WHAT IS THE PHILOSOPHY OF RELIGION? ... Philosophy of Religion is the philosophical study of the meaning, nature and universal features of religion and religious practice. It includes the reasonable analysis of religious concepts, beliefs, terms, arguments, rituals, etc. of religious adherents....
This seven-week course will explore some of the fundamental features and facets of the philosophy of religion as these are mediated and illumined by the idea of “sacred spaces”--hierophanic openings into the realm of spirit or the divine where God may come to be in the world; spaces which are founding terms of the world in which we live; spaces which are at risk of being lost in our current desacralized, secular world.
Since it would be impossible in seven weeks to survey the entirety of the vast field of thought and practice falling under the rubric of “philosophy of religion,” our more modest itinerary will be influenced and determined by the personal thoughts, ideas and interests of you, the course participants, as we move along in our explorations. We will create the course together even as we engage it.
I will propose a tentative structure and supply suggested topics, readings, and videos for each week. We can work with these (or work around or without them) as we collectively determine the ongoing substance and direction of our investigations. There will be a specific Focus Exercise each week. Everyone will have an opportunity at each ZOOM meeting--if you wish--to share your reflection and invite feedback. Entirely up to you.
My personal motivation for proposing this course is that I am interested in exploring ways to experience, understand, talk about and appropriate approaches to 'sacred spaces' that are a reflection and outgrowth of current developments in science, the world of nature and environmentalism, art, poetry, theater, music, and secular culture in general. In short, I am interested in the emergence of epiphanies of the sacred in the midst of the secular and profane orientation of our contemporary world. I look forward to hearing about your own interest in sacred spaces.
SUGGESTED WEEKLY FORMAT
1. June 2 - Faith and Reason
2. June 9 - God and God-talk
3. June 16 - Sacred and Profane Space
4. June 23 - Love and Suffering
5. June 30 - Freedom and Determinism
6. July 7 - Religions: One and Many
7. July 14 - Mortality and Immortality
What is the Philosophy of Religion? What is the difference between philosophy and theology? What are Sacred Spaces?
FAITH AND REASON
“Faith consists in being vitally concerned with that ultimate reality to which I give the symbolical name of God. Whoever reflects earnestly on the meaning of life is on the verge of an act of faith.” Paul Tillich
Is faith in God reasonable? Can faith and reason work together? Proofs for the existence of God: ontological, cosmological, and teleological proofs - what's the difference? What is the value of proofs for God's existence? Why should we believe in God? Can we have a relationship with God without religion? Etc.
- Text (article): "Why religion is not going away and science is not going to destroy it." Peter Harrison
- Text (article): Faith is About Faces: Can we have faith in an impersonal God? Terrance Klein
- Videos: See Week 1 videos below.
- Focus Exercise 1: What I think about having faith in God.
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." John 1:1
Why is God associated with "Word"? Can we say anything positive about God? What does the word "God" mean? God-talk: via positiva (cataphatic or kataphatic language, able to make positive assertions about God) and via negativa (apophatic language, cannot make meaningful positive assertions about God). Knowing God versus loving God. Can silence communicate? Is God a "Supreme Being"? God and human beings. God and world. God and nature. What did Nietzsche mean when he said "God is dead"? Etc.
- Text (article): Five Ways to Think About Christian Mysticism
- Text (article): The Eternal Dance with the Divine
- Videos: See Week 2 videos below
- Focus Exercise 2: The God I know (or don't know).
"It would be useless to discuss the structure of sacred space without showing, by particular examples, how such a space is constructed and why it becomes qualitatively different
from the profane space by which it is surrounded." Mircea Eliade
"But let there be spaces in your togetherness..." Kahlil Gibran, "On Marriage"
How to understand sacred space within and connected, rather than opposed, to profane or secular space; hierophany, manifestation of the divine in the world. Scientific SpaceTime and Sacred SpaceTime. How to understand "space"? Can we create space or is it simply given? What does it mean to "make space" in your life for someone? Space as "opening," "rupture," "barrier," "potential," "clearing" Etc.
