6 From Philosophy of (Mono)theism to Philosophy of Religions

Timothy D. Knepper

If you have studied the previous chapters in this book, by now you will have learned all about philosophy of religion in what I have called the “theistic” tradition, but for the sake of this collection will call the “(mono)theistic” tradition.[1] This tradition begins in the European Enlightenment, though it has roots that stretch back through medieval Abrahamic philosophy and theology to ancient Greek and Roman philosophy.[2] For understandable reasons, this tradition primarily pursues philosophical questions relevant to a Christian-(mono)theistic God:[3] What are the attributes of such a God? Can the existence of such a God be proved or disproved? (See Chapter 2 and Chapter 3) Can the existence of random and pervasive “evil” be reconciled with the existence of such a God? (See Chapter 4) Although these are appropriate philosophical questions to ask about Christian-(mono)theistic religion, they are not so for the majority of the religious traditions, texts, and thinkers of the world. Or so I will argue here—viz., that so-called “philosophy of religion” is not in fact philosophy of religion but rather philosophy of (mono)theism; and therefore that if philosophy of religion is to be the philosophy of all religions, it will need to be reconstructed from the ground up.

My plan is simple. First, I will show how and why the philosophy of religion was constructed as such in Enlightenment Europe. Next, I will show how this model of philosophy of religion not only misfits but also distorts several religious traditions. Finally, I will advance my own model for how philosophy of religion can be reconstructed in a globally appropriate manner.

Philosophy of (Mono)Theism and the European Enlightenment

It was during the European Enlightenment  that the title “philosophy of religion” was first used.[4] This period was characterized, above all, by the championing of reason as the primary source of authority and legitimation of knowledge. It was a time of “scientific revolution,” with respect not only to the remarkable growth of scientific knowledge but also to a growing confidence in the scientific method as the only reliable means of producing knowledge. It was also a period in which the rule of absolute monarchs and the authority of the Roman Catholic Church was challenged, with constitutional democracies sprouting and spreading in place of divinely sanctioned monarchies.

This Enlightenment context was one in which religion was “belief-ified” and “privatized.” The former term, “belief-ification,” refers to the growing tendency to reduce religion to its supposedly core beliefs, which are then evaluated to discern which can be rationally proved. (Think, for example, of most of the arguments presented in Chapter 2, Chapter 3 and Chapter 4.) Increasingly, this became the goal of philosophy of religion during and after the Enlightenment—to show which beliefs were true and therefore compatible with what science reveals about the natural world. (With respect to compatibility with science, think for example of the issues discussed in Chapter 5.) No longer were the Church and its theology the source and standard of knowledge. Rather, the tradition-specific beliefs of religious traditions were a matter of mere opinion or faith; only what agreed with reason was true.

In the case of “privatization,” Enlightenment religion increasingly became a matter of what people did in their private lives. Religion was removed from the public realm of the state, as constitutional democracies began to legislate the separation of church and state. This is where the practice of religion comes in—people were free (supposedly) to practice whichever religion they chose, just so long as it did not interfere with the workings of the state. For the first time, we had a distinction between the secular (public) and the religious (private).

What does this context of “belief-ification” and “privatization” mean for the method and content of Enlightenment philosophy of religion? In the case of method, religious beliefs are interrogated from the standpoint of Western philosophy to determine which can be proved true or false. Western philosophical methods are paramount in this endeavor, as is agreement with what science shows about the natural world. Appeals to authority are therefore ruled out, especially where those authorities involve the dogmatic teachings of a church.

It is no surprise, then, that the content of Enlightenment philosophy of religion is lowest-common denominator religion, the religious beliefs that Enlightenment thinkers took to be common to all (mature) religious traditions at the time.[5] These beliefs include, first and foremost, the nature and existence of God: Who or what exactly is God? Does this God exist? Related to the nature and existence of God is the problem of evil: If God does exist, and if God is all-powerful and all-loving, then why is evil as prevalent and random as it seems to be? Another set of issues concerns the nature of the self: Can we prove the immortality of the soul? What can we say about how humans should live, i.e. religio-philosophical morality?

