The Substance of Consciousness
May 23, 2023
April 29, 2008
We interviewed Chad Meister, Vice President of the Evangelical Philosophical Society, about his recently released Philosophy of Religion Reader (Routledge, 2007).
Chad, you are a seasoned observer and contributor to philosophy of religion work. Give us a sense for how this field in philosophy has blossomed over the last 50 years or so.
The field of philosophy of religion has exploded in recent years. In some ways this is a surprising phenomenon, for in the mid-twentieth century, with the rise of logical positivism, discussions of religious matters were basically relegated to Bible and religion departments. With the demise of positivism, and the work of such first-rate philosophers as Alvin Plantinga and Richard Swinburne, philosophy of religion was resurrected. There is now widespread interest in the philosophical reflection on religious issues, and this is evident in the growing number of articles, monographs, companions, journals, and anthologies dedicated to the field. It is perhaps right now one of the “hottest” areas of philosophy.
As you know there are different philosophy of religion anthologies available today. What makes your selections unique? What sort of contribution are you trying to achieve with this anthology?
In the past, most philosophy of religion anthologies focused exclusively on Western theistic issues such as arguments for and against God’s existence, religious language, morality, the nature of God, and so forth. While much work in the field is still Western and theistic in nature (and these are indeed yet productive and fertile times for engaging in such issues), religious parochialism is unwarranted, and the discussion is now beginning to swing in broader directions. There are rich traditions of philosophical thought in non-Western and non-theistic religions, and as the world community has globalized in myriad ways in recent decades, such interaction, engagement, and expansion should be reflected in philosophical and religious publications as well. So besides traditional Western issues (including such recent ones as intelligent design and open theism), I have also included in my reader non-theistic perspectives of ultimate reality and their responses to evil, religious experience, and death and the afterlife. I have also included some of the recent trends which are often ignored in anthologies such as feminism in philosophy of religion and religion and the environment. In addition, I wanted this work to be a useful reader and guide for students, so I included a significant number of pedagogical tools (as I note below). I don’t think any reader/anthology on the market has as many student aids.
I’m finishing up a textbook that is designed to be used along with this reader, and it is scheduled to be published yet this year. Many of the central issues included in the reader (both Eastern and Western) are also addressed in this textbook. Another good introductory textbook that would work well in tandem with this reader is Reason and Religious Belief by Michael Peterson, William Hasker, Bruce Reichenbach, and David Basinger (Oxford University Press, 2003, 2008).
What was it like to produce this anthology? Can you briefly walk us through why you wanted to do this anthology? Were there guidelines/principles that you followed to help decide what to include vs. what to exclude from this volume?
I was invited by the publisher to craft the reader and the corresponding textbook. I strongly suggested that they be more global than most of the readers and texts in print since this more accurately reflects current trends and research interests in the field. The publisher agreed and allowed me to move in this direction. In terms of the entries, I wanted to include classic and contemporary pieces – both Eastern and Western – that have (or I believe will) stand the test of time as major works in philosophy of religion.
Producing this volume was a lot more work than I anticipated. Not only did I read through all 63 essays several times before submitting them to the publisher (all 700 pages of them), I also wrote section introductions, introductions and reflection questions for each essay, and annotated further readings for every essay. I also wrote a glossary of technical terms and compiled an extensive, three-column index. Just thinking about that project makes me tired!
Anthologies are a wonderful occasion to consider where a discussion has gone and where it might go. Are there areas of philosophy of religion that remain underdeveloped for one reason or another? Where might some fruitful research yet occur in light of the trajectory of the field?
As I mentioned above, most of the philosophy of religion readers and anthologies published in the past few decades have focused almost exclusively on a handful of issues. These are no doubt fundamental and timeless topics. However, the field is now much broader than this, and there is much work to be done in engaging with Eastern thought, continental and feminist studies, religious diversity and comparative religion. Furthermore, studies in philosophical theology (which is often taken to be an area within philosophy of religion) is beginning to blossom, and I believe the next several years will reflect much new and exciting work in these areas.
Can you identify any emerging philosophy of religion leaders who are doing some important work today?
There are a number of scholars who are emerging leaders in the different areas of philosophy of religion. I’ll mention just a few who come to mind: Michael Rea (philosophical theology), Robin Collins (fine-tuning argument for God), Paul Griffiths (religious diversity), Sarah Coakley and Pamela Sue Anderson (feminist philosophy of religion), Paul Copan (ethics and the moral argument for God), Daniel Howard-Snyder and Paul Draper (problem of evil), Paul Moser (divine hiddenness), Jerome Gellman (religious experience and mysticism), and Charles Taliaferro (coherence of theism, among others).
You do work in philosophy of religion and Christian apologetics. These two areas are interrelated. What might professional philosophers of religion learn from apologetics ministries? Conversely, what might apologetics ministries learn from professionals in philosophy of religion?
Apologetics ministries are typically focused on questions and concerns which are immediately relevant to the culture. For example, many such ministries have been responding recently to the works of Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Daniel Dennett, as these new atheists are having a significant influence on the culture. Tackling some of the philosophical and moral challenges raised by the new atheists would certainly be a worthy endeavor for professional philosophers of religion. Thankfully, some have. Bill Craig and I, for example, have brought together about a dozen philosophers (as well as a few theologians and biblical scholars) to take on these new atheist challenges in a forthcoming book we are co-editing.
Apologetics ministries are also addressing some important questions that have not been on the forefront of philosophy of religion studies in recent years. For example, religious rites comes to mind. With the liturgical renewal currently occurring in many contexts, such as in the emergent church movement, it would behoove philosophers of religion to reflect on such questions as What is a religious rite? Why have religious rites been neglected in recent philosophy of religion? How important are such rites in the practice of religion? Charles Taliaferro has begun to tackle these questions, but much more philosophical work needs to be done here.
Apologetics ministries can learn much from philosophers as well. For example, the rigorous philosophical work that’s been done on a few key apologetics issues has been quite impressive in recent years. As a case in point, consider the remarkable works of Alvin Plantinga and Eleonore Stump on the problem of evil. Many apologists do not realize that now even most atheist philosophers agree that the logical problem of evil has been forcefully rebutted – so much so that leading atheist philosophers no longer focus on it but have moved on to the evidential problem instead. Reading journals like Philosophia Christi would also benefit apologists as many apologetics-related issues are regularly addressed in the journal by leading philosophers of religion.
Chad Meister is the Director of the Philosophy Program and Associate Professor of Philosophy at Bethel College. More information about Chad’s speaking and writing can be found at www.bethelcollege.edu
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