- Text (book excerpt): The Sacred and the Profane, Mircea Eliade (Introduction + Chapter 1)
- Text (book excerpt): Anatheism by R. Kearny (Sacred Secularity, Secular Sacrality)
- Text (article) Art, Sacred and Profane by James Patrick Reid
- Videos: Week 3 videos below
- Focus Exercise 3: The most sacred space in my secular life.
"Love without suffering does not exist." Saint Bernadette
"...if we have never loved deeply or suffered deeply, we are unable to understand spiritual things at any depth. Any healthy and “true” religion is teaching you how to deal with suffering and how to deal with love. And if you allow this process with sincerity, you will soon recognize that it is actually love and suffering that are dealing with you. Like nothing else can! Even God has to use love and suffering to teach you all the lessons that really matter. They are his primary tools for human transformation." Richard Rohr
Is suffering an inescapable aspect of love? What is the suffering that is associated with love? What is suffering and the kinds and types of suffering? What is love and the kinds and types of love? What does it mean to say that "God is love"? Why would a loving God allow so much human suffering? Can God prevent suffering? How is religion a response to love and suffering? Should we try to avoid suffering or is suffering a gift from God because God loves us?
- Text (book excerpt): The Universal Christ, Richard Rohr (Love and Suffering)
- Text (article) "Love leads to suffering, but we take the risk to love because we must" by Heidi Russell (2019)
- Videos: See Week 4 videos below
- Focus Exercise 4: Love and suffering in my life.
- "Everything is determined, the beginning as well as the end, by forces over which we have no control." Albert Einstein
- "Einstein, stop telling God what to do!" Niels Bohr
"The initial configuration of the universe may have been chosen by God, or it may itself have been determined by the laws of science. In either case, it would seem that everything in the universe would then be determined by evolution according to the laws of science, so it is difficult to see how we can be masters of our fate." Stephen Hawking
-"No, no, you're not thinking; you're just being logical." Niels Bohr
"If moral character does not exist, as some Social Psychologists suggest, if we are merely victims of the determinism of situational circumstances outside of our control, how can we be held morally responsible for our actions? Moral responsibility requires freedom. But social psychology experiments like Milgram’s Obedience study, Darley and Batson’s Good Samaritan study, the Stanford Prison Experiment, and other similar experiments, as well as what happened at Abu Graib prison in Iraq, all seem to show that moral character, if it exists at all, is generally insufficient for resisting situational pressures to act contrary to our moral value orientation? Does individual moral responsibility not exist?"
- Text (book chapter): An Intro to Ethics, R.D.Walsh (Chapter 7: The Limits of Personal Moral Power)
- Videos: See Week 5 videos below
- Focus Exercise 5: I am in charge of my life ... or am I?
"Religion is one tree with many branches. As branches, you may say, religions are many, but as a tree, religion is one." Mahatma Ghandi
“Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other." Isaiah 45:22
- Text (article): The Perennial Philosophy of Aldous Huxley by Jules Evans ... Do all religions share universal beliefs? “Perennial philosophy,” writes Huxley “is immemorial and universal. Rudiments of the perennial philosophy may be found among the traditional lore of primitive peoples in every region of the world, and in its fully developed forms it has a place in every one of the higher religions.”
- Text (book) The Nones are Alright: A New Generation of Believers, Seekers, and Those In Between, by Kaya Oakes (2015)
- Text (book excerpt): Preface + Introduction - The Matter with Pantheism. From Pantheologies (2018) Mary-Jane Rubenstein ... (Also, see COURSE TEXTS section below: Rubenstein, "The Matter with Pantheism" 2017, a book chapter that anticipates and is a useful predelineation of her 2018 book, Pantheologies) "... If, however, there are an infinite number of universes, all taking on different parameters throughout infinite time, then once in a while, one of them is bound to turn out right, and we just happen to be in one of those. In short, the infinite multiverse is the only answer big enough to stand up to the infinite God of classical theism, with his omni-attributes and his ex nihilic creative powers."
- Videos: See Week 6 videos below
- Focus Exercise 6: The value of religion
- “Those who practice philosophy in the right way are in training for dying and they fear death least of all.” Plato (Phaedo)
- "Tempus fugit. Memento mori!" ("Time passes. Remember you are mortal") Knights of Columbus motto.