These questions remain the core issues for “Western” philosophy of religion right up to today.[6] This is not to say that other issues have not been added to this list. Given the privatization of religion, the topic of religious experience has been of increasing importance to Western philosophy of religion, especially insofar as mystical experience was claimed to be a common core of all religious traditions.[7] (See, e.g. Chapter 3, Section 2.) Given the growing awareness of religious diversity, the topic of religious pluralism has also been of increasing significance, particularly with regard to whether and how it is possible for all religious traditions to be “true” in some way.[8] Nevertheless, the dominant strand of contemporary philosophy of religion remains focused on divine attributes, proofs for the existence of God (as in Chapter  2 and Chapter  3), and the problem of evil (as in Chapter 4).

Questions to Consider

  1. How is the content of Enlightenment philosophy of religion a product of its cultural-historical context and political-rhetorical ends?
  2. How might different sets of contexts and ends produce different contents?

Philosophy of Religion “Elsewhere”

So far, I have sketched the genealogy of philosophy of religion in the Enlightenment or Western or (mono)theistic tradition. My point is simply this: that this philosophy of religion is not somehow natural or essential but rather is a product of the contexts and interests of the European Enlightenment and the Western Academy. In this next section, we will take a quick tour of some philosophy of religion “elsewhere” to show that the (mono)theistic model of philosophy of religion not only misfits but also distorts it. Given space restrictions, this tour will be quick and will cover only four regions: South Asia (India), East Asia (China), West Africa (Yorubaland), and North America (Lakota).

Of these four regions, South Asian philosophy of religion is most similar to (mono)theistic philosophy of religion, in part because there are (mono)theistic conceptions of God in South Asia.[9] Of course, there are other conceptions of God there too. Of the six schools of “orthodox” (āstika) “Hindu” philosophy,[10] the Vedānta school is renowned for its debate concerning the nature of ultimate reality (Brahman) and its relationship to the rest of the cosmos, especially the innermost soul (Ātman). For the “non-dual” (Advaita) Vedānta of Śaṅkara (ca.788-ca.820), everything just is Brahman, which is without or beyond all attributes (nirguṇa), including ones analogized from humans (e.g. having power, having knowledge, being good, creating). Everything that appears to be individualized is therefore just an illusion (māyā). By contrast, the “qualified non-dual” (Vishishtadvaita) Vedānta of Rāmānuja (1017-1137) holds that although Brahman is everything, the world and souls emerge from Brahman and exist separately from Brahman before returning back to Brahman. This Brahman too is ultimately without or beyond attributes. Finally, the “dual” (Dvaita) Vedānta of Madhva (1238-1317) maintains that Brahman (who is in this case person-like), Ātman, and the world are entirely and eternally different substances.

In the case of the other five āstika schools (and elsewhere in “Hindu” thought), conceptions of ultimate reality run the gamut from “there is no such thing,” to “it really doesn’t matter,” to “it is a person-like deity,” to “it is an impersonal reality,” to “it is many different deities or substances.” Despite this variety of positions, however, there just isn’t the kind of obsession with proving that “God” exists or determining “God’s” attributes that there is in (mono)theistic philosophy of religion. Much more important is learning who you are, so you can cut the ties of karma (law of moral cause and effect) that bind you to the wheel of rebirth (saṃsāra).

In addition to these six āstika schools, there are nāstika or “unorthodox” schools such as Buddhism and Jainism that do not accept the authority of the Vedas, the sacred scripture of “Hinduism.” In the case of Buddhism, there is neither an ultimate reality (Brahman) nor an eternal soul (Ātman); and in the case of Jainism, although there are eternal souls (jivas), there is no God in the sense of a first cause of the cosmos. Once again, however, I want to emphasize that the philosophical-debating tradition (vāda) in India is not limited to the topics of ultimate reality and eternal soul—just as important are issues like the nature and means of enlightenment, the nature and mechanics of causation, and the nature and expression of reality. So, although we have a partial fit to the God of Christian (mono)theism, few if any of the topics and questions of Christian-(mono)theistic philosophy of religion are present in South Asian philosophy of religion.

