Oxford University Press recently released In Our Own Image: Anthropomorphism, Apophaticism, and Ultimacy. You can find out more about the book here. This is the second volume in my Religious Philosophy series, and the fourth of six to appear. The sixth volume, fifth to appear, is Effing the Ineffable, coming out with SUNY in mid-2018. That leaves just one more volume to get out the door: volume 3 on Science and Ultimate Reality.
Friends tell me they have been biding their time, waiting to see me write more directly on ultimate reality. In Our Own Image does that, in a comparative way, but also in a constructive theoretical way, working across disciplines and religious-philosophical traditions, as is usual within my home turf of transreligious philosophical theology and philosophy of religion. The Mystical Philosophy series is devoted to that task but supporters and critics no longer have to wonder what I think about ultimate reality.
Some of my books stay with me more than others. This one is like that. The insights documented in its pages strike me as stable – not a small thing – and potentially important for comparative philosophical analysis of conceptual models of ultimate reality.
I’m eager to get the final volume of the Religious Philosophy Series published so that I can move on to the Mystical Philosophy Series. But the Outreach Series is taking up a lot of time right now, with a string of books in the hopper. As usual in this business, everything is about time management and clear-headed goals. I’m pretty good at both of those things, but unfortunately they are not always in sync.
I hope a few people benefit from In Our Own Image. Theologians and philosophers are still getting used to the idea of transreligious theology, as well as radical multidisciplinary approaches to philosophy of religion and philosophical theology, I realize. But this is an accessible instance of these features and good opportunity to consider fundamental questions in philosophical theology and philosophy of religion.
Open Theology has just published its special themed section on “Theology Without Walls” (also known as Transreligious Theology). The themed section is entitled “Is Transreligious Theology Possible?” and edited by the inimitable Jerry Martin. My article in this collection is here. The Table of Contents is below and you can find full-text versions of all articles here.
Here’s the introduction to my contribution:
Transreligious theology is possible. We have a manifesto in Wilfred Cantwell Smith’s Toward a World Theology. We have a large number of books and articles (including several of my own). We even have a systematic theology in the form of Robert Neville’s three-volume Philosophical Theology. The question is no longer if transreligious theology can be done; now we need to talk concretely about how to do it. With the latter issue in mind, in what follows I briefly discuss five helpful interpretative angles on transreligious theology, five valuable resources for transreligious theology, and five daunting challenges facing transreligious theology. I conclude with reflections on what it might mean for transreligious theology to transcend religion altogether, to become postreligious theology or even nonreligious theology.
Here are the contents of the themed section.
- “Introduction to the Topical Issue “Is Transreligious Theology Possible?” by Martin, Jerry L.
- “Theology Without Walls: The Future of Transreligious Theology” by Wildman, Wesley J.
- “Transreligious Theology as the Quest for Interreligious Wisdom: Defining by Defending, and Teaching Transreligious Theology” by Thatamanil, John J.
- “Theology Without Walls: Sic et Non” by Feldmeier, Peter
- “Myself, Only Moreso: Conditions for the Possibility of Transreligious Theology” by Hustwit, J. R.
- “Interspiritual Theology as a Radical Potential for New Vistas in Theological Thought” by McEntee, Rory
- “The Breadth of the Riches: Transreligious Theology, Particularity, and Universality, Sydnor” by Jon Paul
- “Multiple Religious Orientation” by Diller, Jeanine
- “Is Transreligious Theology Unavoidable in Interreligious Theology and Dialogue?” by Gustafson, Hans
- “Trinitarian Theology between Religious Walls in the Writings of Raimon Panikkar” by Denny, Christopher
- “A ‘No’ at the Core of Life: Doing Transreligious Theology with William James” by Weidenbaum, Jonathan
- “Without Boundaries? Deriving Pluralist Theologies for Projects Using a Theology Without Walls” by Watson, Anthony J.
