Religious, philosophical, and theological views on the self vary widely. For some the self is seen as the center of human personhood, the ultimate bearer of personal identity and the core mystery of human existence. For others the self is a grammatical error and the sense of self an existential and epistemic delusion. Buddhists contrast the Western understanding of the self as a function of the mind that helps us to organize our experiences to their view of no-self by distinguishing between no-self and not-self or between a solid or ‘metaphysical’ self that is an illusion and an experiential or psychological self that is not. There may be processes of ‘selfing’, but there is no permanent self. In Western psychology, philosophy and theology, on the other hand, the term ‘self’ is often used as a noun that refers not to the performance of an activity or to a material body per se but rather to a (gendered) organism that represents the presence of something distinct from its materiality called ‘the self’. Is this a defensible insight or a misleading representation of human experience? We are aware of ourselves in the first-person manner of our ipse-identity that cannot fully be spelled out in objectifying terms, but we also know ourselves in the third-person manner of our idem-identity, the objectified self-reference to a publicly available entity.
This irreducible difference has far reaching epistemic and existential, moral and metaphysical consequences. We develop a sense of self in interacting with others in shared situations. We distinguish between our private and public selves by presenting ourselves differently to different audiences. But ‘constructing ourselves’ need not mean ‘constructing selves’, and being a self in the first sense is quite compatible with being a no-self in the second. So is that which (some) Eastern traditions deny the same as that which (some) Western traditions affirm? Is the sense of self a delusion or do we address different questions when we contrast self and no-self? Is it a contradiction in terms to say that selves can be selfless, and that no-selves can be selfish? Is our sense of self a function of our bodies and brains or does it point to a reality beyond our life as organisms? Do neuroscientific accounts reinforce or help us to deconstruct the (often oversimplifying) contrast between self and no-self? Does the distinction apply beyond the particular discursive practices in which we use it to respond to particular problems? Are there ‘selves’ without cultural technologies of ‘selfing’, and can there be ‘no-selves’ without cultural practices of ‘un-selfing’? Can we meaningfully pose and discuss questions of self and no-self without paying close attention to the modes of signifying and (re)presentation in the symbolic communications, imaginative constructions, social interactions and religious practices of our different cultures?
The 36th Philosophy of Religion Conference at Claremont, California, on February 19-21, 2015 will address these and related questions. The conference seeks to provide an occasion and platform for critical and constructive debate between the critics and defenders of the self or of the no-self. Speakers will include: Sinkwan Cheng (Wesleyan), Iben Damgaard (Copenhagen), Jonardon Ganeri (NYU Abu Dhabi), Amy Hollywood (Harvard), Leah Kalmanson (Drake), Gereon Kopf (Luther College/Tōyō University), Dietrich Korsch (Marburg), Joseph O’Leary (Nanzan), and Joseph Prabhu (Los Angeles).
2014: Hope: Re-examinations of an Elusive Phenomenon.
Hope is an elusive phenomenon. For some it is Pandora’s most mischievous evil, for others it is a divine gift and one of the highest human virtues. It is difficult to pin down but its traces seem to be present everywhere in human life and practice. Many are of two minds about whether this is a good thing or bad thing. Christianity as a comprehensive practice of hope cannot be imagined without it: Christians are not believers of dogmas but practitioners of hope. In other religious traditions the topic of hope is virtually absent or even critically rejected and opposed. Some see hope as the most humane expression of a deep-seated human refusal to put up with evil and suffering in this world, others object to it as an escapist reluctance and lack of courage to face up to the realities of the world as it is.
Half a century ago hope was at the center of attention in philosophy and theology. Ernst Bloch’s The Principle of Hope (1938-1947/1986), Jürgen Moltmann’s Theology of Hope (1964/1967), or Josef Pieper’s Faith–Hope–Love (1986/1997) are landmarks of the 20th century debate on hope. However, in recent years philosophers and theologians have been curiously silent on the subject of hope and the discussion has shifted to positive psychology and psychotherapy, utopian studies and cultural anthropology, politics and economy. This has opened up interesting new vistas. It is time to revisit the subject of hope, and to put hope back on the philosophical and theological agenda.
