Religion and Human Purpose: A Cross Disciplinary Approach (Studies in Philosophy and Religion)

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Arguably, in the Christian understanding of values, an evident relationship with God is part of the highest human good, and if God were loving, God would bring about such a good.


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Because there is evidence that God does not make Godself available to earnest seekers of such a relationship, this is evidence that such a God does not exist. The argument applies beyond Christian values and theism, and to any concept of God in which God is powerful and good and such that a relationship with such a good God would be fulfilling and good for creatures. It would not work with a concept of God as we find, for example, in the work of Aristotle in which God is not lovingly and providentially engaged in the world. This line of reasoning is often referred to in terms of the hiddenness of God.

Another interesting development has been advanced by Sandra Menssen and Thomas Sullivan. In philosophical reflection about God the tendency has been to give priority to what may be called bare theism assessing the plausibility of there being the God of theism rather than a more specific concept of God. This priority makes sense insofar as the plausibility of a general thesis there are mammals on the savanna will be greater than a more specific thesis there are 12, giraffes on the savanna.

In terms of the order of inquiry, it may be helpful at times, to consider more specific philosophical positions—for example, it may seem at first glance that materialism is hopeless until one engages the resources of some specific materialist account that involves functionalism—but, arguably, this does not alone offset the logical primacy of the more general thesis whether this is bare theism or bare materialism. Perhaps the import of the Menssen-Sullivan proposal is that philosophers of religion need to enhance their critical assessment of general positions along with taking seriously more specific accounts about the data on hand e.

Evidentialism has been challenged on many grounds. Some argue that it is too stringent; we have many evident beliefs that we would be at a loss to successfully justify. Instead of evidentialism, some philosophers adopt a form of reliabilism, according to which a person may be justified in a belief so long as the belief is produced by a reliable means, whether or not the person is aware of evidence that justifies the belief.

Two movements in philosophy of religion develop positions that are not in line with the traditional evidential tradition: reformed epistemology and volitional epistemology. Reformed epistemology has been championed by Alvin Plantinga — and Nicholas Wolterstorff — , among others. While this sense of God may not be apparent due to sin, it can reliably prompt persons to believe in God and support a life of Christian faith.

While this prompting may play an evidential role in terms of the experience or ostensible perception of God, it can also warrant Christian belief in the absence of evidence or argument see K. In the language Plantinga introduced, belief in God may be as properly basic as our ordinary beliefs about other persons and the world. The framework of Reformed epistemology is conditional as it advances the thesis that if there is a God and if God has indeed created us with a sensus divinitatis that reliably leads us to believe truly that God exists, then such belief is warranted.

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There is a sense in which Reformed epistemology is more of a defensive strategy offering grounds for thinking that religious belief, if true, is warranted rather than providing a positive reason why persons who do not have or believe they have a sensus divinitatis should embrace Christian faith. Plantinga has argued that at least one alternative to Christian faith, secular naturalism, is deeply problematic, if not self-refuting, but this position if cogent has been advanced more as a reason not to be a naturalist than as a reason for being a theist.

Reformed epistemology is not ipso facto fideism.


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Fideism explicitly endorses the legitimacy of faith without the support, not just of propositional evidence, but also of reason MacSwain By contrast, Reformed epistemology offers a metaphysical and epistemological account of warrant according to which belief in God can be warranted even if it is not supported by evidence and it offers an account of properly basic belief according to which basic belief in God is on an epistemic par with our ordinary basic beliefs about the world and other minds which seem to be paradigmatically rational.

Nonetheless, while Reformed epistemology is not necessarily fideistic, it shares with fideism the idea that a person may have a justified religious belief in the absence of evidence. Consider now what is called volitional epistemology in the philosophy of religion. Paul Moser has systematically argued for a profoundly different framework in which he contends that if the God of Christianity exists, this God would not be evident to inquirers who for example are curious about whether God exists.

