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Religion and Philosophy of Religion

By Douglas Groothuis

Toward a definition of religion.

Religions involve social practices, institutions, and worldviews that lay claim to
or presuppose certain objective truths concerning the existence of the sacred or holy,
which is viewed as somehow transcendent (whether it be the Trinity, Yaweh, Allah,
Brahman, the Tao, Nirvana, the Kami, etc.). Religions normatively articulate (or
prescribe) how people ought to be oriented toward the sacred or holy spiritually,
existentially and socially. This right orientation to the sacred or holy—meaning spiritual
liberation or way of being—is viewed as necessarily connected to proper beliefs and
practices.

Toward a definition and brief discussion of the philosophy of religion.

This is the philosophical analysis of the truth-claims made by various religions,


which does not rely on religious authority or personal experience for its intellectual
conclusions. The philosophy of religion should be distinguished from (although it may
involve the discussion of) the psychology of religion, the sociology of religion, the
anthropology of religion, and the history of religion. These disciplines of social science,
while involving philosophical claims of various kinds regarding their methodology, make
no judgment on the truth or falsity, rationality or irrationality, of particular religions.
They are concerned with the phenomenology of religion rather than the ontology of
religion. The philosophy of religion does make judgments about truth, rationality, and
ontology.
The philosophy of religion may be practiced by anyone holding any worldview,
in defense of any conclusion arrived at on the basis of philosophical analysis and
argumentation. If a Buddhist argues for the intellectual coherence of the concept of
Nirvana, this does not mean the Buddhist is merely engaging in religious polemics or
propaganda. The arguments must be assessed rationally on their own terms. If a Christian
argues for the existence of God, this does not mean the effort is merely veiled evangelism
with no rational support. The arguments must be assessed rationally on their own terms.
When philosophical proponents of various religious worldviews defend their claims
philosophically, this may be considered religious apologetics, with no negative
association being necessarily attached to that term.
For more on how the philosophy of religion relates to apologetics, see Paul J.
Griffiths, An Apology for Apologetics: A Study in the Logic of Interreligious Dialogue
(MaryKnoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1991).

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Douglas Groothuis (Ph.D., University of Oregon) is professor of philosophy at Denver
Seminary, where he has served since 1993. He has written ten books, including On
Pascal and On Jesus (both in the Wadsworth Philosophers Series), and he served as
contributing editor for Dictionary of Contemporary Religion in the Western World.
Copyright ©2005 Douglas Groothuis. All rights reserved. This article may be reproduced and circulated
only as “freeware,” without charge. For all other uses, please contact Douglas Groothuis to request
permission.

This article can be read online at: http://www.ivpress.com/groothuis/doug/archives/000120.php

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