- "Why should I fear death? If I am, then death is not. If death is, then I am not. Why should I fear that which can only exist when I do not?" Epicurus
One of the things that all religions have in common is an explanatory cosmogony. They present a depiction of how the universe (being, what is, reality) came to be, and, by natural extension, what life is all about, and what will happen after death. We human storytellers seem to have a need for this overarching understanding that underpins all of our more localized sense of meaningfulness…how I am connected to the overarching scheme of things, what difference my beliefs about this make in my everyday life, what I should do to act in harmony with my personal view of cosmogony and its cosmological implications, such as the fact of our mortality, the temporality (impermanence) of being, what I believe awaits us on the ‘other side’ of death, etc. Reincarnation. Transmigration. Resurrection of the body. These are just some of the considerations of this segment of the Sacred Spaces course.
- Text (article): "Lessons from the body" Larry Dossey - from The Mystery of Being (Miracles, prayer, and the non-locality of consciousness)
- Article: "Is the quest for immortality worse than death?" Adrian Moore
- Videos: See Week 7 videos below
- Focus Exercise 7: When I die....
How should human sexuality be understood and integrated within a framework of spiritual development? What is the historical development of sexuality within Christianity…Jesus…Paul, other religions? What is human sexuality? How should this be understood, practiced? How is sexuality taught, understood, and practiced within different religious traditions, East and West? What does philosophy and science have to say about the value of human sexuality within the framework of human development? What place does celibacy and virginity have within the tradition of spiritual development?
This video (9:12) introduces the basic difference between Philosophy of Religion and Theology. Generally speaking, Philosophy of Religion examines arguments and reasoning rather than revelation. An example of how this works is Anselm's 11th century ontological argument for the existence of God. This famous argument is presented and critically evaluated.
This video (9:33) looks at teleological arguments for the existence of God. These types of arguments claim that the world is a place of complex designs geared to purposes, therefore there must have been an intelligent designer. A recent form of this argument is the "fine-tuning" argument prominent today.
You are where I go to hide
When the wind starts to blow
When the lightning starts to strike
When the thunder starts to roll
When this life becomes a fight
You are where I put my gloves down
When I'm running out of time
You are where I go to slow down
You are my favorite place
You are my sacred space
Yes you are, yes you are, yes you are (Ooh)
In this video (4:20), Robert Lawrence Kuhn (host of PBS' "Closer to Truth") aks William Lane Craig about the multiverse. Questions explored: Does the multiverse contradict theism? Could God have created the multiverse? What is "branching" and "planck time" in quantum mechanics? Did God in fact create a multiverse? What would a multiverse look like?
This video (10:31) looks at the traditional characteristics of the Judaeo-Christian God, the "omni" version of God--that God is "omnipotent," "omniscient," "omnitemporal," etc which follow from an understanding of God as a perfect being. A critical evaluation of this depiction of God is also presented. What do you think?
This video (27:00) from philosophy professor Mary-Jane Rubenstein of Wesleyan Univ. considers the theory of pantheism, multiverses, the concept of God, etc. in the light of recent scientific thinking from a feminist perspective. You can find a brief summary here. She is the author of Pantheologies: Gods, Worlds, Monsters 2018
In this video (5:12): Panentheism, (also known as Monistic Monotheism), is the belief, similar to Pantheism, that the physical universe is joined to God, but stressing that God is greater than (rather than equivalent to) the universe. Thus, the one God is synonymous with the material universe and interpenetrates every part of nature (as in Pantheism), but timelessly extends beyond as well. The universe is part of God, but not all of God. (Compare and contrast with the view of M-J Rubenstein...)
Everything that you see is thought to be made of up of particles. This is what most people are taught in science class. The only problem is it is not true. And physicists have known this for decades. Particles are really not fundamental. The best theory in physics tells us that there really are no particles at all, only fields. Particles are merely waves in the field.