This is what this conference seeks to do, and there are many open questions. What is the phenomenon called hope? Is it the same topic that is studied in the various approaches to hope in psychology and politics, economy and theology? How does hope differ from belief and faith, trust and desire, expectation and confidence, optimism and utopianism? Is hope an emotional state or a feeling or a virtue? Does the absence of hope equal the presence of anxiety, fear or despair, or is there a human attitude or state that overcomes the opposition between hope and despair without being either of them? What is hope’s relation to promise and time, knowledge and action, self and community? Where are the limits of hope and what are its distortions? How is it to be distinguished form self-deception and error, wishful thinking and the irrational refusal to accept the world as it is? Does hope hinder religious believers from facing the tasks and challenges of the present life by orienting them towards a life to come? Is it a form of escapism to be shunned or a power of change to be appreciated? These and related questions we will explore at the 35th Philosophy of Religion Conference at Claremont, California, on February 14-15, 2014.
Speakers will include: Keynote speaker – Jürgen Moltmann (Tübingen), William Abraham (SMU), Nancy Bedford (Garrett-Evangelical Seminary), John Cottingham (Heythrop College, University of London), M. Jamie Ferreira (Virginia), Arne Grøn (Copenhagen), Serene Jones (Union Theological Seminary), Alan Mittleman (Jewish Theological Seminary of America), Hirokazu Miyazaki (Cornell), Ola Sigurdson (Gothenburg), Claudia Welz (Copenhagen)
2013: Hermeneutics and Philosophy of Religion: The Legacy of Paul Ricoeur [conference program]
Paul Ricoeur (February 27, 1913 to May 20, 2005) was one of the most distinguished and prolific philosophers of religion in the second half of the 20th century. From his early studies on philosophical anthropology – Freedom and Nature and Fallible Man – to his latest books – Thinking Biblically; Memory, History, Forgetting; Figuring the Sacred: Religion, Narrative, and Imagination; Reflections on the Just; and Living up to Death – Ricoeur focused on the reality of human life and culture and the phenomenological and hermeneutical elucidation of the complex human creations of meaning in symbols, metaphors, narratives and other cultural phenomena. Through his wide-ranging writings, a self-reflective and critical approach to hermeneutics became an indispensable tool for the philosophical interpretation of the complex text worlds of religious traditions and the critical reflection of cultural phenomena. His philosophical hermeneutics was sensitive to the lack of transparency of the human self and the corresponding intricacies of direct and indirect communication in religion and culture. It was open to the analytic and phenomenological traditions but, by combining phenomenological description with hermeneutic interpretation, also decisively different from other contemporary approaches such as Gadamer, Blumenberg, Lonergan, Foucault, Levinas, or Derrida.
On the occasion of what would be his 100th birthday this conference seeks to provide an occasion for exploring and evaluating Ricoeur’s contributions to the hermeneutic turn in the philosophy of religion. What can we learn from Ricoeur’s hermeneutic phenomenology that may help to enrich and reorient the contemporary practice of philosophy of religion? Where and how does it point beyond the standard ways of doing philosophy of religion in the analytic and post-analytic traditions with their seemingly barren varieties of metaphysical theism? Where and how do we have to go beyond Ricoeur in our attempts to clarify, explore, and critically elucidate the complex reality of religious orientations in our global world today? These and related questions we will explore at the 34th Philosophy of Religion Conference at Claremont, California, on February 8–9, 2013.
Speakers will include: Pamela Anderson (Oxford), Pierre Bühler (Zurich), Crina Gschwandtner (Scranton), Anselm Min (Claremont), Walter Schweidler (Eichstätt), Nicola Stricker (Paris), and David Tracy (Chicago).