This process might involve persons receiving accepting the revelation of Jesus Christ as redeemer and sanctifier who calls persons to a radical life of loving compassion, even the loving of our enemies. The terrain covered so far in this entry indicates considerable disagreement over epistemic justification and religious belief. If the experts disagree about such matters, what should non-experts think and do?

Or, putting the question to the so-called experts, if you as a trained inquirer disagree about the above matters with those whom you regard as equally intelligent and sensitive to evidence, should that fact alone bring you to modify or even abandon the confidence you hold concerning your own beliefs? Some philosophers propose that in the case of disagreements among epistemic peers, one should seek some kind of account of the disagreement.

For example, is there any reason to think that the evidence available to you and your peers differs or is conceived of differently. Perhaps there are ways of explaining, for example, why Buddhists may claim not to observe themselves as substantial selves existing over time whereas a non-Buddhist might claim that self-observation provides grounds for believing that persons are substantial, enduring agents David Lund The non-Buddhist might need another reason to prefer her framework over the Buddhist one, but she would at least perhaps have found a way of accounting for why equally reasonable persons would come to different conclusions in the face of ostensibly identical evidence.

Assessing the significance of disagreement over religious belief is very different from assessing the significance of disagreement in domains where there are clearer, shared understandings of methodology and evidence. For example, if two equally proficient detectives examine the same evidence that Smith murdered Jones, their disagreement should other things being equal lead us to modify confidence that Smith is guilty, for the detectives may be presumed to use the same evidence and methods of investigation.

But in assessing the disagreements among philosophers over for example the coherence and plausibility of theism, philosophers today often rely on different methodologies phenomenology, empiricism, conceptual or linguistic analysis, structural theory, post-structuralism, psychoanalysis, and so on. But what if a person accepts a given religion as reasonable and yet acknowledges that equally reasonable, mature, responsible inquirers adopt a different religion incompatible with her own and they all share a similar philosophical methodology? This situation is not an abstract thought experiment.

One option would be to adopt an epistemological pluralism, according to which persons can be equally well justified in affirming incompatible beliefs. This option would seem to provide some grounds for epistemic humility Audi ; Ward , , At the end of this section, two observations are also worth noting about epistemic disagreements. First, our beliefs and our confidence in the truth of our beliefs may not be under our voluntary control. Perhaps you form a belief of the truth of Buddhism based on what you take to be compelling evidence.

Even if you are convinced that equally intelligent persons do not reach a similar conclusion, that alone may not empower you to deny what seems to you to be compelling. Second, if the disagreement between experts gives you reason to abandon a position, then the very principle you are relying on one should abandon a belief that X if experts disagree about X would be undermined, for experts disagree about what one should do when experts disagree. For overviews and explorations of relevant philosophical work in a pluralistic setting, see New Models of Religious Understanding edited by Fiona Ellis and Renewing Philosophy of Religion edited by Paul Draper and J.

The relationship between religion and science has been an important topic in twentieth century philosophy of religion and it seems highly important today. This section begins by considering the National Academy of Sciences and Institute of Medicine now the National Academy of Medicine statement on the relationship between science and religion:. Science and religion are based on different aspects of human experience. In science, explanations must be based on evidence drawn from examining the natural world. Scientifically based observations or experiments that conflict with an explanation eventually must lead to modification or even abandonment of that explanation.

Religious faith, in contrast, does not depend only on empirical evidence, is not necessarily modified in the face of conflicting evidence, and typically involves supernatural forces or entities. Because they are not a part of nature, supernatural entities cannot be investigated by science. In this sense, science and religion are separate and address aspects of human understanding in different ways. Attempts to pit science and religion against each other create controversy where none needs to exist. NASIM This view of science and religion seems promising on many fronts.

Neither God nor Allah nor Brahman the divine as conceived of in Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism is a physical or material object or process. It seems, then, that the divine or the sacred and many other elements in world religions meditation, prayer, sin and forgiveness, deliverance from craving can only be indirectly investigated scientifically.

So, a neurologist can produce detailed studies of the brains of monks and nuns when they pray and meditate, and there can be comparative studies of the health of those who practice a religion and those who do not, but it is very hard to conceive of how to scientifically measure God or Allah or Brahman or the Dao, heaven, and so on. Despite the initial plausibility of the Academies stance, however, it may be problematic.

