Volume 1: Religious Philosophy as Multidisciplinary Comparative Inquiry


What can philosophy contribute to the study of religion? The answer to this question depends on the kind of philosophy we have in mind. Religious Philosophy argues that the study of religion needs philosophy in the form of multidisciplinary comparative inquiry. This argument challenges a widespread belief that philosophical reflection and the academic study of religion are independent ventures always best pursued separately.

Religious Philosophy surveys the tasks and types and traditions of religious philosophy as they arc across the world’s religious and philosophical traditions and through the variety of intellectual ventures that human beings undertake. The book offers a strong reading of these existing efforts in order to define the venture of religious philosophy as a type of multidisciplinary comparative inquiry. It situates this kind of philosophical inquiry within a general theory of rationality so as to show its relevance to the study of religion as well as its intelligibility and feasibility. Framed in this way, religious philosophy is a field related to but much broader than, and without some of the difficulties of, traditional philosophy of religion. It has great promise because it takes full advantage of the advent of comparative philosophy and the emergence of novel multidisciplinary approaches to religion that make explicit use of the natural and human sciences.

Existentially potent questions about the meaning of reality and the wellsprings of value arise constantly within human life, including within the socially intricate and morally potent worlds of religious beliefs and practices. It is preeminently the task of religious philosophy to pursue such questions as far as possible, drawing on insights from numerous wisdom traditions and all relevant academic disciplines, and penetrating into the very ground of nature and experience in search of the most compelling theoretically voiced answers. Religious philosophy also seeks to generate interpretations of every kind of religious phenomena, from the mundane to the sublime and from individual experiences to social practices, particularly in relation to the questions of meaning, truth, and value that properly belong to philosophy.

How far can religious philosophy as multidisciplinary comparative inquiry go? Having blocked objections to the very possibility of religious philosophy, the fallibilist theory of rationality that frames the analysis renders the “future prospects” issue an empirical question: we have to try and see. Existing multidisciplinary and comparative efforts in religious philosophy are sometimes markedly different from traditional forms of philosophy of religion in both appearance and substance. Moreover, religious philosophy as multidisciplinary comparative inquiry can rise above the difficulties of disciplinary parochialism and covert religious bias that plague some traditional forms of philosophy of religion. This removes much of the basis for objections to the possibility and value of philosophical approaches to religious topics. Thus, the prospects for religious philosophy are wide open.

The efforts of religious philosophy are not directed toward the identity interests of any particular religious community, and indeed may sometimes confound those interests. Yet religious philosophy can help religious people gain a more sophisticated self-understanding, even as it helps any person gain a deeper understanding of religious beliefs and practices. Religious philosophy also operates contrary to the exclusively objectifying and distancing strategies of inquiry sometimes used within the scientific study of religion, instead concerning itself with the internal self-understandings of religious people as well as externally measurable features of religious behavior. In all, religious philosophy offers a continuum of inquiries that fully acknowledge the integrity of religion while engaging questions of meaning and truth that are vital for religious people and groups.

Objections to a role for philosophy in the study of religion are prevalent in many higher education contexts at the present time, as evidenced by declining employment opportunities in philosophy of religion within North America and by outspoken critics of any attempt to engage and evaluate religious truth claims, meanings, and values within the academic study of religion. Religious Philosophy concludes with an argument that religious philosophy understood as multidisciplinary comparative inquiry has a natural and vital place within the modern university commensurate with its indispensability for the academic study of religion and its embrace of a secular morality of inquiry.

Distinctive Features

Religious Philosophy has a number of distinctive features.

  • It recognizes the actual diversity of tasks and types and traditions within religious philosophy in a novel and relatively comprehensive way.
  • It articulates religious philosophy as multidisciplinary comparative inquiry.
  • It places the activities of religious philosophy within the framework of a robust and flexible theory of rationality, thereby explaining its possibility and estimating its prospects.
  • It connects the possibility and problems of religious philosophy to cutting-edge debates about modernity and postmodernity, disciplinary and cultural incommensurability, objectivity and fairness.
  • It furnishes a theoretical framework for the emerging fields of comparative theology and comparative philosophy.
  • It directly addresses the controversial question about the place of religious philosophy in the modern university.

Table of Contents


Chapter 1. Religious Philosophy among Kindred Disciplines

Religious Philosophy as a Form of Philosophy
Religious Philosophy as a Form of Religious Studies
Religious Philosophy as a Form of Theology

Chapter 2. Tasks, Contexts, and Traditions of Religious Philosophy

Tasks of Religious Philosophy
Contexts of Religious Philosophy
Traditions of Religious Philosophy

Chapter 3. Religious Philosophy, Modernity, and Postmodernity

The Successes and Failures of Modern Epistemology
The Successes and Failures of Postmodern Criticism
Beyond Modernity and Postmodernity
Postmodernism and Apophasis in Religious Philosophy

Chapter 4. Religious Philosophy and Multidisciplinarity

The Importance of Multidisciplinarity in Religious Philosophy
Case Studies on Multidisciplinarity
Incommensurability as Invitation

Chapter 5. Religious Philosophy and Comparison

What is Comparison?
Comparing Approaches to Comparative Philosophy
Comparison and Religious Philosophy

Chapter 6. A Pragmatic Theory of Inquiry

Problem Solving and Inquiry
The Biological and Sociological Basis of Inquiry
Controversial Features of the Pragmatic Theory of Inquiry

Chapter 7. Religious Philosophy and Inquiry

Religious Dimensions of Inquiry
Religious Philosophy and the Demarcation Problem
Case Study: Religious Philosophy, Religion, and Secularism

Chapter 8. Traditions in Transformation

The Ontotheological Tradition
The Cosmotheological Tradition
The Physicotheological Tradition
The Psychotheological Tradition
The Axiotheological Tradition
The Mysticotheological Tradition
Status Report

Afterword: Religious Philosophy in the Modern University

Summary of the Deconstructive Case in Support of Religious Philosophy
Summary of the Constructive Case in Support of Religious Philosophy
Religious Philosophy and the Diversity of Higher Education





Blurbs and Links

“This is an immensely ambitious and wide-ranging book, advocating ‘religious philosophy’ as a multidisciplinary comparative inquiry, with an important part to play in any liberal college education. It expounds a view of rational inquiry as fallibilist, hypothetical and pragmatic. Although it is primarily an inquiry into the methodology of religious philosophy, in fact it provides a mine of information about postmodernity, comparative religion, and trends in modern philosophy of religion, among other things. The book sets a positive agenda for future work in theology, religious studies, and comparative philosophy. It is an agenda that is new, well argued, and which I hope will be very influential in higher education, and it is set to be a formative work in the field.” — Keith Ward, Emeritus Regius Professor, Oxford University”

SUNY’s page for Religious Philosophy