Philosophy of Religion


Religion, as most people know, refers to belief in and worship of gods and spirits. It often involves moral conduct and participation in religious institutions. It has been characterized as a taxon that sorts social formations, with paradigmatic examples being the world religions of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. It is also commonly taken to include other practices that are not specifically religious, but common to a given geographical area or a particular cultural group, for example shamanistic practice, Confucianism, or Daoism. Despite the fact that many people believe there are health benefits to being religious, it has been observed that some individuals do not ascribe to any organized religion. Among those who do not ascribe to a religion, some are agnostics or atheists and others, especially young adults, do not think of themselves as religious. There is also some debate about whether there are any benefits to being religious, although some research has shown that there may be some.

Philosophy of religion is the philosophical study of religious concepts and beliefs. It has been a topic of significant interest throughout history. Many philosophers have weighed in on the subject. Some of the most well-known philosophers to have addressed religion include Bertrand Russell, G.E. Moore, John Rawls, and Hilary Putnam. However, it is important to note that considerable philosophical work on religion has been done by philosophers who are not traditionally classified as “philosophers of religion,” including Emmanuel Levinas, Franz Rosenzweig, Martin Heidegger, and Luce Irigaray.

One of the most persistent issues in philosophical thought about religion concerns the question of how to define the concept. Some philosophers, particularly those who are committed to a naturalistic worldview, have attempted to define religion by eliminating supernatural concepts. This has been criticized as a form of reductionism. Others have adopted a polythetic approach, recognizing that there are several properties that are “common” to religions without implying that any of these is essential.

The most influential work in the reflexive turn of the philosophy of religion has been Talal Asad’s Genealogies of Religion (1993). Using Michel Foucault’s methodology, this book seeks to demonstrate that one should not take the abstract concept of “religion” to be like a family resemblance notion or a category-concept that has an ahistorical essence, but rather as a complex taxon that contains multiple elements with different causal powers. These include secondary features and powers such as identity, community, meaning, expression and experience, social control, and legitimacy. These have self-perpetuating, generative causal powers that influence both the individual and society. As a result, the category “religion” has a profound impact on human beings and their societies. It is not simply a collection of beliefs and practices, but a powerful force in the modern world. For this reason, it is not likely to disappear anytime soon. As a matter of fact, it seems to be growing and expanding in the 21st century. This is because religion serves a wide variety of purposes.