What is Philosophy of Religion?

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Charles Taliaferro
  • Maiden, MA: 
    Polity Books
    , January
     160 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Charles Taliaferro has taught philosophical theology for more than thirty years. It is not surprising, then, that he dedicates What is Philosophy of Religion? “to the many students I have had the joy of working with” (vi).

It is not the first time that Taliaferro has written an introductory book on the philosophy of religion. In 2009, for example, he wrote Philosophy of Religion: A Beginner’s Guide (Oneworld). According to him, a “philosophical reflection on religion is […] of immense […] significance”, because religion plays a fundamental role “in shaping societies and personal lives” (2), not only in the history of mankind but also in the contemporary world. Philosophy of religion is an important discipline, above all because it enables people to recognize and give serious consideration to questions about the meaning of life—that is the questions that all religions deal with. Therefore, Taliaferro’s book seems to also have an apologetic aim, not because—as he claims—it supports any particular religion or secular, non-religious alternative, but because it shows and emphasises the specific value of the philosophy of religion itself. 

In the book, the author uses the term “religion” in a very broad sense. Not only does the word actually refer to monotheistic traditions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam), but the concept also encompasses Hinduism, Buddhism, and similar traditions, although unrelated to the idea (borrowed from Lucius Lactanctius) of a relationship, a religamen, between the human being and God. According to Taliaferro’s definition, any religion “involves a communal, transmittable body of teachings and prescribed practices about an ultimate, sacred reality or state of being that calls for reverence or awe” (11). These teachings and practices can lead practitioners into a specific relationship to that reality and transform their lives. By adopting this idea of “religion,” Taliaferro is able to identify a common ground among the different forms of worship and reflect on the many issues addressed in the book.

The book is subdivided into seven chapters. Firstly, they deal with the relationship (or conflict) between religion and science (chapter 1), the idea of the meaning of life and the role that world religions can play in exploring and managing this idea (chapter 2), and the classical idea of divine attributes, in particular the attributes of perfection, divine necessity, incorporeality, omnipotence, omniscience, and being eternal (chapter 3). The other chapters provide an insight into the wide debate about faith and evidence, and consider some of the evidences for and against the world religions (chapter 4), discuss the well-known problem of evil in connection with God’s omnipotence (chapter 5), explore the role of love in the practice of religious persons and explain some religious notions about miracles, divine revelation, and the possibility of a life after death (chapter 6). A final chapter (chapter 7) gives some interesting information about potential options for addressing the many aspects of contemporary philosophy of religion and the main institutions in which such discipline can be studied.

The topics are well explained. The arguments are discussed in a simple and accurate manner. Please note, however, that a “discussion questions” section can be found at the end of each chapter, in which Taliaferro offers insights into specific problems in the attempt to involve his students in a wider debate. Actually, Taliaferro does not understand philosophy of religion as a set of answers, but as an open ground for shared investigation, in which questions are raised to stimulate further thoughts. It is not surprising that the questions asked in the book have no fixed or definite answers, although Taliaferro makes no secret of his ideas.

In conclusion, What is Philosophy of Religion? is a very engaging, well structured and well written introduction to the main topics of the discipline. By adopting an open-minded approach, it can involve the reader into a non-dogmatic debate about religions. This is a very important purpose in this day and age—an age in which the idea of “religion” is too often and wrongly confused with the concept of “fundamentalism."

About the Reviewer(s): 

Adriano Fabris is Full Professor of Moral Philosophy and of Philosophy of Religions at Pisa University (Italy).


Date of Review: 
October 15, 2019
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Charles Taliaferro is Professor of Philosophy and Department Chair at St. Olaf College.


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