The Institute for the Bio-Cultural Study of Religion is a world leader in applying computer simulation and modeling to the understanding of human religion. The Institute’s Simulating Religion Project has just received three years of generous funding support from the John Templeton Foundation. The funded project is called the Modeling Religion Project (MRP) and it is the sixth project within the umbrella of the Simulating Religion Project. I’ll be leading MRP, which involves IBCSR joining forces with colleagues at the Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center at Old Dominion University (VMASC), the University of Agder in Norway, Boston University, and Babson College in Boston. There is a suite of specialized consultants from around the world and a stellar advisory board to help keep the project on track with the best guidance imaginable.
MRP brings together simulation and modeling (SAM) experts and scientific study of religion (SSR) experts in a creative and ground-breaking collaboration. MRP aims to construct a simulation-development platform to support modeling the social dynamics of religion using cognitively complex agents. The Complex Learner Agent Simulation Platform (CLASP) will allow modelers to specify the cognitive, emotional, and social characteristics of agents, the causal architecture governing how those characteristics interact, the processes by which agents learn from one another, and the types of groups that agents can form—with no coding. This in turn will facilitate testing of theories of religion through virtual experimentation. A Civilizational Transformation Model (CTM) will be developed using CLASP to simulate the role of religion in large-scale civilizational change. The development of CTM will require conceptual breakthroughs in the integration of the major theories of religion and the interrelation of their postulated causal mechanisms in order to create the virtual minds of the model’s interacting agents. MRP includes a training component to introduce doctoral students and post-doctoral associates to the complexities of modeling religion using SAM techniques, and an outreach component to explain the benefits of SAM in SSR–including a documentary film on applying simulation and modeling to religion from the multi-talented Jenn Lindsay!
The Institute for the Biocultural Study of Religion has built an instant-feedback survey site for supporting research in the scientific study of religion. The site is ExploringMyReligion.org and it is currently being launched with a promotional campaign on Facebook.
ExploringMyReligion offers a punchy blog on issues related to the scientific study of religion. It’s central mission is to present surveys and give feedback to registered users. User accounts are anonymous and all surveys are connected together by an ID number that produces uniquely complex and rich datasets, which are rare and valuable for understanding religion in all its many forms.
I have recently returned from giving the Wold Lecture at Union College in Schenectady, New York. The broad theme was scientific perspectives on religious conflict and the specific focus was religious conflict due to ideological differences between liberals and conservatives. This was, in part, a report on the research I am pursuing in the Spectrums Project. My hosts were Wold Professor of Religious Studies Peter Bedford and Provost Therese McCarty. The lecture took place in the astonishing Nott Memorial (built in stages from 1858 through 1875 to 1904, and beautifully restored in the 1990s). The hospitality was wonderful, the students were fascinating, and the institutional environment struck me as the perfect liberal arts college setting.
Redpath Museum at McGill University in Montreal
I am heading to McGill University in Montreal for a symposium on the future of philosophy of religion. The April 25, 2013 event is organized by Jim Kanaris, a McGill philosopher of religion particularly interested in how the field is responding to and interacting with religious studies.
There have been quite a few conference events on the future of philosophy of religion in recent years. I suspect that this is a sign of a discipline having trouble finding its way. There are three reasons for the identity confusion that provokes pondering the future.
The Institute for American Religious and Philosophical Thought (IARPT; formerly HIARPT) is hosting its annual conference in Colorado Springs from June 11-15, 2012. The theme of the conference, according to the Call for Papers, “encompasses exploration, defense, and criticism of the various forms of metaphysical and/or religious naturalism that have been proposed in the past, are being argued for in the present, or are thought to be inviting possibilities for the future.” This theme is close to the heart of the intellectual interests of this remarkable group of intellectuals, which takes its rise from the Chicago School’s early twentieth-century naturalism, American pragmatism along the Harvard-Columbia axis, and process thought.