Science, Religion and the Origins of the Universe

The later are a panoply of what is commonly thought of as preposterous superstition. The similarity of the terms supernatural and superstitious may not be an accident. Moving beyond this minor point about terminology, religious beliefs have traditionally and today been thought of as subject to evidence. Evidence for religious beliefs have included appeal to the contingency of the cosmos and principles of explanation, the ostensibly purposive nature of the cosmos, the emergence of consciousness, and so on.

Evidence against religious belief have included appeal to the evident, quantity of evil in the cosmos, the success of the natural sciences, and so on. One reason, however, for supporting the Academies notion that religion and science do not overlap is the fact that in modern science there has been a bracketing of reference to minds and the mental.

That is, the sciences have been concerned with a mind-independent physical world, whereas in religion this is chiefly a domain concerned with mind feelings, emotions, thoughts, ideas, and so on , created minds and in the case of some religions the mind of God. The science of Kepler, Copernicus, Galileo, and Newton was carried out with an explicit study of the world without appeal to anything involving what today would be referred to as the psychological, the mind or the mental.

The bracketing of mind from the physical sciences was not a sign of early scientists having any doubts about the existence, power and importance of minds. That is, from Kepler through Newton and on to the early twentieth century, scientists themselves did not doubt the causal significance of minds; they simply did not include minds their own or the minds of others among the data of what they were studying. But interestingly, each of the early modern scientists believed that what they were studying was in some fashion made possible by the whole of the natural world terrestrial and celestial being created and sustained in existence by a Divine Mind, an all good, necessarily existing Creator.

They had an overall or comprehensive worldview according to which science itself was reasonable and made sense. Scientists have to have a kind of faith or trust in their methods and that the cosmos is so ordered that their methods are effective and reliable. Whether there is sufficient evidence for or against some religious conception of the cosmos will be addressed in section 4.

Let us contrast briefly, however, two very different views on whether contemporary science has undermined religious belief. We know, but our ancestors did not, that humans belong to a single species of African primate that developed agriculture, government, and writing late in its history.

We know that our species is a tiny twig of a genealogical tree that embraces all living things and that emerged from prebiotic chemicals almost four billion years ago. There is no such thing as fate, providence, karma, spells, curses, augury, divine retribution, or answered prayer—though the discrepancy between the laws of probability and the workings of cognition may explain why people think there is. Pinker Following up on Pinker, it should be noted that it would not be scientifically acceptable today to appeal to miracles or to direct acts of God.

Any supposed miracle would to many, if not all scientists be a kind of defeat and to welcome an unacceptable mystery. This is why some philosophers of science propose that the sciences are methodologically atheistic. As Michael Ruse points out:. The arguments that are given for suggesting that science necessitates atheism are not convincing. There is no question that many of the claims of religion are no longer tenable in light of modern science. But more sophisticated Christians know that already.

The thing is that these things are not all there is to religions, and many would say that they are far from the central claims of religion—God existing and being creator and having a special place for humans and so forth. Ruse 74— Ruse goes on to note that religions address important concerns that go beyond what is approachable only from the standpoint of the natural sciences.

Why is there something rather than nothing? What is the purpose of it all? And somewhat more controversially what are the basic foundations of morality and what is sentience? Science takes the world as given Science sees no ultimate purpose to reality… I would say that as science does not speak to these issues, I see no reason why the religious person should not offer answers. They cannot be scientific answers. They must be religious answers—answers that will involve a God or gods.

There is something rather than nothing because a good God created them from love out of nothing. The purpose of it all is to find eternal bliss with the Creator. We humans are not just any old kind of organism. This does not mean that the religious answers are beyond criticism, but they must be answered on philosophical or theological grounds and not simply because they are not scientific. For much of the history of philosophy of religion, there has been stress on the assessment of theism.