The 33rd Annual Philosophy of Religion Conference will explore the topic of Revelation. Revelation plays a vital role in a great number of religious traditions and raises important philosophical, hermeneutical and theological questions in need of conceptual elucidation and clarification. Revelation is a central category in many religions. Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Mormonism or Unificationists are difficult if not impossible to imagine without it. For some, revelation signifies a decisive event in the past, for others it is a present reality. It plays a central role in shaping religious identities, and it is the reason for much criticism. Some follow a religion only because of its claim to divine revelation, whereas others criticize it as “hearsay upon hearsay” (Paine) on which they would never rest their belief. Sometimes revelation is used to refer to a special source of information about the divine accessible only to a few, while in the hand of others it becomes virtually indistinguishable from religious experience or experience in general. Sometimes revelation is understood to be self-communicating and self-authenticating, at other times revelations need mediations and mediators. In some traditions, true revelation is always personal and experienced, and past revelation must continually be made revelation again. Some religions have built elaborate institutions of priests and privileged interpreters to safeguard their revelation, control access to it and to protect the right way of interpreting and communicating it. Theologies have distinguished between natural and supernatural, general, specific and individual, personal and impersonal revelation, between revelation, inspiration and incarnation, or between revelation and divine self-revelation. But claims to revelation have also been criticized as strategies of self-immunization, which allow religions to avoid critical public debate of their views and teachings, or legitimize the position of those in power.
The conference seeks to provide a forum for critical analysis and discussion of the concepts and criticisms of revelation and of the status, role and content of claims to revelation in different religious traditions. Its focus is philosophical and theological, but it seeks to engage in dialogue not only with conceptual constructions of revelation but also with the reality of the discourse of revelation in religious and theological traditions today.
2011: Conversion [conference program]
Conversion is not always understood in the same way. Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam differ not only in their attitudes towards conversion but understand different things by it. There are many kinds of conversion, including a variety of religious versions. Often they involve more than a simple change in one’s religious identity. For some, conversion always means adopting a (new) religious belief, while others include the rejection of religion for a secular world-view.
This conference seeks to explore the topic of conversion in philosophical and theological perspectives. Is there any one thing that is usually meant by conversion? What are the conceptual issues involved in arguing for or against conversion, in a particular case or in general? Is conversion primarily to be understood in terms of what a convert does, or rather as something he or she suffers? How do Jews, Christians or Muslims understand conversion, and what is their attitude towards it? What are the individual, communal, social, cultural, legal issues involved in conversion, and how are they related to the theological and philosophical issues? Are there criteria for distinguishing between acceptable and unacceptable, serious and questionable, legitimate and illegitimate conversions? Are there ends and means of conversion, which are acceptable, and others that are not? Is to encourage, entice or accept conversion compatible with the respect for other religions and traditions? Where is the line to be drawn between legitimate witnessing to one’s religious convictions and the improper intrusion into other peoples’ lives? How can the right of persons to express their views be proportioned to the rights of others not to be exposed to views which they do not wish to hear?
2010: Skeptical Faith: On Faith, Belief, and Skepticism [conference program]
This conference is an invitation to rethink our usual understanding of the relationship between faith, belief and skepticism. For some, ‘skeptical faith’ is an oxymoron and faith and skepticism are mutually exclusive states or attitudes. Others argue that there is no proper faith without skepticism about faith. True faith is not merely skeptical about skepticism but also skeptical about itself. If skepticism is skeptical of faith and belief, and if faith is skeptical of belief and skepticism, how are we to construe the relationship between faith, belief, and skepticism if we seek to understand what is characteristic of a life of faith, or of unfaith?