In China, by contrast, none of the influential “three teachings” (san jiao, 三教) hold person-like views of ultimate reality: for Confucians, Tian (天), which can be translated as heaven or nature, is generally thought of as impersonal; for Daoists, Dao (道)   is an impersonal cosmic source and force by which all things are balanced in continual change; and for (some) Buddhists, Buddha-nature (佛性)  is the originally enlightened nature of humans and dynamic harmony of all things.[11] The chief philosophical questions, though, do not generally concern the nature of these “ultimate realities” but rather the means by which society, nature, and the mind can be harmonized. In fact, Confucianism and Daoism have their origins during a time of social chaos and strife known as the “Warring States” period (403-221 BCE). Confucius (551-479 BCE) taught a way to bring harmony and flourishing to the self and society both by expressing our human-heartedness (ren, 仁) in social rituals and behaviors (li, 禮) and by ordering society according to five basic kinds of relationships: father/son, elder-brother/younger-brother, husband/wife, elder/younger, and ruler/subject. One classical Daoist text, the Daodejing, by contrast, advised human beings in general and rulers in particular to act in a manner that is as spontaneous, natural, and effortless as possible, while another classical Daoist text, the Zhuangzi, was unconcerned with, if not antagonistic toward, political rule, focusing instead on the sage who could rise above it all, so to speak.[12] Here, then, we have a near, if not complete, misfit with the questions and topics of Christian-(mono)theistic philosophy of religion due to the fact that no such God is at issue in East Asian philosophy of religion.[13]

One of the more notable and widespread African religions is the West African religion of Yorùbá, which originates and is still practiced in the “Yorubaland” region of Nigeria, Benin, Togo, and Ghana.[14] Yorùbá religious thought and practice is so widespread because the Yorùbá not only are one of the largest ethnic groups in all of Africa but also, sadly, were the most enslaved ethnic group from all of Africa. As a result, there are significant Yorùbá populations in many Central and South American countries, and Yorùbá religious thought and practice are present in several New World religions like Santeria in Cuba, Vodou in Haiti, and Candomble in Brazil.

Like many indigenous religions of Africa, Yorùbá is unlike Christian (mono)theism. There is not one God but many deities called Òrìṣà, which are invoked by humans through the help of priests to remediate suffering and misfortune as well as to secure safety and blessing. According to Yorùbá scripture—a divinatory corpus called Ifá—there are 400 primordial Òrìṣà, which are locked in eternal combat with 200 primordial “anti-gods” called ajogun. However, since new Òrìṣà and ajogun have been added since the creation of the world (and continue to be added), their numbers are represented by 400+1 and 200+1, respectively, where the ” 1″ = the set of all newly created entities. Although the Yorùbá do think of one deity as a “high god,” Olódùmarè is just one of four deities to carry out the creation of the cosmos. Moreover, Olódùmarè plays little role in the practice of Yorùbá, which involves contracting a divinatory priest to learn the inner destiny that was given at birth (so as to navigate misfortune and illness during life). So, although the concept of Olódùmarè makes it conceivable that Yorùbá philosophers of religion could ask about his attributes and proofs, they don’t. It’s just not of any concern to them.[15]

Finally, we turn to one of the indigenous American tribes of North America—the Lakota of the North American plains.[16] The Lakota are one tribe or subgroup of the Titonwan, which is also composed of the Dakota and Nakota tribes. For many Euro-Americans, especially during the 19th century, the Lakota (along with the Dakota and Nakota) were known as “Sioux”; this is in fact a pejorative name, meaning “snakes in the grass,” which was given to the Lakota by their Algonquian-speaking neighbors to the east. Although the Lakota were originally granted the entire western portion of South Dakota by the United States government in the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie, this Treaty was reneged after gold was discovered in the Black Hills (which are sacred to the Lakota). Now, the Lakota mostly live on reservations in western South Dakota (none of which are in the Black Hills). As in the case of Yorùbá philosophy of religion, pre-colonial Lakota traditions of philosophizing about religion involved a special class of individuals—in this case, the “holy man” or “medicine man” (wicasa wakan). Holy men receive revelations, perform miracles, and otherwise communicate with the spiritual world through dreams and visions. This spiritual world comprises the creative force of Wakan Tanka, which means something like great incomprehensibility, great mystery, or great sacred. Although Wakan Tanka begins to resemble the Christian God after colonization, it apparently first referred to the sum total of sixteen sacred mysterious forces. As in the case of the Yorùbá God, Olódùmarè, we could conceivably conduct philosophical investigations about the attributes and proofs of Wakan Tanka (especially as Wakan Tanka gets Christianized), but that would be simply to redouble the colonial appropriation of Native American culture and thought.