Section 6 makes special note of this broadening of horizons. Theism still has some claim for special attention given the large world population that is aligned with theistic traditions the Abrahamic faiths and theistic Hinduism and the enormity of attention given to the defense and critique of theism in philosophy of religion historically and today. Speculation about divine attributes in theistic tradition has often been carried out in accord with what is currently referred to as perfect being theology , according to which God is understood to be maximally excellent or unsurpassable in greatness.

Divine attributes in this tradition have been identified by philosophers as those attributes that are the greatest compossible set of great-making properties; properties are compossible when they can be instantiated by the same being. Traditionally, the divine attributes have been identified as omnipotence, omniscience, perfect goodness, worthiness of worship, necessary of non-contingent existence, and eternality existing outside of time or atemporally.

Each of these attributes has been subject to nuanced different analysis, as noted below. God has also been traditionally conceived to be incorporeal or immaterial, immutable, impassable, omnipresent. One of the tools philosophers use in their investigation into divine attributes involve thought experiments. In thought experiments, hypothetical cases are described—cases that may or may not represent the way things are.

In these descriptions, terms normally used in one context are employed in expanded settings. Thus, in thinking of God as omniscient, one might begin with a non-controversial case of a person knowing that a proposition is true, taking note of what it means for someone to possess that knowledge and of the ways in which the knowledge is secured. Various degrees of refinement would then be in order, as one speculates not only about the extent of a maximum set of propositions known but also about how these might be known.

That is, in attributing omniscience to God, would one thereby claim God knows all truths in a way that is analogous to the way we come to know truths about the world? Too close an analogy would produce a peculiar picture of God relying upon, for example, induction, sensory evidence, or the testimony of others. Using thought experiments often employs an appearance principle. One version of an appearance principle is that a person has a reason for believing that some state of affairs SOA is possible if she can conceive, describe or imagine the SOA obtaining and she knows of no independent reasons for believing the SOA is impossible.

As stated the principle is advanced as simply offering a reason for believing the SOA to be possible, and it thus may be seen a advancing a prima facie reason. Imagine there is a God who knows the future free action of human beings. If God does know you will freely do some act X , then it is true that you will indeed do X. But if you are free, would you not be free to avoid doing X? Given that it is foreknown you will do X , it appears you would not be free to refrain from the act. Initially this paradox seems easy to dispel. If God knows about your free action, then God knows that you will freely do something and that you could have refrained from it.

Think of what is sometimes called the necessity of the past. Once a state of affairs has obtained, it is unalterably or necessarily the case that it did occur. If the problem is put in first-person terms and one imagines God foreknows you will freely turn to a different entry in this Encyclopedia moreover, God knows with unsurpassable precision when you will do so, which entry you will select and what you will think about it , then an easy resolution of the paradox seems elusive.

To highlight the nature of this problem, imagine God tells you what you will freely do in the next hour. Under such conditions, is it still intelligible to believe you have the ability to do otherwise if it is known by God as well as yourself what you will indeed elect to do? Self-foreknowledge, then, produces an additional related problem because the psychology of choice seems to require prior ignorance about what will be choose. Various replies to the freedom-foreknowledge debate have been given.

Some adopt compatibilism, affirming the compatibility of free will and determinism, and conclude that foreknowledge is no more threatening to freedom than determinism. While some prominent philosophical theists in the past have taken this route most dramatically Jonathan Edwards — , this seems to be the minority position in philosophy of religion today exceptions include Paul Helm, John Fischer, and Lynne Baker. A second position adheres to the libertarian outlook, which insists that freedom involves a radical, indeterminist exercise of power, and concludes that God cannot know future free action.

What prevents such philosophers from denying that God is omniscient is that they contend there are no truths about future free actions, or that while there are truths about the future, God either cannot know those truths Swinburne or freely decides not to know them in order to preserve free choice John Lucas. Aristotle may have thought it was neither true nor false prior to a given sea battle whether a given side would win it.