Fields are fluid-like substances that can be perturbed, vibrate, and experience excitations. What exactly are fields? Mathematically a field something that takes a value at every point in space. They are not really made of anything other than that from a strictly physicist’s point of view. If you have a fireplace in a room, the temperature at every point in that room would have a value. This would be a field of temperature – this is analogous to the quantum fields.
Is the universe infinite? If the Sun were the size of a Basketball, Proxima Centauri our nearest neighbor would be 4500 hundred miles away. And there are 10 sextillion such stars in the universe that is 1 followed by 22 zeros. And each one of them is approximately the same distance apart from each other as proxima centauri is from the sun.
In fact, the universe is bigger than even what our most powerful telescopes can see. How big is the universe in terms of numbers? And in fact, could it be infinite? Is there any way we can even begin to visualize what infinity is? This video (13:17) suggests an answer.
Discussion with Richard Kearney, author of Anatheism (32:19)
Has the passing of the old God paved the way for a new kind of religious project, a more responsible way to seek, sound, and love the things we call divine? Has the suspension of dogmatic certainties and presumptions opened a space in which we can encounter religious wonder anew? Situated at the split between theism and atheism, we now have the opportunity to respond in deeper, freer ways to things we cannot fathom or prove.
In this video (23:44), delivered at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Syracuse, NY last year, Dr. John Caputo (one of my most influential former professors at Villanova and a leading Philosopher/Theologian today) reflects on the "weakness of God" from the perspective of the final judgment as depicted in the gospel of Matthew. Caputo sees the power of the "Kingdom of God" paradoxically expressed in helping the poor and downtrodden, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, forgiveness, etc., as opposed to the secular power of the world.
"Electrifying: A terse, powerful explosion of transformative energy." - The New York Times "His music has enormous range, from the slow and darkly emerging opening of Aurora Awakes to the manic zaniness of Asphalt Cocktail to the grand sweep and romanticism of Wine-Dark Sea. His Songs from the End of the World show a mature composer with an unfailing sense of the human voice and the beauty of subtly shifting colors." - The American Academy of Arts & Letters"A high-energy style and a sharp theatrical sense, as well as a funny streak. Simply sensational." - Newsday"Redline Tango is a true dazzler." - San Francisco Classical Voice
This video (55:49) looks at sacred space and cosmogony from a perspective somewhat similar to Mircea Eliade. Sacred spaces are not arbitrary, but are rather constructed in a particular so that they show us what they are and also show us how space itself can become a specific place, a "here" which becomes then a cosmic reference for identity and world formation.
Durkheim’s “The Elementary Forms of Religious Life,” published in 1912 is one of the foundational sociological texts. In Elementary Forms, Durkheim defines religion as: “a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden—beliefs and practices which unite into one single moral community called a Church, all those who adhere to them”.
What is space? Kant's answer is a head-scratcher: space is merely a form of intuition. Scott Edgar (Saint Mary's) explains this rather perplexing answer in accessible, every-day language. He also lays out Kant's most famous argument for this view of space (the "Argument from Geometry"). Never before has it been so easy to get a handle on Kant's views on space!
This video (12:48) explores a masculine perspective on the idea of sacred space. One can imagine a similar investigation from a feminine point of view featuring the Maiden, The Mother, The Crone/Wise Woman, Medicine Woman, etc. A note from the video creator: "In this conclusion of my Archetype Series based on the book King, Warrior, Magician, Lover by Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette, I examine the archetype of the Magician and explore some related concepts such as initiation, ritual process and sacred space."
This video (7:50) uses the survival film The Grey and the work of Logotherapy psychotherapist Victor Frankl (author of Experiences in a Concentration Camp) to reflect on the significance of human suffering and the will to transcend or transform it. In the face of human suffering, how can we find meaning in life? If God is good, and God created the world, why is there so much suffering in the world?
