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PHILOSOPHY OF RELIGION
Taoist (Chinese religion) Yin-Yang symbol
B. Historical Context
The term philosophy of religion is relatively recent, originating in the late 1700s as a replacement and precise specification of earlier terms such as natural religion, natural theology, and philosophical theology. Occasionally the term philosophical theology is employed interchangeably with philosophy of religion. However, this usage is erroneous and misleading because philosophical theology is more often than not an attempt to systematically clarify, defend, and develop theological dogmas by means of philosophical methods and modes of thought. In contrast, the term philosophy of religion should be restricted to the critical examination of religion as such and should not explicitly defend (historically called apologetics) the alleged truth of one specific religion.
B. Distinguishing Philosophy of Religion from Other Theoretical Approaches to Religion
The philosophy of religion is a particular theoretical approach to the study of religion that should not be confused with other related yet distinct approaches, including:
C. General Definition and Characteristics of Philosophy of Religion
1. General Definition
Philosophy of religion adopts a specific theoretical attitude toward religion that applies several philosophical methods to a number of interrelated problems intrinsic to religion as such (or to a specific religion).
2. Theoretical Attitude
Philosophy of religion applies a theoretical or hypothetical attitude toward religion. In contrast to a dogmatic attitude, the theoretical attitude suspends or brackets judgment (Greek, epochē) regarding the truth or falsity, validity or invalidity, of hitherto unquestioned values, norms and facts. In other words, it does not presuppose the truth of any religious tradition. In this respect it is comparable to the reflective and hypothetical attitude often adopted in adolescence.* Similarly, during adolescence religious and moral beliefs, social norms, scientific facts, and traditional values are often hypothetically theoretized, i.e., their truth-status is put in question pending further critical examination and evaluation. Accordingly, a theoretical attitude toward religion includes the following intellectual qualities:
3. Philosophical Methods
4. Problem Areas
* Cf. Jürgen Habermas, Moral Consciousness and Communicative Action, trans. Christian Lenhardt and Shierry Weber Nicholsen (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1990.