Glossary

a priori

A Latin phrase literally meaning "from what comes before." In this context, what is a priori is what is presupposed at the outset before one even begins looking at the evidence. For example, things that are true by definition or simply truths of logic or basic math would normally be taken to be known a priori, whereas what's in today's newspaper could only be known a posteriori (that is, after looking at the evidence).

analogy

A comparison between two objects, or systems of objects, that highlights respects in which they are thought to be similar.

analysis

Decomposing a concept into its simpler parts.

Ātman

For some Hindu philosophies, especially Vedānta, Ātman is the inner self or soul, which is not to be confused with the bodily or mental self. In some Vedānta philosophies, Ātman is thought to be identical with ultimate reality (Brahman); in other cases these are thought to be different; and in still other cases,  they are considered both similar and different. Regardless, it is the Ātman that survives the death of the body, reincarnates, and eventually is released from the cycle of reincarnation.

belief-forming faculty

Any human mechanism or ability that gives rise to beliefs. Examples are visual perception or reasoning.

Brahman

For some Hindu philosophies, especially Vedānta, Brahman is the ultimate reality and first cause of the cosmos. In some Vedānta philosophies, Brahman is ultimately without qualities or beyond personhood; in other Vedānta philosophies, Brahman has qualities and is identified with a person-like "God."

Buddha-nature (佛性)

Derived from the Sanskrit term buddhadhātu, the Chinese term fóxìng and the Japanese term busshō refer both to the original nature of humans as enlightened as well as the cause or seed of enlightenment in them. Buddha-nature is therefore related to two additional Buddhist concepts: dharmakāya, the "truth body" or "reality body" of the Buddha, which is an interpenetrative harmony that is beyond all distinctions; and tathāgatagarbha, the womb or embryo of the Buddha.

classical theism

The view that God is simple, immutable (unchanging), timeless, and impassible (that is, incapable of suffering or being harmed, or otherwise affected by anything else).

Cognitive Science of Religion

The discipline that offers explanations of how and why humans form religious beliefs, have religious experiences or manifest religious behaviors in terms of human cognitive processes or evolutionary processes.

contingent

That which could fail to be the case, that which could either be the case or not be the case, contrasted with the necessary.

cosmological argument

Cosmological - from the Greek "cosmos," meaning world, especially the world considered as an ordered whole. Cosmological arguments invoke God to explain the existence of our world, often by noting some very general features of our world, such as that its existence is contingent, or that it began to exist.

Dao (道)

Meaning "way" or "path," Dao is for Daoists the original source and transformative force of all things. Dao is the way things operate, especially in their dynamic harmony. The ideal "way" of humans is to be in harmony with the "way" of the Dao.

debunking argument

An argument that aims to undermine the rationality or credibility of a class of beliefs. It usually does so by showing that a class of beliefs is based on false evidence or is badly formed. Well-known examples of debunking arguments are arguments against conspiracy theories.

entropy

The degree of disorder or uncertainty in a system: the degradation of the matter and energy in the universe to an ultimate state of inert uniformity.

epistemic deficiency

Any quality of a belief indicating that the belief suffers from some defect. Examples are being not rational, being unjustified or being unsupported by evidence.

European Enlightenment

From a philosophical perspective, the European Enlightenment stretches more or less from the philosophy of Rene Descartes (1596–1650) to that of Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) or Georg Wilhelm Hegel (1770–1831). Philosophically, this period is characterized by a concern with epistemological issues (what we can know and how). For philosophy of religion, this involves a concern with proofs and disproofs for the existence of God above all other topics.

Gnosticism

A loosely-knit religious movement probably originating in the 1st or 2nd century BCE, incorporating aspects of Judaism (especially Jewish Apocalyptic literature) and Platonic philosophy (and later, aspects of Christianity as well).

Midrash

Ancient Jewish commentaries, interpretations, or explanations of a biblical text.

moral evils

Evils for which some agent is morally responsible or blameworthy.

mystical experience

Mystical experience is a subset of religious experience that is usually characterized as involving direct, unmediated experience of God or other divine things. Mystical experiences are ineffable, supra-rational experiences that cannot be put into words, and they are considered to be cross-culturally identical. Mystical experiences have therefore been claimed by some to be the common core of all religious traditions.

natural evils

Evils for which no agent is morally responsible or blameworthy.

ontological argument

Ontological - from the Greek "ontos" meaning being. Ontological arguments attempt to prove God's existence by reflection on the concept of God.

predicates

The properties, qualities, attributes, or relations that some thing or concept has.

prima facie

A Latin phrase meaning "on its face" or "at first sight." To say that a claim is true or justified "prima facie" is to say it seems to be true or justified on an initial examination, but that it is still possible that it could turn out to be false or unjustified in light of further evidence.

religious experience

Religious experience is simply subjective experience that is interpreted religiously. Philosophy of religion became particularly occupied with the topic of religious experience in the 19th and 20th centuries as a means of showing how experience of God or other divine things could bypass the strictures of human cognition or categories of human culture.

religious pluralism

For philosophers of religion, religious pluralism is generally taken to be a problem needing a solution. That problem, in short, is that different religious traditions make different claims about what is real, true, and good. Types of solutions to religious pluralism include exclusivism (only one religion is true, others are false), inclusivism (one religion is true, others are as well by virtue of being variations of the one true religion), pluralism (all religions are in some way true), skepticism (no religions are true), and perennialism (all religions are true by virtue of sharing an invariant, common core).

teleological argument

Teleological - from the Greek "telos," meaning purpose or goal. Teleological arguments suggest that various features of our world--biological organisms, the laws our world has, or the fact that our world has laws at all--are best explained by a supernatural designer.

theistic belief

Belief about the existence or nature of God or gods.

theurgy

A kind of religious ritual, sometimes considered a form of “white magic,” in which one or more deities are invoked with the intention of benefiting oneself in some way, often with the goal of perfecting oneself through achieving a kind of "union" with the particular deity or deities invoked.

Thomism

The philosophical and theological system of St. Thomas Aquinas. "Neo-Thomism" is a revival of Thomistic thought beginning in the latter half of the 19th century that was highly influential in the Roman Catholic Church up until the time of the second Vatican Council.

Tian (天)

Meaning "heaven," "sky," or "heaven above," Tian served as the God of the Zhou Dynasty in China (1046–256 BCE), as well as for much state religion thereafter. For Confucians, however, Tian was generally considered more impersonally as nature, especially with regard to the natural order of the cosmos and the moral order of humans.

Vedānta

One of six so-called "orthodox" (āstika) schools of Hindu philosophy that accepts the authority of the Vedas. Literally meaning "end of Vedas," Vedānta's philosophical teachings aim to correctly interpret the last section of the Vedas, the Upaniṣads. That interpretation, however, differs between the three main traditions of Vedānta: Advaita (non-dual), in which there is no difference between Ātman and Brahman; Dvaita (dual), in which Ātman and Brahaman are distinctly different; and Vishishtadvaita (qualifiedly non-dual), in which Ātman temporarily exists separately from Brahman.

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Introduction to Philosophy: Philosophy of Religion by Beau Branson, Marcus William Hunt, Timothy D Knepper, Robert Sloan Lee, Steven Steyl, Hans Van Eyghen, Beau Branson (Book Editor), and Christina Hendricks (Series Editor) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.