Love and Suffering · James Newton Howard · James Ehnes · Andrew Armstrong -- A Hidden Life (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
“..for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”
― George Eliot, Middlemarch
This video (6:40) presents the idea that it is only by suffering that we increase our capacity to love. This is exemplified by St Rose of Lima. She lived an extremely austere and ascetic life. The more she suffered for God’s sake, the more graces she received to truly love. She exclaimed: “If we understood this we would seek infirmities, trials and torments instead of good fortune in order to obtain the unfathomable treasure of grace.” For more please visit http://svfonline.org
This video (9:53) is a brief report of the famous "Obedience Study" done by Prof. Stanley Milgram at Yale U. during the 1960s. Milgram was interested to learn how far subjects would go to do what was contrary to their moral values when directed to do so by an authority figure. The results were, well, shocking. This illustrates how our actions are influenced (determined?) by unconscious situational factors.
Do we really have free will? In this video (10:25), good 'ol "Crash Course" Hank explores possible answers to that question, explaining theories like libertarian free will and it’s counterpoint, hard determinism. We cannot prove that we have free will. But, does that mean that all our actions are determined? Can we prove that one thing causes another? Can the question of free will versus determinism be answered?
As we continue to explore free will, Hank considers a middle ground between hard determinism and libertarian free will: compatibilism. This view seeks to find ways that our internally motivated actions can be understood as free in a deterministic world. We’ll also cover Frankfurt Cases and Patricia Churchland’s rejection of the free-or-not-free dichotomy and her focus on the amount of control we have over our actions.
In this short video (3:04) University of Chicago Graduate School of Business Professor Richard Thaler gives an overview of his groundbreaking book: "Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness." In the video, Thaler explains what nudges are and gives a few examples of how they can be useful for improving people's lives by changing their behavior for the better.
The history of philosophy, this video (5:47) suggests, has been dominated by competing arguments around the ideas of Free Will and Determinism. Simply stated, the issue hangs on whether human beings should be thought of as fundamentally free to choose their actions and control their lives, or whether they should be deemed as being at heart determined by forces beyond their control, be they fate, biology, politics or class… A solution from Stoic philosophy is suggested.
Tara Isabella Burton, author of Strange Rites: New Religions for a Godless World, June 2020 discussion of new book (16:32).
Strange Rites: New Religions for a Godless World
Fifty-five years have passed since the cover of Time magazine proclaimed the death of God and while participation in mainstream religion has indeed plummeted, Americans have never been more spiritually busy.
While rejecting traditional worship in unprecedented numbers, today's Americans are embracing a kaleidoscopic panoply of spiritual traditions, rituals, and subcultures -- from astrology and witchcraft to SoulCycle and the alt-right. As the Internet makes it ever-easier to find new "tribes," and consumer capitalism forever threatens to turn spirituality into a lifestyle brand, remarkably modern American religious culture is undergoing a revival comparable with the Great Awakenings of centuries past. Faith is experiencing not a decline but a Renaissance. Disillusioned with organized religion and political establishments alike, more and more Americans are seeking out spiritual paths driven by intuition, not institutions.
In Strange Rites, religious scholar and commentator Tara Isabella Burton visits with the techno-utopians of Silicon Valley; Satanists and polyamorous communities, witches from Bushwick, wellness junkies and social justice activists and devotees of Jordan Peterson, proving Americans are not abandoning religion but remixing it. In search of the deep and the real, they are finding meaning, purpose, ritual, and communities in ever-newer, ever-stranger ways.
It's perfectly human to grapple with questions, like 'Where do we come from?' and 'How do I live a life of meaning?' These existential questions are central to the five major world religions -- and that's not all that connects these faiths. In this video (11:09) John Bellaimey explains the intertwined histories and cultures of Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam.
In this video (24:29), Beth Lord discusses Spinoza with Alan Saunders in an episode of the Philosopher's Zone from a few years back. Baruch Spinoza, one of the greatest philosophers of his day, was expelled from the Amsterdam synagogue in 1656 because of his unorthodox religious views. Ever since, he has been regarded as the great atheist of the Western tradition. Yet he mentions God very often throughout his writings and is better thought of as a "pantheist," but of a very specific kind. Why is their a resurgent interest in Spinoza's pantheistic views these days?
This short video (4:03) defines religious pluralism as the belief that all religions are equal but different, separate paths all leading to the same place. From a position of religious realism, it is argued that this view of religious pluralism is contradictory and therefore, wrong. Do you agree with how religious pluralism is defined in this video? Can different religions be true even though they hold contradictory doctrines? Can the opposite of a profound truth be another profound truth, as physicist Neils Bohr asserted? What do you think?
