Monday, June 12, 2006

Entrees to Philosophy of Religion

One of our readers wrote recently enquiring whether I could suggest names of some important books or texts in the field of philosophy of religion. Here is a brief bibliography of books, beginning with texts I have used in some of my classes and others that I consider good entrees into the field, with no pretense of thoroughness. I begin with beginner's books, because I think those are the most difficult to pick, and proceed toward some of the more substantial classics. Feel free to suggest others that come to mind in the comment box.

Books and approaches in philosophy generally, and philosophy of religion as well, are divided along various ideological lines into various camps, one of the largest being (a) logical empiricist, or analytical, or anglo-American, and (b) continental/phenomenological. When it comes to philosophy of religion, the former has a tradition of preoccupation with analytical proofs for God's existence, truth claims, interest in religious languages statements, etc., whereas the latter is concerned less with truth claims than with understanding and describing the experience and meaning of religious experience. Both traditions have merit, as well as defects, and one finds Christians in both camps. The Catholic tradition of philosophy of religion was originally independent of either of these camps, though one now finds Catholics all over the place. Alvin Plantinga (pictured left), a Calvinist philosopher, writing from within the analytical tradition, was one of the first to break open the strangle-hold of positivist assumptions within that tradition. (See my review of The Analytic Theist: An Alvin Plantinga Reader, ed. James F. Sennett.) Some of his books are well worth reading. But here's what I would do. I would start with a few basic anthologies, and I would recommend the following, probably in something like the following order:Beyond that, there are important writers in the Catholic tradition one should be familiar with, of course, such as Etienne Gilson and Josef Pieper, particularly their books on St. Thomas Aquinas, as well as the works of St. Thomas himself. Some dismiss Thomas as irrelevant to issues in contemporary philosophy of religion. This, in my view, is a large mistake. Those unfamiliar with the thought of this master labor at a great disadvantage in this field, even -- perhaps especially -- in those areas where classic Thomistic positions are derisively dismissed (as in current debates about 'absolute divine simplicity'). In order of mounting difficulty, I would recommend the following:Other classics in philosophy of religion include, of course, such works as the following, and many, many others: