Philosophy of Religion: Is Religion Universal?
Religion as Relation - Studying Religion in Context - Peter Berger
Dennis Vanden Auweele [+]
University of Leuven
Dennis Vanden Auweele (Chapter 2) addresses the question of how philosophers of religion approach the question what religion is, thus continuing the discussion in the first part of this chapter, but confining himself to the debates that have been taking place in philosophy. He focuses on the work of three influential scholars to give an overview of how philosophers of religion have been thinking about the universality and timelessness of religion since the eighteenth century. Vanden Auweele describes a development from thinking about what unites religions to appreciating what differentiates them. He first discusses Kant, who saw the essence of religion in its function to cultivate the mind and motivate people to act in a morally good way. He then moves on to Hegel, who argued that the essence of religion can only be grasped in its historical instantiation of progressive symbolic attempts to represent reason. Hegel compared religion with art and philosophy, which respectively represent the more sensuous and abstract dimensions of reason’s growing self-consciousness. Schelling, the third scholar that Vanden Auweele discusses, contended that all people are united in a latent memory of mythic consciousness of a first, all-encompassing God. Schelling explained the existence of diverging religions as emerging from the development of language, as a result of which groups speaking different languages gave different names to this first bond with God. In Schelling’s view, people may ultimately be united again in accepting Jesus Christ as the revelation of God. In the last section of the chapter, Vanden Auweele takes stock by discussing postmodern philosophy, which criticizes the Christian bias in previous thinking about religion and rejects the very possibility of “grand narratives” or comprehensive stories to explain reality or reveal truth. He concludes by noting that, contrary to what we might expect, deconstructing grand narratives does not mean that all postmodern philosophers deny an essence of religion; one strand in postmodern philosophy of religion acknowledges the experience of divine transcendence, but argues that this experience cannot be grasped by superimposing rational concepts on it.