Questions to Consider

  1. Given what you have learned above, what can you say about the contexts and ends of philosophy of religion in South Asia (India), East Asia (China), Africa (Yorubaland), and North America (Lakota)?
  2. How do these contexts and ends shape the contents of these philosophies of religions?
  3. How are these contents different from those of traditional-(mono)theistic philosophy of religion?
  4. What conclusions do you draw about what the “proper” content of a more global philosophy of religions should be?

Toward a Philosophy of Religions

How well do the questions and categories of (mono)theistic philosophy of religion apply to these philosophies of religion “elsewhere”? How does a Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Confucian, Daoist, Yorùbá, or Lakota philosophize about the attributes of God, proofs for the existence of God, or the problem of evil for an omnipotent and omnibenevolent God? Not well, because these “other” philosophies of religion just aren’t very concerned with these questions. In most cases, there isn’t the kind of God that there is in Christian (mono)theism, so these questions make no sense. And in cases where there is something like the kind of God that there is in Christian (mono)theism, philosophical questions about this God’s attributes and proofs have no importance (not even to the philosophers from these traditions).[17] What happens, then, when we force them to play by the rules (categories) of (mono)theistic philosophy of religion? They appear deficient or strange or wrong.

I therefore contend that if philosophy of religion is to be the philosophy of religions and not just the philosophy of (mono)theism, it must be rethought from the ground up, not merely expanded or enlarged. How does one do this rethinking? I propose drawing on the cognitive metaphor theory of George Lakoff and Mark Johnson (1980, 1999), which provides an account of how human thinking is structured by metaphors, especially those drawn from concrete bodily experience.[18] In particular, I propose drawing on the component parts of the journey metaphor, which is not only allegedly fundamental to cognition and culturally widespread but also actually utilized in many different religious traditions to metaphorically structure religious growth and maturation.

By the journey metaphor, I mean, more exactly, the metaphor life is a journey, which utilizes the conceptual structure of a journey to understand and express the temporal dimension of people’s lives. Although there is much to say about this metaphor, I will here stick to its core, constituent parts: journeys have a point of origin and destination, a route that is planned, obstacles and sights that are encountered along the way, and a traveler who is accompanied by and encounters other travelers. Of course, these constituent parts are not themselves philosophical questions or topics; nevertheless, they can be used to generate such questions or topics, five of which are important and productive for global philosophy of religions:

  1. Who am I?
  2. Where do I come from?
  3. Where am I going?
  4. How do I get there?
  5. What obstacles lie in my way?

Several comments are in order about these questions. First, each question is purposefully vague, requiring specification by means of the precise content of some religious philosophy; for example, the “I” might be understood as an individual, a certain group of people, human beings in general, or nothing at all. Second, these philosophical questions can be answered for a religious philosophy even if it does not portray individual lives as purposeful or draw on the metaphor life is a journey; for example, the questions “where am I going?” and “how do I get there?” might have meaningful answers even if the religious philosophy does not explicitly conceptualize human beings as having destinations and paths. Third, it is not the case that a religious philosophy has to have a positive or explicit answer to the five questions above to have a significant answer to them; for example, a religious philosophy might hold that thinking there is a self that travels some religious path to some other-worldly destination is precisely what needs to be overcome. Finally, an objection might be raised that although the five questions above are important and interesting questions that have been neglected by traditional philosophy of religion, they are also questions that neglect the topics of traditional philosophy of religion. Entirely missing in these five questions are the core problems of Christian-theistic philosophy of religion: the attributes of God, the existence of God, and the problem of evil.

