Does Philosophy of Religion exist?

Google “Philosophy of Religion” and see what pops up…
(or just click here)

Look at key textbooks with the title (or click here)

What you will note is the Theistic focus of the topics – the nature of God, arguments for/against God, the Problem of Evil, etc.

Is this discipline which has grown up most notably in Anglo-American philosophy, not better titled ‘The Philosophy of Theism’?


Ed says:

A couple of quick thoughts. Your remark reminded me of something John Hick said (Hick, J. (1993), Disputed questions in theology and the philosophy of religion. New Haven: Yale University Press., ch. 8)- that it wasn’t until he started working with a Caribbean diaspora population in Birmingham, a good number of years after he had begun academic life as a philosopher of religion, that it occurred to him that his speciality was the philosophy of religion and not just the philosophy of the Judaeo-Christian tradition.My other thought is that, if I understand your contrast of religion/theism, theism concerns the existence of something usually presupposed by religious activity, and it is that question that prompts philosophical reflection.

Bas says:

The tag ‘philosophy of theism’ suggests that the entire focus would be on the existence of God, theodicy, and the like. While in most religions being religious involves having gods or a god, there is much in philosophy of religion that is not focused on such questions. I would suggest that e.g. Eleonore Stump provides good examples of a focus on spirituality although in the context of a theistic religion

Mickie says:

I have to agree that the way this “philosophy” is currently taught and practiced, it is more like “The philosophy of Judeo-Christian Theism.” It seems to me that the philosophy of religion should encompass comparative religions, and perhaps a “sociology” of religion. I believe that some of the universities are teaching something like a philosophy of religion in the Sociology Department, and perhaps that would give the professors better guidance in the scope and limitations of the study of religion.

David W... says:

This comment has been removed by the author.

David W... says:

Comment by e-mail:One way of distinguishing between philosophy of religion and philosophy of theism might be to reserve the former for philosophical aspects of all dimensions of religion beyond the dogmatic and including ritual, ethics, relationships, organisational theory, regard for texts and tradition etc.regardsJohn StrainRevd Dr John Strain BA BTh MSc PhD AFBPsS Chartered PsychologistLecturer in EthicsUniversity of SurreyandDirector, Centre for Applied and Professional Ethics

David W... says:

Comment by e-mail:Dear David, I had some difficulty writing a response to your blog but you are welcome to post the following. This is a beautiful question! A deeply important question about human life is the nature of religion. It encompasses not only the nature of religious belief but the nature of religious ritual, myth, community, ways of living, experience both mystic and other, and various other aspects of religion. When we inquire into religious belief, we’re likely to find that there are both religious and non-religious ways of believing in God. We’re likely to find that belief in God can be spiritual, non-spiritual, and even anti-spiritual. We’re apt to find that belief in God plays various roles in various religious traditions and has various levels of importance for them. The question whether God exists is a question in metaphysics, a part of philosophy distinct from philosophy of religion. That is so no matter how often a person investigating it claims to be doing philosophy of religion, no matter how often the question of theism passes for a question in philosophy of religion. What passes for X is a species of appearance; we as philosophers are concerned about reality, not appearance!Best wishes, Stephen Voss(

People who study the philosophy of nontheistic religions generally are studying an Asian tradition like Buddhism or Confucianism. As a result, they typically identify as scholars of Asian philosophy, rather than philosophers of religion.I think big part of the problem here is that “religion” is a really awkward category. It is hard to see how any category that includes the Abrahamic tradition (Judaism, Christianisty and Islam) and the Hindu-Buddhist tradition and the Confucian-Daoist tradition is any sort of natural kind. I do think philosophers of religion should identify as philosophers of theism, or perhaps philosophers of the Western theisms. Abrahamic philosophers, even?

David W... says:

By e-mail:In my opinion, the idea that ‘philosophy of religion’ is concerned only with theism renders the discipline totally irrelevant.Throughout the history of Christianity, for instance, there have been thinkers (usually, for better or worse, labeled ‘mystics’) who have come to realise that the notion of ‘theism’ at best misunderstands and, at worst, degrades the mystery to which they have spent their lives trying to attune themselves and their readers.It is for this reason that the neo-Platonist, Dionysius the (so-called) Areopagite called God ‘hyperousia’, ‘beyond being’ and Meister Eckhart distinguished between ‘God’ and ‘Godhead’. Any ‘philosophy of religion’ cannot afford to ignore a phenomenon as influential as ‘mysticism’ and must attempt to make philosophical sense of the notion of ‘mystery’ that lies behind it. David Cooper makes an excellent defence of ‘mystery’ in his book *The Measure of Things*.Best Wishes,Guy Bennett-Hunter

David W... says:

By e-mail:A few years ago I taught a seminar on the ethical value of religion. We read Spinoza’s Theological Political Tractate, Kant’s Religion within the Bounds of Reason, and the third part of Maimonides’ Guide. Another work on the ethical impact of religious practice that I have written and spoken about is Maimonides’ Eight Chapters. Contemporary philosophers should be paying more attention to this issue both because it is important in its own right and because it has become a significant in contemporary discussion, specifically in regard to religious movements with a political agenda and to religion as an alternative to moral relativism and sexual indulgence.Edward HalperProfessor of PhilosophyUniversity of GeorgiaAthens, GA 30602

David W... says:

by e-mail:Certainly it does. See my book The Mysteries of Religion (Blackwell 1986); Michael McGHee’s work and lots of others. PofR courses do tend to be theism-oriented, but that’s not necessary nor universalStephen Clark

Harry Lesser says:

When I taught Philosophy of Religion, I said that the course was Philosophy of the Abrahamic religions (not even of theism in all forms). One can do the philosophy of a religion or group of religions, but does not religion in general cover so many different things that nothing can really be said about it?

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