Some theists, such as Richard Swinburne, adopt this line today, holding that the future cannot be known. If it cannot be known for metaphysical reasons, then omniscience can be analyzed as knowing all that it is possible to know. Other philosophers deny the original paradox. God can simply know the future without this having to be grounded on an established, determinate future. But this only works if there is no necessity of eternity analogous to the necessity of the past. If not, then there is an exactly parallel dilemma of timeless knowledge.

For outstanding current analysis of freedom and foreknowledge, see the work of Linda Zagzebski. Could there be a being that is outside time? In the great monotheistic traditions, God is thought of as without any kind of beginning or end. God will never, indeed, can never, cease to be. This view is sometimes referred to as the thesis that God is everlasting. This is sometimes called the view that God is eternal as opposed to everlasting. Why adopt the more radical stance? One reason, already noted, is that if God is not temporally bound, there may be a resolution to the earlier problem of reconciling freedom and foreknowledge.

As St. Augustine of Hippo put it:. The City of God , XI. Those affirming God to be unbounded by temporal sequences face several puzzles which I note without trying to settle. If God is somehow at or in all times, is God simultaneously at or in each? If so, there is the following problem. If God is simultaneous with the event of Rome burning in CE, and also simultaneous with your reading this entry, then it seems that Rome must be burning at the same time you are reading this entry.

A different problem arises with respect to eternity and omniscience. If God is outside of time, can God know what time it is now? Arguably, there is a fact of the matter that it is now, say, midnight on 1 July A God outside of time might know that at midnight on 1 July certain things occur, but could God know when it is now that time? For some theists, describing God as a person or person-like God loves, acts, knows is not to equivocate. But it is not clear that an eternal God could be personal. All known world religions address the nature of good and evil and commend ways of achieving human well-being, whether this be thought of in terms of salvation, liberation, deliverance, enlightenment, tranquility, or an egoless state of Nirvana.

Some religions construe the Divine as in some respect beyond our human notions of good and evil. In some forms of Hinduism, for example, Brahman has been extolled as possessing a sort of moral transcendence, and some Christian theologians and philosophers have likewise insisted that God is only a moral agent in a highly qualified sense, if at all Davies To call God good is, for them, very different from calling a human being good.

Here are only some of the ways in which philosophers have articulated what it means to call God good. The latter view has been termed theistic voluntarism. A common version of theistic voluntarism is the claim that for something to be good or right simply means that God approves of permits it and for something to be bad or wrong means that God disapproves or forbids it. Theistic voluntarists face several difficulties: moral language seems intelligible without having to be explained in terms of the Divine will. Indeed, many people make what they take to be objective moral judgments without making any reference to God.

If they are using moral language intelligibly, how could it be that the very meaning of such moral language should be analyzed in terms of Divine volitions? New work in the philosophy of language may be of use to theistic voluntarists. Also at issue is the worry that if voluntarism is accepted, the theist has threatened the normative objectivity of moral judgments. Could God make it the case that moral judgments were turned upside down? For example, could God make cruelty good? Arguably, the moral universe is not so malleable. All such positions are non-voluntarist in so far as they do not claim that what it means for something to be good is that God wills it to be so.

For example, because knowledge is in itself good, omniscience is a supreme good. God has also been considered good in so far as God has created and conserves in existence a good cosmos. Debates over the problem of evil if God is indeed omnipotent and perfectly good, why is there evil? The debate over the problem of evil is taken up in section 5. Some theists who oppose a full-scale voluntarism allow for partial voluntarist elements. According to one such moderate stance, while God cannot make cruelty good, God can make some actions morally required or morally forbidden which otherwise would be morally neutral.

Religion vs Philosophy in 3 Minutes

According to some theories of property, an agent making something good gains entitlements over the property. Theories spelling out why and how the cosmos belongs to God have been prominent in all three monotheistic traditions. Plato defended the notion, as did Aquinas and Locke see Brody for a defense.

Zagzebski contends that being an exemplary virtuous person consists in having good motives. Motives have an internal, affective or emotive structure. The ultimate grounding of what makes human motives good is that they are in accord with the motives of God. Not all theists resonate with her bold claim that God is a person who has emotions, but many allow that at least in some analogical sense God may be see as personal and having affective states.