My solution to this problem of leaving out Christian-(mono)theistic philosophy of religion is, I believe, simple and elegant. I begin by recognizing that in some philosophies of religion the cosmos can be thought of being on a sort of journey, at least in the sense of having an origin, destination, path, and obstacles. I then note that in some philosophies of religion, the crucial relationship is that between humans as microcosm and cosmos as macrocosm. Finally, I show how reduplicating the five questions above with regard to the cosmos yields a second set of rich questions for philosophy of religion:

  1. What is the cosmos?
  2. Where does the cosmos come from?
  3. Where is the cosmos going?
  4. How does the cosmos get there?
  5. What obstacles lie in the cosmos’ way?

Clearly (7) gives a place for traditional Christian-(mono)theistic philosophy of religion to discuss the existence and attributes of God, (8) and (9) give a place for discussions of redemption and the afterlife, (10) for sin and the Fall, and so on. Again, I hasten to add that the qualifications above also apply to this set of questions: these questions are vague and need to be made precise by concrete religious philosophies, religious philosophies can meaningfully answer or reject these questions, thus rejections of these questions are as important and significant as answers to these questions. Importantly, though, extending this set of questions from just a (mono)theistic God to the cosmos allows all the philosophies of religion to “get in the game.”

With these qualifications in place, I am rather confident that the ten questions above offer a radically new point of departure for philosophy of religion, one that can be inclusive of the religious traditions of the globe in a manner that does not unduly privilege any one of them. It is now time to put this plan into practice.[19]

Questions to Consider

  1. Take one or more of the journey-metaphor questions above and attempt to answer it for all of the traditions of philosophizing about religion identified in this chapter. (Do additional research if needed.) What range of answers do you get? (How) does this broaden the scope of philosophy of religion? (How) does it aid in your own search for meaning, truth, and value with respect to religion?


Abímbọ́lá, Kọ́lá. 2005. Yorùbá Culture: A Philosophical Account. Birmingham: Iroko Academic Publishers.

Alston, William P. 1991. Perceiving God: The Epistemology of Religious Experience. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Bagger, Matthew. 2009. Religious Experience, Justification, and History. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Chan, Wing-Tsit. 1069. A Sourcebook in Chinese Philosophy. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Collins, James. 1969. The Emergence of Philosophy of Religion. New Haven: Yale University Press.

DeMallie, Raymond J. and Douglas R. Parks. 1987. Sioux Indian Religion. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Forman, Robert K. C., ed. 1990. The Problem of Pure Consciousness. New York: Oxford University Press.

Gbadegesin, Segun. 1996. African Philosophy: Traditional Yoruba Philosophy and Contemporary African Realities. New York: Peter Lang Inc.

Graham, A.C. 1989. Disputers of the Tao: Philosophical Argument in Ancient China. Peru, IL: Open Court.

Gupta, Bina. 2011. An Introduction to Indian Philosophy. New York: Routledge.

Hick, John. 1989. An Interpretation of Religions: Human Responses to the Transcendent. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Idowu, E. Bọlaji. 1962. Olódùmarè: God in Yorùbá Belief. Ikeja: Longman Nigeria.

James, William. 1902. Varieties of Religious Experience. Longmans, Green & Co.

Katz, Steven T., ed. 1978. Mysticism and Philosophical Analysis. New York: Oxford University Press.

King, Richard. 1999. Indian Philosophy: An Introduction to Hindu and Buddhist Thought. Georgetown: Georgetown University Press.

Knepper, Timothy D. 2013. The Ends of Philosophy of Religion: Terminus and Telos. New York: Palgrave.

Lai, Karyn. 2017. An Introduction to Chinese Philosophy. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Lakoff, George and Mark Johnson. 1980. Metaphors We Live By. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Lakoff, George and Mark Johnson. 1999. Philosophy in the Flesh: the Embodied Mind & Its Challenge to Western Thought. New York: Basic Books.

Liu, JeeLoo. 2006. An Introduction to Chinese Philosophy. New York: Routledge.

Long, Eugene Thomas. 2003. Twentieth-Century Western Philosophy of Religion. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Oppy, Graham Robert and Nick Trakakis, eds. 2009. The History of Western Philosophy of Religion. 5 vols. New York: Oxford University Press.

Perkins, Franklin. 2014. Heaven and Earth Are Not Humane: The Problem of Evil in Classical Chinese Philosophy. Bloomington: Indiana University Press..