2009: Passion and Passivity [conference program]
The interplay between activity and passivity in religious practices in general, and religious beliefs and emotions in particular, is a central and controversial issue in philosophical, theological and psychological thought. For many, religion is not merely logos and ethos but also, and importantly so, pathos; not merely (if at all) knowledge and morality but above all affect, emotion, passion and feeling. However, is the pathos-dimension of religion to be conceived as feeling, affect or emotion at all, or is it more like Schleiermacher’s ‘feeling of absolute dependence’, which is not an emotion but that which grounds all emotion, cognition, and action? Does religion have a single emotional center? Are there specific religious emotions or spiritual affects as Plato (divine madness), Luther and Calvin (fear, awe, love), R. Otto (mysterium tremendum et fascinans) or R. Rolland (‘oceanic’ feeling) have thought? Or are religious fear, religious love, and religious joy only the normal emotions of fear, love, and joy directed to a religious object, as William James has argued? But then how do religious emotions differ from ‘ordinary’ emotions?
2008: The Presence and Absence of God [conference program]
For Jews, Christians, and Moslems alike God is not an inference, an absentee entity of which we can detect only faint traces in our world. On the contrary, God is present reality, indeed the most present of all realities, and his presence is unrestricted: If God is what believers believe God to be, then God is present. But what does this mean? In which sense, if any, can God be thought to be present?
Safeguarding the distinction between God and world has always been a basic interest of negative theology. But sometimes it has overemphasized divine transcendence in a way that made it difficult to account for the sense of God’s present activity and experienced actuality. Criticisms of the Western metaphysics of presence have made this even more difficult to conceive. On the other hand, there has been a widespread attempt in recent years to base all theology on (religious) experience; the Christian church celebrates God’s presence in its central sacraments of baptism and Eucharist; recent process thought has re-conceptualized God’s presence in panentheistic terms; and some have argued that God might be poly-present, not omnipresent.
But what does this mean? What does it mean to say that God is present or absent? How are we to understand the sense of divine presence in different religious traditions, the religious metaphors, rituals and institutions by which it is expressed, and the theological constructions that seek to make sense of this? This is what this conference is supposed to explore.
2007: The Ethics of Belief [conference program]
This volume is presented as a tribute to D.Z. Phillips and the introduction by Eugene Long includes a brief discussion of Phillips' life and work. The first six articles were originally written at the invitation of Phillips for a conference on the ethics of belief held at Claremont Graduate University. Unfortunately Phillips died unexpectedly July 25, 2006 and was unable to participate in the conference. Two additional essays were invited by the editors to help add Phillips' voice to the discussion
2006:Religion and the End of Metaphysics? [conference program]
The authors of this volume present a detailed philosophico-theological discussion of the relation between religion and metaphysics. If thinkers like Richard Rorty and Kai Nielsen are right to insist that metaphysical speculation must be abandoned for good, then what are the prospects for religion? Is belief in an omnipotent God not inextricably linked with belief in a metaphysical ground of all being? Indeed, can one even speak intelligibly about causal or moral necessity without invoking the notion of a transcendent reality? On the other hand, is the concept of metaphysics not as multi-faceted as the modes of religious discourse themselves? The contributors approach these questions from their own distinctive (philosophical and theological) perspectives, in the process disentangling some of the complex conceptual issues surrounding religion and metaphysics.
2005: Whose God? Which Tradition? [conference program]
Philosophy of Religion is marked by controversy over which philosophical accounts do justice to core religious beliefs. Many Wittgenstinian philosophers are accused by analytic philosophers of religion of distorting these beliefs. In Whose God? Which Tradition?, the accusers stand accused of the same by leading philosophers in the Thomist and Reformed traditions. Their criticisms alert us to the dangers of uncritical acceptance of dominant philosophical traditions, and to the need to do justice to the conceptual uniqueness of the reality of God. The dissenting voices breathe new life into the central issues concerning the nature of belief in God.
2004: Religion and Wittgenstein’s Legacy
Wittgenstein was one of the greatest philosophers of the twentieth century. In this collection, distinguished Wittgenstein scholars examine his legacy for the philosophy of religion by examining key areas of his work: Wittgenstein's Tractatus; Frazer's 'Golden Bough'; and the implications of his later philosophy for the understanding of religion. Assessments are also provided of the philosophical and theological reception of his work. The collection provides an invaluable resource for graduate and undergraduate teaching of Wittgenstein in relation to religion.