One other effort worth noting to link judgments of good and evil with judgments about God relies upon the ideal observer theory of ethics. According to this theory, moral judgments can be analyzed in terms of how an ideal observer would judge matters. To say an act is right entails a commitment to holding that if there were an ideal observer, it would approve of the act; to claim an act is wrong entails the thesis that if there were an ideal observer, it would disapprove of it.

The theory can be found in works by Hume, Adam Smith, R. Hare, and R. Firth see Firth []. The theory receives some support from the fact that most moral disputes can be analyzed in terms of different parties challenging each other to be impartial, to get their empirical facts straight, and to be more sensitive—for example, by realizing what it feels like to be disadvantaged.

The theory has formidable critics and defenders. If true, it does not follow that there is an ideal observer, but if it is true and moral judgments are coherent, then the idea of an ideal observer is coherent. Given certain conceptions of God in the three great monotheistic traditions, God fits the ideal observer description and more besides, of course.

This need not be unwelcome to atheists. Should an ideal observer theory be cogent, a theist would have some reason for claiming that atheists committed to normative, ethical judgments are also committed to the idea of a God or a God-like being. For a defense of a theistic form of the ideal observer theory, see Taliaferro a; for criticism see Anderson For further work on God, goodness, and morality, see Evans and Hare For interesting work on the notion of religious authority, see Zagzebski For example, an argument from the apparent order and purposive nature of the cosmos will be criticized on the grounds that, at best, the argument would establish there is a purposive, designing intelligence at work in the cosmos.

This falls far short of establishing that there is a God who is omnipotent, omniscient, benevolent, and so on. Second, few philosophers today advance a single argument as a proof. Customarily, a design argument might be advanced alongside an argument from religious experience, and the other arguments to be considered below.

There is a host of arguments under this title; version of the argument works, then it can be deployed using only the concept of God as maximally excellent and some modal principles of inference, that is, principles concerning possibility and necessity. The argument need not resist all empirical support, however, as shall be indicated. That necessary existence is built into the concept of God can be supported by appealing to the way God is conceived in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic traditions.

This would involve some a posteriori , empirical research into the way God is thought of in these traditions. Alternatively, a defender of the ontological argument might hope to convince others that the concept of God is the concept of a being that exists necessarily by beginning with the idea of a maximally perfect being. If there were a maximally perfect being, what would it be like? It has been argued that among its array of great-making qualities omniscience and omnipotence would be necessary existence.

For an interesting, recent treatment of the relationship between the concept of there being a necessarily existing being and there being a God, see Necessary Existence by Alexander Pruss and Joshua Rasmussen chapters one to three. The ontological argument goes back to St. The principle can be illustrated in the case of propositions. That six is the smallest perfect number that number which is equal to the sum of its divisors including one but not including itself does not seem to be the sort of thing that might just happen to be true. Rather, either it is necessarily true or necessarily false.

If the latter, it is not possible, if the former, it is possible. If one knows that it is possible that six is the smallest perfect number, then one has good reason to believe that. Does one have reason to think it is possible that God exists necessarily? Defenders of the argument answer in the affirmative and infer that God exists. There have been hundreds of objections and replies to this argument.

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Classical, alternative versions of the ontological argument are propounded by Anselm, Spinoza, and Descartes, with current versions by Alvin Plantinga, Charles Hartshorne, Norman Malcolm, and C. Dore; classical critics include Gaunilo and Kant, and current critics are many, including William Rowe, J. Barnes, G. Oppy, and J. Not every advocate of perfect being theology embraces the ontological argument. Famously Thomas Aquinas did not accept the ontological argument.

Alvin Plantinga, who is one of the philosophers responsible for the revival of interest in the ontological argument, contends that while he, personally, takes the argument to be sound because he believes that the conclusion that God exists necessarily is true, which entails that the premise, that it is possible that God exists necessarily is true he does not think the argument has sufficient force to convince an atheist Plantinga — Arguments in this vein are more firmly planted in empirical, a posteriori reflection than the ontological argument, but some versions employ a priori reasons as well.

