Introducing Philosophy of Religion

I teach a course on an Introduction to Philosophy of Religion. For that course, our main text is Philosophy of Religion: An Anthology, edited by Louis Pojman and Michael Rea. As a primer, it’s an excellent introduction to the subject, with over 70 foundational and contemporary articles on various aspects of philosophy of religion. I’ve decided to post about the various articles in this volume, as well as provide some thoughts on how these themes might interact with Mormon theology (usually one post per article; we’ll see how far I get). This will be a combination of summary and lecture notes, for the most part. For anyone interested in baseline academic discussions about Christian religious thought (especially if you’ve never read any philosophy of religion before) I hope you’ll find these informative. If you’re already familiar with these topics, your contributions and commentary are welcome. As Mormons, we’re more susceptible than others to ignorance regarding philosophical and theological traditions since for various reasons we are largely disconnected from the broader Christian tradition. It’s good, I think, to be better informed about Christian theology and philosophy of religion in general, both as a means of interfaith dialogue as well a potentially rich source of religious knowledge that we might productively apply to how we think about our own beliefs.

I’ll begin with articles dealing with the basic concept of God, then move on to these themes:

Classical theistic attributes

Traditional arguments for the existence of God

Religious experience

The problem of evil

Miracles

Death and immortality

Faith and reason

Science/religion/evolution

Religious pluralism

The above is what’s known as an “analytic” approach to philosophy of religion: treating ideas and concepts thematically and systematically. This is typically an Anglo-American approach to philosophy, utilized primarily in Britain and the United States. By contrast, a “continental” approach to philosophy is a style that engages thinkers, texts, and traditions from the European continent (usually France and Germany), and focuses more on specific texts and thinkers rather than themes. Personally and professionally I have been drawn more to the continental approach, but I do have experience with the analytic approach, and it’s the approach I use in my intro classes, since I think it’s more conducive to introducing philosophy to students for the first time. Nearly the entire anthology is analytic in this way, though I’ll touch on continental thinkers and texts as I think about them in relation to the subjects I post on.

Feel free to ask questions or contribute to the subject matter in the comments. I’ll begin by putting up the first post tomorrow and will try to follow up with another one every few days.

Also, by way of pointing out some texts on how Mormonism interacts with philosophy and theology in a broad way:

James E. Faulconer, Faith, Philosophy, Scripture

Blake Ostler, Exploring Mormon Thought: The Attributes of God

David Paulsen and Donald Musser, Mormonism in Dialogue with Contemporary Christian Theologies

A text I edited and published last year: Mormonism at the Crossroads of Philosophy and Theology: Essays in Honor of David L. Paulsen

Comments

  1. In other words, without paying the tuition, we all get the blessing of an enriching educational experience. Awesome.

  2. That was the textbook we used in my philosophy of religion class at BYU last semester. I learned a lot from that book!

  3. I am looking forward to this series of posts!

  4. This was also the textbook used by Dr. Paulsen in his Phil. of Religion course (at least in the late 90s).

  5. Kevin Barney says:

    Is this course still designated Phil 110? I took that class decades ago. My recollection was that there were four teachers who team taught the class; Truman Madsen was one of the four.

  6. The class I took was Phil 215. Phil 110 is “Introduction to Philosophy”

  7. I would really like a vigorous Mormon view of philosophy of religion. For the last few years I have found myself most fulfilled by Thomism and moving more and more in that direction, not finding anything so rigorous and systematic in Mormonism. It answers questions about ontology, ethics, and consciousness (the latter being big with me, since I’m a psychologist) that I feel are loose strands in Mormonism. I have always also thought that the deck is stacked against Mormon philosophers because they have a two-part task: 1) they have to reject a lot of the classical theistic arguments that require an immaterial, transcendent being that creates the Universe ex nihilo or sustains it as an Unmoved Mover, but 2) there aren’t (as far as I know) any analogous arguments for the Mormon God besides a simple rejection of classical theism (or the Trinity) and then an argument from personal experience. However, I know Ostler and others may have done just this somewhere and I’m just too poor to buy the books.

  8. Kevin Barney says:

    Thanks, mapman, you’re right, now that I think of it the class I took was Intro to Philosophy, not Philosophy of Religion. But I do remember stuff like the proofs for the existence of God in that class, which is why I got a little bit confused.

  9. I had Paulsen for 110…it’s the whole reason I minored in Phil.

    Jacob, really looking forward to this series, and I hope you get at least a little continental with it.

  10. So excited for this. Thanks!

    (You should know I’m planning to take your actual class at some point….)

  11. I’m taking the Coursera Intro to Philosophy course (as part of my quest to become knowledgeable enough to understand Ralph Hancock (this isn’t a joke)) starting in about two weeks. I look forward to following this course as well.

  12. mapman, I take it you had Roger Cook for your instructor? Great professor. He’s been teaching this class for sometime as well.

    achilton, yes, Paulsen used earlier versions of this text for a long time. I think as an undergrad I bought the 5th edition for his class. This book is the 6th edition. They’ve added a few more articles for this edition and picked up a co-editor, since Pojman has since passed away.

    Kevin, yes, Phil 110 is the basic intro class, though we do go over basic philosophy of religion in that class.

    Syphax, I understand your pain, but as of the last decade or so, we have much less cause to complain. The 3 books I mentioned in the links are essential reading for anyone interested in deeper, more philosophical and theological understandings of Mormonism. In fact, they even represent the foundational poles of philosophy of religion in the ways they interact with the larger philosophical tradition–Ostler on the analytic side and Faulconer on the continental. Plus there are recent must-read works by Adam Miller, and the Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology always draws out some extremely interesting and rigorous work done on Mormon philosophy and theology. I hope to address the issues you point out as well as others in future posts, but I hope you’ll visit often and contribute your own take.

    Holly, I’ll hold you to that :)

    Kyle, I’m definitely going to include as much from the other tradition as I have time and mental awareness for.

    John, as someone taking philosophy for the first time, your insights and questions might prove particularly valuable. Looking forward to it.

  13. Yeah, I had Bro. Cook. He’s a smart and funny guy.

  14. Kevin Barney says:

    I know Roger; he’s a good guy.

  15. Just wanted to say I’m really looking forward to this series.

  16. Somehow I completely forgot this important text: “Mormonism in Dialogue with Contemporary Christian Theologies.” I’ll link it in the original post.

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