as clear as we can about what it means to be religious – ineluctable uncertainty may make faith something of a leap, but the leap need not be blind.

Citing this article:
Westphal, Merold. Phenomenology of religion, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-K066-2. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

Related Searches


Related Articles