There are various versions. Some argue that the cosmos had an initial cause outside it, a First Cause in time. Others argue that the cosmos has a necessary, sustaining cause from instant to instant, whether or not the cosmos had a temporal origin. The two versions are not mutually exclusive, for it is possible both that the cosmos had a First Cause and that it has a continuous, sustaining cause. The cosmological argument relies on the intelligibility of the notion of there being at least one powerful being which is self-existing or whose origin and continued being does not depend on any other being.

This could be either the all-out necessity of supreme pre-eminence across all possible worlds used in versions of the ontological argument, or a more local, limited notion of a being that is uncaused in the actual world. If successful, the argument would provide reason for thinking there is at least one such being of extraordinary power responsible for the existence of the cosmos. At best, it may not justify a full picture of the God of religion a First Cause would be powerful, but not necessarily omnipotent , but it would nonetheless challenge naturalistic alternatives and provide some reason theism.

The later point is analogous to the idea that evidence that there was some life on another planet would not establish that such life is intelligent, but it increases—perhaps only slightly—the hypothesis that there is intelligent life on another planet. Both versions of the argument ask us to consider the cosmos in its present state. Is the world as we know it something that necessarily exists? At least with respect to ourselves, the planet, the solar system and the galaxy, it appears not. With respect to these items in the cosmos, it makes sense to ask why they exist rather than not.

In relation to scientific accounts of the natural world, such enquiries into causes make abundant sense and are perhaps even essential presuppositions of the natural sciences. Some proponents of the argument contend that we know a priori that if something exists there is a reason for its existence. So, why does the cosmos exist? Students may receive credit for either course, but not both.

Cross- listed as PHIL Practices like veiling, female circumcision, and honor killings that are central to Western representations of Muslim women are also contested issues throughout the Muslim world. Topics of focus may vary each semester, but often include European colonialism and the politics of studying Muslim women; changing ideological and political trends about women and society; the Islamic legal heritage and problems in reforming Islamic law; gender jihad and activism; women and revolutions; and dilemmas faced by Muslim women in asserting themselves as legitimate voices in the contemporary global world.

This course is an intensive study of a theme, thinker, topic or problem in religious studies. The topic chosen may vary from semester to semester. Meeting approximately five times during the semester preceding the initiation of the St. The SMP proposals are then circulated to the faculty in the department for the purpose of assigning students to mentors to begin the SMPs. Successful completion of the proseminar is measured by the student developing a SMP proposal acceptable to the departmental faculty.

This is a one-credit prerequisite for registering for RELG Note: Students who expect to be away from the College during the spring of their junior year have two options: either a complete the work for the SMP Proseminar in the fall prior to departure, or b be in regular contact during the spring with the faculty of the department, in order to complete and submit an acceptable SMP proposal by the same due date governing those on campus.

The project may assume many forms, including cooperative efforts. The student will identify an area to be explored and articulate a method of inquiry or style of presentation appropriate to the subject matter. It will be presented to the College community in a form agreed upon by both the student and his or her mentor. The subject of the project may be within religious studies or involve religious studies in cross-disciplinary study areas.

The work is to be supervised by a faculty mentor. With the approval of the department chair, this requirement may be satisfied by a St.

Three approaches to the study of religion

RELG Independent Study E This course consists of an independent creative or research project designed by the student and supervised by a religious studies faculty member. Speaking of God: Introduction to Theology 4 Introduces students to major twentieth-century theological and religious thinkers as they wrestle with some or all of the following questions: Who or what is God?

Introduction to Islam 4 Islam is the second largest religion in the world, and soon will be the second in the United States. Islamic Civilizations 4 This course is designed to introduce students to the key factors shaping life in the Islamic world and to provide exposure to the rich cultural diversity that marks it.

Religions of Ancient India 4 An historical and thematic introduction to ancient Indian civilization in its major religious forms. Religions of Modern India 4 An historical and thematic introduction to modern Indian civilization in its major religious forms.