Kaya Oakes, author and journalist
Ryan Burge, assistant professor, Eastern Illinois University
Tara Isabella Burton, novelist and journalist
“None of the above” is the fastest-growing religious identifier in the United States, a category boosted by a surge of younger people. This generational shift is the greatest challenge facing religious communities, and one with enormous implications for American society: the “Nones” have fewer social connections and less social capital than their parents and grandparents.
What does this disaffiliation mean for the future of the U.S.? What does it mean for the future of faith? Who are the “Nones” anyway? Are they atheists? Agnostics? Just indifferent? “The ‘Me’ Generation”? Or does their attitude point toward a new path for traditional religious communities?
The first 30 minutes of this video are summary statements from the three panelists. Very insightful perspectives on current faith scene.
In this short video (9:00), Crash Course Philosophy moderator Hank talks about death, looking at philosophical approaches from Socrates, Epicurus, and Zhuangzi. The video considers whether it’s logical to fear your own death, or the deaths of your loved ones. Hank also discusses the ideas of contemporary philosopher Thomas Nagel on death and the Fear of Missing Out.
In this video (59:28) Peter Fenwick, a neuropsychiatrist and neurophysiologist who is known for his pioneering studies of end-of-life phenomena, talks about near-death-experiences (NDE), death-bed-visitors and how we can achieve a good death. NDE research is at the cutting edge of consciousness research and offers a convincing model for the understanding of what happens when we die. Dr. Fenwick describes the different transitional phases of the dying process and highlights the importance of letting go at the end of ones life. He offers fascinating insights into common phenomena at the end of life, such as premonitions, seeing a light, death-bed-visions and coincidences. In his opinion everybody should know about death and the dying process, because it is a normal part of living.
What would the benefits be to living forever, and consequently, not fearing death? Would it make us happier, or more generous? In Silicon Valley, some of the country’s wealthiest and brightest minds are pooling their resources behind technologies that promise to extend life. “Our purpose now, in the 21st century, is to become god-like and overcome death,” says Zoltan Istvan, a transhumanist and former presidential candidate. This episode of “That Feeling When” explores the growing number of people who have already begun preparing for a life without death.
The anthropic principle is a philosophical consideration that any data we collect about the universe is filtered by the fact that, in order for it to be observable in the first place, it must be compatible with the conscious and sapient life that observes it. Proponents of the anthropic principle reason that it explains why this universe has the age and the fundamental physical constants necessary to accommodate conscious life. As a result, outside the narrow range thought to be compatible with life it would seem impossible that life (in particular, intelligent life) could develop
- The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe, Richard Rohr (Convergent/Random House, 2019)
- Pantheologies: Gods, Worlds, Monsters, G, Mary-Jane Rubenstein (Columbia U. Press, 2018)
- Anatheism: Returning to God After God, Richard Kearney (Columbia U. Press, 2010)
- Reimagining the Sacred: Richard Kearney Debates God With David Wood, Catherine Keller, and others, Richard Kearney (Columbia U. Press, 2015)
- The Weakness of God: A Theology of the Event, John D. Caputo (Indiana U. Press, 2006)
- The Dream Universe: How Fundamental Physics Lost its Way, David Lindley (Doubleday, 2020)
- Quantum Theology: Spiritual Implications of the New Physics , Diarmuid O'Murchu (Crossroad, 2004)
- Quantum Physics and Theology: An Unexpected Kinship, John Polkinghorne (Yale U. Press 2008)
- The Biology of Belief: Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter and Miracles, Bruce H. Lipton (Hay House, 2005/2015)
- Paradoxology: Spirituality in a Quantum Universe, Miriam Therese Winter (Orbis Books, 2009)
- Strange Rites: New Religions for a Godless World by Tara Burton (June 2020)
- The Nones Are Alright: A New Generation of Believers, Seekers, and Those In Between by Kaya Oakes (ORBIS 2015) [Read a review of this book here]