Perrett, Roy W. 2016. An Introduction to Indian Philosophy. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Poceski, Mario. 2009. Introducing Chinese Religions. New York: Routledge, 2009.

Powers, Willliam K. 1975. Oglala Religion. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Quinn, Philip L. and Charles Taliagerro, eds. 1997. A Companion to Philosophy of Religion. Malden: Blackwell Publishers Ltd.

Quinn, Philip L. and Kevin Meeker, eds. 2000. The Philosophical Challenge of Religious Diversity. New York: Oxford University Press.

Radhakrishnan, Sarvepalli and Charles A. Moore. 1967. A Sourcebook in Indian Philosophy. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Schwartz, Benjamin I. 1985. The World of Thought in Ancient China. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Táíwò, Olúfémi. 2008. “Òrìsà: A Prolegomenon to a Philosophy of Yorùbá Religion.” In Òrìsà Devotion as World Religion: The Globalization of Yorùbá Religious Culture, eds. Jacob K. Olupona and Terry Rey, 84-105. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

Taves, Ann. 2011. Religious Experience Reconsidered: A Building-Block Approach to the Study of Religion and Other Special Things. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Yang, Xiaomei. 2008. “Some Issues in Chinese Philosophy of Religion.” Philosophical Compass 2: 551-569.

Further Reading

History and Limitation of Enlightenment Philosophy of Religion

Clayton, John. 2006. Religions, Reasons and Gods: Essays in Cross-Cultural Philosophy of Religion. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Collins, James. 1969. The Emergence of Philosophy of Religion. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Oppy, Robert Graham and Nick Trakakis, eds. 1999. Vol. 3, The History of Western Philosophy of Religion. New York: Oxford University Press.

Oppy, Robert Graham and Nick Trakakis, eds. 1999. Vol. 4, The History of Western Philosophy of Religion. New York: Oxford University Press.

Westphal, Merold. 1997. “The Emergence of Modern Philosophy of Religion.” In A Companion to Philosophy of Religion, eds. Philip L. Quinn and Charles Taliaferro. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishers.

South Asian Philosophy and Religion

Gupta, Bina. 2011. An Introduction to Indian Philosophy. New York: Routledge.

King, Richard. 1999. Indian Philosophy: An Introduction to Hindu and Buddhist Thought. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.

Chinese Philosophy and Religion

Graham, A. C. 1989. Disputers of the Tao. Peru, IL: Open Court.

Poceski, Mario. 2009. Introducing Chinese Religions. New York: Routledge.

Yoruba Religious Philosophy

Abímbọ́lá, Kọ́lá. 2005. Yorùbá Culture: A Philosophical Account. Birmingham: Iroko Academic Publishers.

Gbadegesin, Segun. 1996. African Philosophy: Traditional Yoruba Philosophy and Contemporary African Realities. New York: Peter Lang, Inc.

Lakota Religious Philosophy

De Mallie, Raymond J. and Douglas R. Parks, eds. 1987. Sioux Indian Religion. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Powers, William K. 1975. Oglala Religion. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Methods of Global Philosophy of Religion

Wildman, Wesley J. 2010. Religious Philosophy as a Multidisciplinary Comparative Inquiry: Envisioning a Future for the Philosophy of Religion. Albany: State University of New York press.

Knepper, Timothy D. 2013. The Ends of Philosophy of Religion: Terminus and Telos. New York: Palgrave.

Schilbrack, Kevin. 2014. Philosophy and the Study of Religions: A Manifesto. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

