A Dictionary of Philosophy of Religion

Second Edition

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Charles Taliaferro, Elsa J. Marty
  • New York, NY: 
    Bloomsbury Academic
    , January
     392 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


This revised and updated edition of A Dictionary of Philosophy of Religion is the work of not only editors Charles Taliaferro and Elsa J. Marty, but also over seventy philosophy and religion scholars from around the world. It begins with a brief but largely comprehensive introduction, followed by an overview of resources in philosophy of religion and a chronology of key figures in religion and philosophy of religion. The main body of the text includes entries ranging from “a posteriori” to “Zoroastrianism,” and concludes with an extensive bibliography. The book’s cover claims more than one hundred new entries, many of which, according to the introduction, are from outside the Abrahamic traditions, meaning they reflect the increasing interest in philosophy of religion in non-monotheistic and non-Western traditions.

The introduction is indicative of the assumptions and approach taken in collecting the material included in this dictionary. First of all, philosophy of religion is defined as “the philosophical examination of the central themes and concepts involved in religious traditions” (xi). Such a definition does not acknowledge—and indeed passes over—the question of whether the discipline is to be conceived of as a second-order activity, one removed from its subject matter (analogous to philosophy of science), or whether (or how) it includes theology or religious thinking, that is, “philosophical” reflection that is part of a particular religious tradition). The question is indirectly acknowledged elsewhere in the introduction, in criticisms of Merold Westphal’s “innately homiletical” Christian philosophy of religion/theology (xxi-xxii) and Christian philosopher Michael Rea’s resistance to philosophy of religion (xxiii), and in specific entries in the dictionary, such as the new entry for “Objective” (201). However, one would have hoped for more direct clarification on this issue, since it undoubtedly influences which concepts and figures get included (or excluded) in the dictionary. For instance, one could argue that topics that have been included as entries (for example, “Baptism,” “Confirmation,” “Sola Scriptura,” and “Transubstantiation”), while frequent subjects of theological debate, are rarely (if ever) topics addressed in philosophy of religion.

Taliaferro and Marty acknowledge in the introduction that they are addressing philosophy of religion “as chiefly studied primarily in so-called analytic departments of philosophy and religious studies in English-speaking countries” (xi). This is evident not only in the introduction (where, for instance, logical positivism is discussed at length), but also in the entries in the dictionary and bibliography. Though there are entries for many important philosophers in 19th- and 20th-century European philosophy, there are no entries for individual philosophers of religion who work in the continental tradition (for example, Jean-Luc Marion). However, there are a number of entries for Anglo-American philosophers of religion (for example, John Hick [124-25] and Alvin Plantinga [215-16]). There are entries for “Continental Philosophy of Religion” (64-65) and “Postmodernism/Postmodernity” (219-20), but neither is particularly enlightening: the former refers to philosophers by last name only and does not reference any relevant texts; the latter does not clearly indicate the relevance of the topic to philosophy of religion. Additionally, the bibliography relating to continental philosophy of religion is confusing insofar as there is no separate category for continental philosophy of religion. Instead, all the relevant texts are grouped under the category of “Postmodernism” (350), even though there is no cross-reference to “Postmodernism/Postmodernity” in the entry for “Continental Philosophy of Religion.”

Taliaferro and Marty have made an admirable effort to expand the entries beyond the Abrahamic traditions, but the dictionary remains informed by and oriented toward the Abrahamic traditions and the European (and American) philosophies associated with those traditions. This can be seen in a number of ways. In the introduction, the editors spend most of their time discussing the concept of God, arguments for the existence of God, and the problem of evil, all very much from the perspective of Western philosophy and religion. In some cases—for example, “Heaven” (120), “Hell” (121-22), and “Salvation” (252-53)—entries have been changed and simplified from the first to the second edition, to the detriment of non-Christian/non-Western religions. In other cases, key traditions or figures from Asian philosophy and religion have been omitted. So, while “Huayan Buddhism” is included (132), the arguably more fundamental tradition of “Tiāntāi Buddhism” is not. There is a new entry for the Japanese thinker Dōgen, but not for Kūkai, “one of the intellectual giants of Japan” according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, and founder of Shingon Buddhism. In addition, while there are numerous entries regarding Western religious practices, there are relatively fewer from Asian religious practice. Notable omissions include “Mandala,” “Mantra,” “Mudra,” “Nembutsu,” and “Tàijíquán.”

Most of the entries regarding individual philosophers are thorough and mention key relevant works by the thinker. A few (for example, “Jürgen Habermas” [118]) are somewhat vague and do not reference the relevant texts of the philosopher. Most entries regarding philosophical or religious concepts are clear and precise, though in some cases it would be helpful if there were better cross-referencing (for example, “Panentheism” could reference “Alfred North Whitehead” or “Process Theology”). A number of entries—for example, philosophical concepts that are not unique to philosophy of religion, or institutions like “American Academy of Religion” and the “American Philosophical Association”—seem unnecessary. Some concepts, such as “Compassion,” “Presentism,” and “Rights” might have a place in a dictionary of philosophy of religion, but these entries do not clarify the relevance of these terms for philosophy of religion. (In the case of “Compassion,” the entry fails to indicate the different ways the concept is significant in different religious traditions.) Finally, the bibliography, while extensive, is confusing. Works are grouped according to categories such as “Concepts of God” and “World Religions,” but those categories are not arranged alphabetically or in any other recognizable order.

Despite these shortcomings, the second edition of A Dictionary of Philosophy of Religion is a potentially valuable resource, especially for undergraduates and those who are new to the field. It very much reflects the diversity and breadth of the topics and thinkers addressed in contemporary philosophy of religion.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Robert S. Gall is Professor of Philosophy and Religion at West Liberty University in West Virginia.

Date of Review: 
July 11, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Charles Taliaferro is Professor of Philosophy at St. Olaf College.

Elsa J. Marty is a doctoral student at the University of Chicago, with a focus on theological anthropology and religion in India. She is the co-editor of A Dictionary of Philosophy of Religion.



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