Death and Dying 4 The first section of this course examines the morality of death in Western technological cultures, where the dying are hidden and the dying process is shaped by medical technology and legal deliberations. Classroom Assistantship in Religious Studies Supervised experience in the understanding and explanation of religious concepts and methods. Islamic Empires in the Medieval and Early Modern Eras 4 This class is a general survey that introduces Islamic political thought as manifested by the Islamic states of medieval and early-modern times.

Feminism and Religion 4 An introduction to feminist critiques and reclamations of religion. American Muslims and Social Justice 4 An interactive course that introduces students to the experiences and perspectives of various Muslim communities and identities in the US. Topics in Religion and Psychology 4 Advanced studies of diverse topics and thinkers at the interface of religion and psychology. According to a number of scholars often influenced by Foucauldian or post-colonial thought , the category of religion is deeply implicated in the history and practice of western statism and imperialism.

The only appropriate scholarly stance towards this object is one that is critical and skeptical. There are two main reasons for this suspicion. Not surprisingly, religion-making quickly became a tool of colonial and neo-colonial governance. Such struggles were political through and through, and it is impossible to discern any common core or essence to all the world religions, as W. Smith pointed out in Some religions do not have a deity; others are community-based rather than belief-based; and the boundary between them and secular ideologies such as nationalism is porous.

Religion is a concept created by modern scholars and superimposed on a variety of different phenomena for a variety of motives. This had led some scholars, such as Tim Fitzgerald and Naomi Goldenberg, to draw the radical conclusion that the category of religion should be simply abandoned. The second ground for skepticism is that religion has served to define the western idea of the secular, and remains deeply entangled with it. For critics, this is visible in three different ways. First, the secular state defines what religion is; religion is privatized as a faith whose object is the supernatural, and differentiates it from the natural and the rational which are the jurisdiction of the state.

Such distinctions, however, only serve to shore up the arbitrary power that the state has to demarcate the sphere of its own sovereignty. Second, secular modernity is itself rooted in a distinctive Protestant anthropology, the ethos of which neatly maps onto a modern liberal subjectivity that encourages the individual to cultivate the autonomy and discipline required to relate to her beliefs and ends in the right way. Talal Asad and Saba Mahmood have shown, for instance, that liberal secularism requires individual belief — not communal observance, rituals or embodied piety — to be taken as the essence of religiosity.

Third, the secular separation between a privatized, individualized sphere of religion and a public, social, rational sphere of politics has obscured the way in which the state, the nation, and the law operate as the modern sacred. The modern sovereign state is grounded in a distinctive political theology that mobilizes the structural categories of metaphysics and theology to bolster and consolidate the higher identity of secular citizenship. Even this cursory summary of this first approach is, I hope, sufficient to convey the force and depth of the critique of religion. The implications of the first approach have been resisted in many quarters.

Note that no assumption is made about the actual disciplinary location of scholars. Much of the interesting work done in anthropology, sociology, and religious studies departments, for example, draws on both the first and the second approach. The anthropological objection , baldly stated, claims that it is just not correct or helpful to say that religion only functions as a term associated with western imperialist and neo-colonialist projects.

Like most abstract concepts, the concept of religion is a construction projected onto the world, but one consequence of this large-scale projection may well be that our world has genuinely come to exhibit it. Nor does the origin of a concept in itself discredit its uses: the concept may well have been forged in the crucible of missionary and colonial encounters, but its meanings and uses have further proliferated in non-colonial and post-colonial settings, in ways that escaped, distorted, and subverted the original discourse. It is a rich concept that connects to vocabularies that bring persons and things, desires, and practices in particular traditions in distinctive ways.

From this perspective, it would be a mistake to think that conceptual imprecision is in itself an obstacle to scholarly inquiry. It may well be true that the boundaries between religion and other cognate concepts such as tradition, culture, ideology, faith, reason, and so forth are porous and fuzzy.

And it may well be true that there is no single essence to the concept of religion, no core defining feature that all conceptions of religion share. The normative objection is slightly different.