  1. Definitions and uses of "theism" are subject to variability and ambiguity. Merriam-Webster, for example, defines theism as "belief in the existence of a god or gods; specifically: belief in the existence of one God viewed as the creative source of the human race and the world who transcends yet is immanent in the world." There are a couple of issues here. First of all, what exactly is a "god or gods"? Are god(s) only person-like in the sense of having the ability to perceive, think, communicate, and act? Or do they also include non-personified cosmic sources and principles like Brahman, Buddha-nature, Dao, and so forth? What about ghosts, spirits, and ancestors? What about cases of religions in which there are a lot of people-like gods but no ultimate, creator God?Secondly, what force should be given to the specifically above? When we think of theism, should we think specifically of mono-theisms in which the one God creates the universe and remains involved in it (e.g., answering prayer, performing miracles)? My hunch here is that those who grew up in contexts dominated by Abrahamic religions will think of normative religion as that which has one creator God (and no other gods), and they will therefore think specifically of monotheism as the normative form of theism.More relevantly, it is certainly the case that traditional philosophy of religion thinks of "theism" specifically as monotheism; after all, its central issues include the attributes of God, proofs for the existence of God, and the problem of evil, none of which make much sense nor matter very much to non-monotheistic "theisms" (as I argue in this chapter). What concerns me, then, is if we think of theisms as existing on a scale from monotheisms to everything else, we might make the mistake of thinking that the philosophical problems for monotheism are the very same philosophical problems for non-monotheistic theisms. But they are not.Whatever the case, the authors of this book use "theism" in the broad sense, i.e. the sense that precedes the "specifically." In my chapter, therefore, I will use the term "(mono)theism" to indicate the monotheistic form of theism that traditional philosophy of religion philosophizes about, placing the "mono" in parentheses to suggest that traditional philosophy of religion thinks of monotheism as the normative form of theism and assumes that the philosophical problems for monotheism translate for non-monotheistic theisms.
  2. See, for example, Robert Graham Oppy and Nick Trakakis’s five-volume history of philosophy of religion (Oppy and Trakakis 2009). See also the essays in Part II of the Blackwell Companion to Philosophy of Religion (Quinn and Taliaferro 1997) and James Collins’s The Emergence of Philosophy of Religion (1969).
  3. I am skeptical of the idea that the God of (mono)theistic philosophy of religion is representative not only of the Christian tradition (if it is one such thing) but also of other so-called (mono)theistic traditions such as Judaism, Islam, and (mono)theistic Hinduism. Not only are Jewish, Islamic, and (theistic) Hindu religious philosophers largely absent from (mono)theistic philosophy of religion; so are Jewish, Islamic, and (theistic) Hindu philo-religious questions, topics, and issues. For example, the history of Jewish or Islamic or Hindu philosophy of religion with the content of (mono)theistic philosophy of religion are very different. Also, textbooks in philosophy of religion sometimes take up philosophical issues in Christian doctrine (see Contemporary Debates in Philosophy of Religion, in which 3 of 12 debates are on matters of specifically Christian doctrine)—thereby belying the claim that (mono)theistic philosophy of religion is generically neutral with regard to religious traditions. What, then, are we to make of the attempt by Christian-(mono)theistic philosophy of religion to draw these other so-called (mono)theisms into its orbit?
  4. For the purposes of philosophy of religion, I take the European Enlightenment period as running from René Descartes (1596-1650) to Georg Wilhelm Hegel (1770-1831). Descartes’ formative Meditations on First Philosophy was published in 1641, and Hegel gave his equally formative "lectures on philosophy of religion" in 1821, 1824, 1827, and 1831. Perhaps the most influential philosophers of religion who lived during this time, however, were David Hume (1711-1776) and Immanuel Kant (1724-1804).
  5. Not until Hegel’s lectures on philosophy of religion (see note 4) do we see European philosophers of religion begin to wrestle with the religio-philosophical traditions of India and China, for it was not until the early-mid 19th century that texts from these traditions were available in translation.
  6. See, again, note 2. See also Eugene Thomas Long’s Twentieth-Century Western Philosophy of Religion (2003). For many more examples of and references to contemporary philosophy of religion in both the analytic and continental modes, see the first three chapters of my The Ends of Philosophy of Religion (2013).