The group is thriving, having built upon many successful years associated with the lovely town of Highlands North Carolina and the priceless leadership of Creighton Peden. Almost everyone in the United States involved in pragmatism, naturalism, and religion has some connection with this group. it is also a close-knit group, with lots of friendships stretching across many years. This is partly because it is one of the few places where metaphysical conversations still have an honored place in American philosophical and theological discussion.
The Society for Philosophy of Religion, USA is meeting in Savannah, Georgia in February 2012. One of the sessions at that meeting will be a panel on my book, Religious Philosophy as Multidisciplinary Comparative Inquiry: Envisioning a Future for the Philosophy of Religion. Panel members are Richard Amesbury (Claremont School of Theology), Timothy Knepper (Drake University), and Kevin Schilbrack (Western Carolina University), with me responding.
The point of Religious Philosophy as Multidisciplinary Comparative Inquiry is to describe philosophy of religion not as a discipline but as a suite of related disciplinary inquiries that work both across cultures and across academic disciplines—thus, multidisciplinary, comparative inquiry. This vision of the philosophy of religion places it squarely in the secular academy rather than as an explicit adjunct or a surreptitious affiliate of any religious institution or movement. Religious philosophy, so conceived, has a future, both conceptually and institutionally, but it is one that needs to be articulated and defended, as well as contrasted with more common but intellectually less reputable forms of philosophy of religion that effectively promote particular institutionally borne religious ideologies without due concern for their rational standing in relation to the wider words of philosophy and religious studies.
The sciences of cognition and culture are profoundly transforming our understanding of the origins and functions of religion. Both experimental work and evolutionary modeling have shown convincingly that evolutionarily stabilized patterns of human cognition and social life lead naturally both to beliefs in supernatural beings (gods, bodhisattvas, ancestors, and the like) and to the formation of supernaturally reinforced and authorized coalitions (churches, temples, religious traditions, and the like). The precise mechanisms of the birth of Gods and the formation of religious rituals and groups are still very much under debate (for example, it is not clear the extent to which the underlying cognitive mechanisms are selected for this religious function or whether the function is a side effect of cognitive characteristics that emerged for reasons unrelated to religion). but the direction of travel is quite clear.
At this point, theologians (that is, religious intellectuals in any religious tradition or pursuing secular academic forms of inquiry into religious topics) are scarcely aware of these research results in the scientific study of religion and haven’t really begun to reflect on their implications for theological projects. But the question should be faced squarely: How should theologians respond to this new evidence about how human beings create gods and supernatural coalitions? What is theology after the birth of god?
Prof. LeRon Shults from the University of Agder in Kristiansand, Norway, is addressing this theme in a lecture on Wednesday November 9, 2011, beginning at 4:00pm in room B19 in 745 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, 02215 (that’s the big lecture room in the basement of the School of Theology).
Prof. LeRon Shults has invited me to travel to the University of Agder in Kristiansand, Norway, for several events in September. There will be a discussion seminar on my paper “Religion and Secularism” and an open class discussion on theology of religion focusing on chapter 7 of Religion Philosophy as Multidisciplinary Comparative Inquiry. In between, there is scheduled a public lecture entitled “What would Luther do? Religious extremism and violence in the Reformation and today.” Sadly, this is a timely topic for a country Lutheran in its roots now grappling with the horrific extremist Christian violence that unfolded there only a few short weeks ago.
The University of Agder resulted from the 1994 merger of six public regional colleges, becoming a fully accredited university in 2007. The university’s activities are gradually focusing onto two locations: the campus at Kristiansand and the new campus in Grimstad. Prof. Shults is located primarily in the Department of Religion, Philosophy and History, which is part of the Faculty of Humanities and Education on the Kristiansand campus.
Norway is geographically stunning, not least because of the vast fjords on its west and north coasts–the “crinkly edges” as the award-winning planet designer Slartibartfast described them in Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Trusting Slartibartfast in all things geographical, I intend to see one or two of the fjords, both from the water on a boat and from above as a hiker.