This semester I’m taking a graduate course in the philosophy of religion. I already took one as an undergraduate, but under a different professor who was a proficient expert on Hegel. This time, the current professor seems far more culturally informed and global, which leads to an entirely different angle to assess religion philosophically.
To put in general terms: mainstream philosophy of religion is a simmering tension between the requirements and judgments of reason and the experience and commitment of faith. The problem is that the tradition has academia teaching the discipline in two marginalizing, hidebound approaches: an obsession with the problems of natural theology within the context of Western theodicy; given this parochialism, a general neglect of religions that encompasses ideologies, myths, symbols, sacred rituals and deep, inarticulate beliefs (as opposed to the logically spic-and-span propositional assertions).
The solution to this myopia is a step back away from the singularity of theism and towards a comparative analysis of religion, the histories of religion & phenomenology of religious experiences. Gary Kessler pointed out that the philosophy of religion, since Hegel, has been limited to the philosophy of theism and only the big three (Judaism, Christianity & Islam) provide the sources for reflection. Mainstream philosophy of religion has been left with a straitjacket of the rigors of logic, reason, analysis, dialectic,reductio, refutations & rebuttals that come from established viewpoints of other disciplines of philosophy (epistemology, ontology, metaphysics, logic, etc.). This leaves the discipline in a duplicitous position of ahistorical, scholastic, and anti-empirical based abstract reasoning that ignores recent developments in other disciplines – say history or psychoanalysis. Among the various branches of philosophy, the philosophy of religion is at its hermetic, navel-gazing worst since it restricts itself to Judeo-Christian theology, both natural and philosophical – with a a few mentions of the Arabic falasifahs en passant.
A healthier, more sound basis for the discipline requires a critical & theoretical sensitivity to historiography that is based on radical historical consciousness & a nuanced feel of philosophical argumentation (post-structuralist critique) & a cross-cultural hermeneutics of suspicion. Otherwise we end up just distinguishing mythic patterns of textual disagreements and their interpretative outcomes, based on yet another weak perspective, one infected with apologetics and whatever passes for modern art.