2003: Biblical Concepts and Our World
In this collection, distinguished theologians and philosophers of religion explore the relation of key Biblical concepts to our world. They examine a range of concepts, including authority, faith and history, the historical Jesus, the resurrection and miracles.
2002: Language and Spirit
God is said to be Spirit, but the language of spirit is ignored in contemporary philosophy of religion. As well as exploring the notion of spirit in Hegel, Romanticism and Kierkegaard, participants explore the view that God is a spirit without a body, and the relations between "spirit" and "truth."
2000: Religion in the 21st Century
This book offers the rare opportunity to assess, within a single volume, the leading schools of thought in the contemporary philosophy of religion. With contributions by well-known exponents of each school, the book is an ideal text for assessing the deep proximities and divisions which characterize contemporary philosophy of religion. The schools of thought represented include philosophical theism, Reformed epistemology, Wittgensteinianism, Postmodernism, Critical Theory, and Process Thought.
1998: Kant and Kierkegaard on Religion The contributions of leading Kantian and Kierkegaardian scholars to this collection break down to the simplistic contrast in which Kant is seen as the advocate of a rational moral theology and Kierkegaard as the advocate of an irrationalist faith. This collection is an ideal text for discussion of central issues.
1997: Religion and Hume’s Legacy
Whether one agrees with him or not, there is no avoiding the challenge of Hume for contemporary philosophy of religion. The symposia in this stimulating collection reveal why, whether the discussions concern Hume on metaphysics and religion, "true religion," religion and ethics, religion and superstition, or miracles. For some, Hume's criticisms of religion cannot withstand them, while others claim that Hume can be answered on his own terms. All responses to Hume determine the style and spirit in which one pursues philosophy of religion today.
1996: Religion Without Transcendence?
What can transcendence mean for us? We live in a world in which there are many conceptions of transcendence. Some philosophers say that they all point, in their way, to a transcendent realm, without which death and life's sorrows have the last word, while their opponents argue that since this realm is an illusion, we must use our own resources to meet life's trials. Others argue that moral and religious concepts of transcendence are obscured by philosophical notions of transcendence, and must be rescued from them. These conflicting views on a central issue in our culture are brought into sharp relief in the present collection.
1995: Can Religion Be Explained Away?
As the century draws to its close, how should we think of religion? Some see it as the survival in our midst of an outmoded, primitive way of thinking, while others accuse its critics of simply being blind to the meaning of religious belief. From a different perspective, the clash between belief and unbelief is not seen as a matter of identifying incoherent systems of thought, but as a clash between different demands made on us by divergent ways of looking at the world. Criticisms will flow between these perspectives. There is, however, another kind of interest in this situation: an interest in giving just characterizations of these different voices, so that the nature of allegiances and oppositions to religion may be better understood.
1994: Religion and Morality
Reflection on religion inevitably involves consideration of its relation to morality. When great evil is done to human beings, we may feel that something absolute has been violated. Can that sense, which is related to gratitude for existence, be expressed without religious concepts? Can we express central religious concerns, such as losing the self, while abandoning any religious metaphysic? Is moral obligation itself dependent on divine commands if it is to be objective, or is morality not only independent of religion, but its accuser if God is said to allow horrendous evils? In any case, what happens to the absolute claims of religion in what is, undeniably, a morally pluralistic world? These are the central questions discussed by philosophers of religion and moral philosophers in this collection. They do so in ways which bring new aspects to bear on these traditional issues.
1993: Philosophy and the Grammar of Religious Belief
The papers in this collection are concerned with the epistemology of religious belief. The contributors disagree on such issues as whether philosophers have a role to play in determining the reasonableness or intelligibility of religious beliefs, or whether philosophy is a descriptive task.