The literal meaning of the term ‘philosophy of religion’ means, philosophical reflections on religion. The term “philosophy of religion” was used for the first time in English in the 17th century work of Ralph Cudworth. Cudworth and his Cambridge University colleague Henry More produced philosophical work with a specific focus on religion and so, if one insisted on dating the beginning of philosophy of religion as a field, there are good reasons for claiming that it began (gradually) in the mid- 17th century. However, the scope of the subject even today remains in line with the subject matter treated by Cudworth and More.
What is Philosophy of Religion?
There are different views and definitions with regards what Philosophy of Religion is. Some of them are:
Philosophy of Religion is a branch of philosophy concerned with the philosophical study of religious beliefs, religious doctrines, arguments and history. It also deals with questions regarding religion, including the nature and existence of God, the examination of religious experience, analysis of religious language and texts, and the relationship of religion and science. It is an ancient discipline, being found in the earliest known manuscripts concerning philosophy, and it also relates with many other branches of philosophy and general thought, including metaphysics, logic, and history. Philosophy of religion can be said to have two branches: the philosophy of religion proper and the philosophical theology.
The Difference between Religious Philosophy and Philosophy of Religion
The line between theology and the philosophy of religion is not always sharp because they share much in common, but the primary difference is that theology tends to be apologetical in nature, committed to the defense of particular religious positions, whereas Philosophy of Religion is committed to the investigation of religion itself, rather than the truth of any particular religion. However, Theologians, distinct from philosophers of religion, often consider the existence of God as axiomatic or self-evident and explain, justify or support religious claims by rationalization or intuitive metaphors. In contrast, philosophers of religion examine and critique the epistemological, logical, aesthetic and ethical foundations inherent in the claims of a religion.
The philosophy of religion differs from religious philosophy in that it seeks to discuss questions regarding the nature of religion as a whole, rather than examining the problems brought forth by a particular belief system. It is designed such that it can be carried out dispassionately by those who identify as believers or non-believers.
The Significance of Philosophy of Religion
The philosophical exploration of religious beliefs and practices is evident in the earliest recorded philosophy itself in the east and the west. Nonetheless today philosophy of religion is a robust, intensely active area of philosophy. The importance of philosophy of religion is chiefly due to subject matter that is alternative beliefs about God, Brahman, and the sacred, the varieties of religious experience, the interplay between science and religion, the challenge of non-religious philosophies, the nature and scope of good and evil, religious treatments of birth, history, and death, and other substantial terrain.
A philosophical exploration of these topics involves fundamental questions about our place in the cosmos and about our relationship to what may transcend the cosmos. Such philosophical work requires an investigation into the nature and limit of human thought. Alongside this, ambitious projects, philosophy of religion have at least three factors that contribute to its importance for the overall enterprise of philosophy.
1. Philosophy of religion addresses embedded social and personal practices therefore, it is relevant to practical concerns; its subject matter is not all abstract theory. Given facts the vast percentage of the world’s population is either aligned with religion or affected by religion, so philosophy of religion has a secure role in addressing people’s actual values and commitments.
2. The Breadth of the philosophy of religion as a field of study is another important reason behind the importance of this field. There are few areas of philosophy that are shorn of religious implications.
3. A third reason is historical. Most philosophers throughout the history of ideas, east and west, have addressed religious topics. It is notable that at the beginning of the 21stcentury, a more general rationale for philosophy of religion could be cited: it has enhanced cross-cultural dialogue. It has also contributed to the enhancement of communication between traditions, and between religions and secular institutions. However, it’ contribution to the field of religious and theology can never been overlooked.
The Questions Asked
There are very many important questions that are raised in the discipline of philosophy of religion; I feel the analyses of same would make us understand importance of this field and its relevance to our daily existence here. In random some of them are:
Is there a God? If there is, then what is he like? What does that mean for us to believe in him? What, if anything, would give us good reason to believe that a miracle has occurred? What is the relationship between faith and reason? What is the relationship between morality and religion? What is the status of religious language? Does petitionary prayer make sense? However, going beyond metaphysics, the philosophy of religion also addresses questions in areas such as epistemology, philosophy of language, philosophical logic, and moral philosophy, etc.
Major Contributors of Philosophy of Religion
There are very many philosophers in the history of philosophy who has contributed a lot to the development of this discipline. Some of the major contributors so the historical periods are: St Anselm of Canterbury, St Thomas Aquinas, Aristotle, St Augustine of Hippo, Rene Descartes, Epicurus, Gaunilo of Marmoutiers, David Hume, Immanuel Kant, CS Lewis, John Stuart Mill, William Paley, Blaise Pascal, Plato, Bertrand Russell. The modern era too is blessed with very many others such as, Robert Adams, William Lane Craig, Brian Davies, Richard Dawkins, Antony Flew, John Hick, Michael Martin, Alvin Plantinga, Richard Swinburne, etc.
The disciple philosophy of religion has it relevance in the fast growing scientific and pragmatic world culture. It asks us to find rational and philosophical background for our beliefs and faith, which is very important for this century, to put into perspective the empirical and pragmatic views with our faith and religion