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2014 Program Update

Dedicated to historical, critical, and social scientific approaches to the study of religion, as well as a relentlessly reflexive critique of the theories, methods, and categories used in such study.

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The 2014 annual meeting program has been updated; of particular note is the addition of information about two philosophy of religion working groups that will be meeting on Sunday:

Working Group: Philosophy of Religion 1

9:00 AM-11:30 AM—Gaslamp Room 1, Omni Hotel

To what extent do we need to consider the truth of what religious people say in order to understand them? In this working group discussion we consider an influential approach to meaning—“truth conditional semantics”—that ties meaning directly to truth. According to this view, grasping the conditions under which an utterance is true is central to successful interpretation, whether in religion or elsewhere. However, interpreting religious language poses some interesting challenges to truth-conditional semantics. The discussion will be led by scholars who take very different positions with respect to the relevance of truth-conditionality to religious phenomena. To the extent that truth-conditionality has been influential in philosophical semantics, this working group facilitates a focused look at possible relations between philosophy and religious studies.

Working Group Leaders
Terry Godlove, Hofstra University
Mark Gardiner, Mount Royal University
Scott Davis, University of Richmond
[Due to a scheduling conflict, Gabriel Levy (Norwegian University for Science and Tech) and Lars Albinus (Aarhus University) will not be able to attend, but will share written contributions with the other working group leaders.]


Working Group: Philosophy of Religion 2

1:00 PM-3:30 PM—Gaslamp Room 1, Omni Hotel

In order to advance the general discussion of the future of the philosophy of religion in the academic study of religion, working group leaders will invite discussion of related issues raised by Kevin Schilbrack’s recent Philosophy and the Study of Religions: A Manifesto (Wiley Blackwell, 2014). Schilbrack’s volume argues that disciplinary philosophy can play a more active, contributory role in the study of religion and, to that end, undertakes philosophical consideration of the task(s) of philosophy, the role of belief, the definition of religion, religious metaphysics, and the nature of the study of religion.

Working Group Leaders
Jeppe Sinding Jensen, Aarhus University
Wesley Wildman, Boston University
Tim Knepper, Drake University
Bryan Rennie, Westminster College
Kevin Schilbrack, Western Carolina University


The organizers of the second working group asked that I share the following details about their discussion.

Jeppe Sinding Jensen will talk about the issue of the “metaphysics of religion”—are they ontological or epistemic? Or, to put it another way, what is it that we are trying to make sense of?

Tim Knepper will discuss Schilbrack’s neglect of comparison; his explication of the methodological steps of an improved philosophy of religion—description, explanation, and evaluation—fails to mention comparison. Knepper will suggest that any philosophy of religion that is religiously diverse and inclusive is necessarily comparative and should therefore make comparison a distinct, formal step of its practice.

Bryan Rennie suggests we go further then Schilbrack proposes—the methods of disciplinary philosophy could provide the centralizing paradigm around which the various contributory disciplines of the study of religion might be better organized. Rennie will suggest a “philosophical ethology” that studies religion primarily as behavior and will insist that, even in such a study, there must be greater philosophical focus on issues such as the natures of inferential reasoning, definition, truth, and “superempirical realities.”

The focus of Wildman’s discussion will be practical, thinking of Schilbrack’s work less as the splendid manifesto it is and more as a guidebook for practical change in philosophy of religion. It is not necessary to achieve consensus around Schilbrack’s functional-substantive definition of religion, the legitimacy of metaphysics, or the three goals of philosophy of religion in order to make progress. The necessary condition is to demonstrate the catastrophic weaknesses of traditional arguments in philosophy of religion. The quest for a higher quality of work necessarily leads to engagement with the academic study of religion from a host of directions. Philosophers so engaged may not agree with Schilbrack yet will make material contributions to philosophy of religion, renewed in something like the way that Schilbrack hopes, except more pluralistically and more haphazardly realized.


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