  7. See Chapter 3 of this volume. See also William James’ Varieties of Religious Experience (1902), Steven T. Katz’s edited volume Mysticism and Philosophical Analysis (1978), Robert Forman’s edited volume The Problem of Pure Consciousness (1990), William Alston’s Perceiving God (1991), Matthew Bagger’s Religious Experience, Justification, and History (2009), and Ann Taves’ Religious Experience Reconsidered (2011).
  8. The classic work on religious pluralism remains John Hick’s An Interpretation of Religions (1989). See also the essays in Philip L. Quinn and Kevin Meeker’s The Philosophical Challenge of Religious Diversity (2000).
  9. One of the first collections of original sources in Indian Philosophy was Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan and Charles A. Moore’s A Sourcebook in Indian Philosophy (1967). For three more recent introductions to Indian philosophy, see Richard King’s Indian Philosophy (1999), Bina Gupta’s An Introduction to Indian Philosophy (2011), and Roy W. Perrett’s An Introduction to Indian Philosophy (2016).
  10. I place "Hindu" and "Hinduism" in quotes here, since at the time when these philosophical schools arose, there was not yet any such concept as "Hinduism" qua organized, bounded, singular religion. The concept of a single "Hinduism" was not constructed until British occupation (18th century).
  11. For some general introductions to Chinese religious philosophy, see Wing-Tsit Chan’s A Sourcebook in Chinese Philosophy (1969), JeeLoo Liu’s An Introduction to Chinese Philosophy (2006), and Karyn Lai’s An Introduction to Chinese Philosophy (2017). For a general introduction to Chinese philosophy and religion, see Mario Poceski’s Introducing Chinese Religions (2009). And for some excellent studies of Chinese philosophy during its formative, "Warring States" period, see Benjamin I. Schwartz’s The World of Thought in Ancient China (1985), A.C. Graham’s Disputers of the Tao (1989), and Franklin Perkins’ Heaven and Earth Are Not Humane (2014).
  12. Only later, around the turn of the millennium, would Buddhism enter China from India; as it grew in influence, it was embraced as one of the "three teachings," with a focus on the harmony of the mind.
  13. Thanks to Thomas Carroll for noting that Xiaomei Yang’s "Some Issues in Chinese Philosophy of Religion" (2008) makes a similar general point, though in connection with the history of debates over the religiosity of Confucianism and Chinese state religion.
  14. Accessible introductions to Yoruba religious philosophy include Kola Abímbọ́lá’s Yorùbá Culture (2005), and Segun Gbadegesin’s African Philosophy (1996).
  15. There was one interesting attempt to interpret and analyze Olódùmarè in (mono)theistic philosophical terms, Olódùmarè: God in Yorùbá Belief, which was published by E. Bọlaji Idowu in 1962. Increasingly, though, this work has come under intense criticism, especially for its Christo-centric misrepresentation of Yorùbá religion. For two trenchant critiques, see Abímbọ́lá 2005 and Táíwò 2008. Put simply, Olódùmarè is neither similar to the God of Christian (mono)theism nor important for the practice of Yorùbá religion.
  16. For Lakota religious philosophy, see especially Willliam K Powers’ Oglala Religion (1975) and Raymond J. DeMallie and Douglas R. Parks’ edited collection Sioux Indian Religion (1987).
  17. Of course, we don’t know what the future will bring. Perhaps all the religions of the world will increasingly continue to resemble Protestant Christianity (belief-ified, privatized, possessing a capital-G God). Perhaps the future will see only one religion qua some kind of non-institutionalized, nebulous spirituality. For now, though, if we want to practice philosophy of religion in a manner that is faithful to the religious philosophies of the religions of the world (through time and at present), then we’ll need new questions and categories that better fit these religions.
  18. At the heart of this account are two claims: humans draw on concrete bodily experience in understanding and expressing abstract concepts, and humans do so by systematically structuring abstract concepts in accordance with bodily experiences. For Lakoff and Johnson, this systematic structuring is performed by "primary metaphors," which map sensorimotor experiences to subjective experiences. Take, for example, the sensorimotor experience of warmth and the subjective experience of affection. The primary metaphor affection is warmth establishes neural connections between the sensorimotor experience of warmth and the subjective experience of affection, thereby providing us a way to think about the abstract concept of affection in terms of the concrete experience of warmth. Although the metaphor life is a journey is not a primary metaphor (according to Lakoff and Johnson), it does draw on the primary metaphors purposes are destinations and actions are motions (1999, 52-53, 61-62). Thus it it culturally widespread and neuro-psychologically rooted.
  19. See my forthcoming undergraduate textbook Philosophy of Religion: A Global and Critical Approach.


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Introduction to Philosophy: Philosophy of Religion Copyright © 2020 by Timothy D. Knepper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.