Philosophy of Religion

Throughout time people have puzzled over life, love, suffering, God, where we come from and what will happen when we die. Throughout time people have lived with different notions of all that we are dependent upon, but have no control over. The Philosophy of Religion in turn considers these notions and the truth and knowledge claims that are connected to different understandings of reality. This has taken place in a number of ways. Sometimes connections have been made to a particular faith with the aim of providing a philosophical basis for the teaching of one’s own faith, that is to say philosophy has been used with religious aims. Sometimes a critical discussion of the content and validity of religious teachings has been conducted. Discussions have, in this case, been conducted by believers, atheists and agnostics and have primarily comprised different arguments for and against the existence of God.

At Uppsala University today the Philosophy of Religion is the philosophical discipline which processes philosophical problems actualised by religions and secular world views. Their claims to have something to say about reality sets the Philosophy of Religion the following tasks:

  1. It examines how we can understand what type of questions the religious questions are and how religious experiences can be interpreted.
  2. It examines the conceptions of different religions and other world views and how they relate to one another and to scientific, moral or aesthetic ideas.
  3. Finally it examines whether conceptions can be judged to be valid, plausible and acceptable and in such a case in what way.

A problem orientated approach

Our problem oriented approach involves starting from a philosophical problem, specifying the problem and critically evaluating different potential solutions and the foundations on which they rest. The starting point can, for example, be difficulties in conducting dialogue between religions, the contested place of religious argumentation in the public sphere, the ambiguous relationship between religion and the good life, or the tension between traditional and revised language in worship. There are three periods in the process of philosophical problem orientation:

  • First the argumentation surrounding varying potential solutions is reconstructed.
  • Following this questions of conceptual lack of clarity are highlighted.
  • Finally, concepts are developed which contribute to a hopefully better solution to the philosophical problem investigated.

Examples of questions in the Philosophy of Religion

Is God or the transcendent real or is it only an illusion? What is religious language about? Do physics, neuroscience or biology, for example, have any relevance for an understanding of the religious and in that case in what way? Does religious faith have any relevance for the natural sciences and if so in what way? Does the fact that religious faith always occurs in a given historical context lead to relativism or are universal claims possible? In what way is a gender perspective relevant to questions of truth and rationality in religions and secular world views? In what sense can a belief in god or a secular understanding of reality be seen to be rational? Is there proof for the religious claim that knowledge, truth and morality are impossible without religious belief? Can one speak of different understandings of truth and knowledge in everyday life, science, religion, morality and art? How does religion relate to science, morality and art?

Relevance to society

While the questions above are of a more basic character, there are others which relate directly to social situations: How can conflicts between different truth and knowledge claims be handled in a democratic society? What does the right to freedom of religion involve and how can this be weighed against other freedoms and rights? How can religious understandings of gender and sexuality be related to the right to equal treatment despite gender or sexual orientation? How can reflexive balance be created between science, morality, art and worldviews which can all be said to be indispensable for a good human life?