Reconfigurations of Philosophy of Religion

A Possible Future

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Jim Kanaris
  • Albany, NY: 
    State University of New York Press
    , April
     318 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Several books, both monographs and edited volumes, have been published over recent years bemoaning a certain narrowness in much philosophy of religion and proposing ways in which the problem might be overcome. A central characteristic of this new volume, Reconfigurations of Philosophy of Religion: A Possible Future, is that all twelve of its contributors are conversant with the styles of philosophizing that fall under the heading of “continental philosophy,” and are able to bring to the debate perspectives informed by those styles. The volume’s cohesiveness benefits from the fact that its chapters are based on presentations delivered at a symposium at McGill University in 2013 entitled “Has Philosophy of Religion a Future?” While all of the contributors give an affirmative response to that question, each offers significant qualifications designed to prompt reflection on how philosophy of religion is pursued. Overall, the volume provides rich material for anyone interested in issues of methodology and the scope of this philosophical subdiscipline (or, as some contributors would put it, this multidisciplinary “field of inquiry”).

The book is divided into two parts—titled, respectively, “Philosophy of Religion and the Philosophical Tradition” and “Philosophy of Religion and Religious Studies, Theology, and the Modern Academy”—each of which comprises six chapters. Although the content of the two parts is not sharply differentiated, the division suffices as an organizing heuristic. I do not have space here to discuss all twelve chapters, so I shall be selective in a way that, I hope, does justice to the volume’s breadth.

The strongest chapter, to my mind, is Timothy Knepper’s “The End of Philosophy of Religion?” Taking as his starting point Nick Trakakis’s The End of Philosophy of Religion (Continuum, 2008), Knepper argues that, despite important weaknesses in both “analytic” and “continental” approaches, Trakakis’s contention that Anglo-American analytic philosophy of religion should be abandoned is overblown. Knepper propounds a fivefold methodological strategy that, if enacted, would dramatically diversify the inquiry into “religious reason-giving” in multicultural comparative directions. Versions of this chapter have, as Knepper acknowledges, already been published in two other places, but its inclusion in this volume is nonetheless deserved.

Preceding Knepper’s chapter is one by Nick Trakakis himself, entitled “After the End of Philosophy of Religion.” It appears from this that Trakakis would now largely agree with Knepper about the prospects for a reinvigorated philosophy of religion that looks beyond the well-trodden ground of Abrahamic theisms. Trakakis is especially captivated by traditions deriving from “the East,” most notably Advaita (“nondualist”) Vedānta, which he thinks could infuse “a radically relational view of reality” (89) into Western conceptions of God. I am unsure why Trakakis regards Advaita as a “relational view,” and also why he assumes that, upon encountering Advaita, philosophers are more likely to revise their own conceptions of God than they are to reject Advaita’s monism (as did, for example, Charles Hartshorne and Keith Yandell).

Exemplifying how East Asian thinkers have critically interrogated concepts originating from Western intellectual discourse is Jin Y. Park’s chapter, which discusses work by two Japanese philosophers (Inoue Enryō and Tanabe Hajime) and the Korean Zen Buddhist nun, Kim Iryŏp. By showing how these three thinkers appraise, in different ways, concepts such as those of philosophy and religion, God and the Buddha, and the limitations of reason, Park skillfully highlights the diversity of perspectives encompassed by a potentially homogenizing term such as “the East.”

Part 2 begins with Carl Raschke discussing the significance of postcolonial and globalization theory for philosophical thinking about religion. It is clear, he argues, that Western philosophy of religion “has no choice but to go global and to ‘decolonize’ in ways it has never imagined before” (170). Whether this is clearremains, I think, an open question, but there are undoubtedly pressures, both internal to philosophy and from surrounding cultural influences, to develop more globally aware approaches, and, as Raschke affirms, such approaches will require increased scrutiny of religion’s diverse forms.

In view of the book’s many calls for philosophy of religion to transcend its traditional (crypto-)Christian preoccupations, the early chapter by Maurice Boutin is something of an oddity, given its apparent presupposition of a specifically Christian framework within which to assert that “Only a finite being can be a transcendent being” (50). Far from offering “a new paradigm for philosophy of religion,” Boutin’s chapter—which relies on excessively long quotations from Paul Ricoeur—is obscure. Also unconvincing is Clayton Crockett’s attempt to demonstrate the importance for philosophy of religion of work by François Laruelle. While recognizing “the forbidding vocabulary and the self-referential quality of his thought” (250), Crockett insists that Laruelle’s deployment of concepts from mathematics and quantum physics to establish a “non-philosophical method” is worthy of attention.

Among the themes I have had to neglect here are: Morny Joy’s vision of “intercultural” philosophy of religion informed by feminist and postcolonial perspectives; the late Pamela Sue Anderson’s commendation of “marginalized” philosophers who celebrate “the concept of life … at the heart of every religion” (67); Jim Kanaris’s exposition of an “enecstatic [a term coined by Kanaris himself] philosophy of religious studies” that would combine artistry with spiritual practice; Tyler Roberts’s proposal to think, by cultivating attitudes of receptivity and reverence, not only about but also with religion; John Caputo’s call for “a new species of theologians” (among whom he appears to count himself) who engage in “radical” rather than “confessional” theology (even while admitting that these two theological stances bleed into each other); and Wesley Wildman’s robust defense of the place of philosophy of religion—construed in terms of “multidisciplinary comparative inquiry”—in the modern academy.

“A Possible Future” is a modest subtitle for this collection. We are in fact offered multiple options for proceeding in the philosophy of religion. The current period is one of intense self-questioning among academics working in this area, regarding the state of the field and how it might be augmented or transformed without undermining its existing strengths. This volume usefully gives voice to a concinnity of “reconfigurations” that, in their diversity, contribute provocatively to the debate.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Mikel Burley is Associate Professor of Religion and Philosophy at the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom.

Date of Review: 
June 12, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Jim Kanaris is CAS Assistant Professor of Philosophy of Religion at McGill University. He is the author of Bernard Lonergan’s Philosophy of Religion: From Philosophy of God to Philosophy of Religious Studies and the coeditor (with Mark J. Doorley) of In Deference to the Other: Lonergan and Contemporary Continental Thought, both also published by SUNY Press.


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