Anil Mundra on Naturalness and Normativity in Religious Studies

Anil Mundra (University of Chicago):

“The Natural, The Normative, and the Study of Religion”

Wednesday, October 28th, 4:30pm: Swift 200

The religious studies academy routinely opposes descriptive or historical to prescriptive or constructive methodologies—witness the categories of the AAR’s book awards, and the committees of the University of Chicago’s Divinity School. Such a bifurcation reflects an ambivalence about the nature of religion: some of us are to conceive of religion as naturally or historically determined, such that it is subject to an explanatory analysis; others must view it as a free activity, such that it is susceptible to injunctive intervention. The dilemma, in short, is whether the academic study of religion is to be normatively evaluative or not. Integrating the insights of thinkers from Hegel to Donald Davidson, I will argue that normativity is an ineliminable (even if often implicit or invisible) element of humanistic description; and that, insofar as religious studies claims to study human agents it inevitably has humanistic dimensions. These dimensions depend on the ability of scholars to recognize the equal humanity of those that they study, which proceeds not only from an imperative to fairness, but more rigorously from the admission that both scholars and their subjects are at once historically conditioned and free.

2015-2016 Call For Papers

 Workshop on the Philosophy of Religions

2015-2016 Call for Papers

The Workshop on the Philosophy of Religions welcomes proposals for papers, presentations, mock-job talks, and panel discussions for the 2015-2016 Academic Year.  Given the broadly interdisciplinary nature of our endeavor, we welcome work from the Divinity School‘s doctoral programs in Philosophy of Religions or Theology or Ethics, the departments of Philosophy, Comparative Literature, Classics or History, area studies programs such as SALC, EALC or NELC, and so on. The essential criterion for inclusion is a willingness to treat the objects of inquiry with philosophical seriousness, and (what amounts to the same) an interest in mining those objects for lessons of general philosophical import.

Paper or presentation proposals should be submitted to Anil Mundra, Workshop Coordinator ( and should be suitable for a 90 minute workshop session (leaving between 45-30 minutes for questions and discussion).  Papers may be distributed to attendees prior to the workshop meeting, but need not be, depending on the author’s preference.  We welcome paper and presentation submissions throughout the year, but please submit your proposal at least 2 months prior to your proposed presentation date.  While each year the Workshop seeks out papers pertaining to our chosen theme, we also welcome papers that do not explicitly address such concerns, particularly work relating to dissertations-in-progress, conference presentations, and mock job-talks.

This year’s theme: Comparison

The Workshop on the Philosophy of Religions will focus on the theme of comparison during the 2015-2016 academic year.  Throughout the year we will host thinkers who pursue questions including, but not limited to, those regarding epistemological, metaphysical, methodological, ideological, and ethical dimensions of comparison in context of the academy and more broadly.

Many philosophers of religion work comparatively in some way, juxtaposing disparate thinkers, texts, philosophical and religious traditions in hopes of generating a clearer, more critical, or more comprehensive philosophical understanding of religion and the ways that religion accords with and departs from philosophical rationality.  Meanwhile, comparative methods in religious studies have largely fallen out of favor. Critics often charge such an approach to the academic study of religion as distortive at best, violent at worst.  How feasible are such critiques? Without jettisoning the very useful lessons they teach us, is it possible to retrieve a methodology of comparison? Is comparison part and parcel of any rational reflection?  If so, what do these critiques of comparative studies tell us about rationality generally?  Is there a future for religious studies (generally) and philosophy of religion (specifically) which works outside the bounds of comparative frameworks, or is comparativity inescapable, such that we should focus on learning better ways to compare, rather than attempting a cessation of comparison?  We hope to address these and other philosophical questions related to the comparison during the coming year.

Eric Ziolkowski on “Kierkegaard and the History of Religions”

Eric Ziolkowski (Lafayette College)

“Kierkegaard and the History of Religions”

Co-sponsored with the Religion and Literature Club

Thursday, May 21, 3:30 pm

Swift Hall, 106


Kirkegaard’s life coincided with the period that led up to the emergence of comparative religion or Religionswissenschaft, a.k.a. the “History of Religions,” as an academically recognized scholarly pursuit.  This talk considers the bearing of Kirkegaard’s writings, and of their reception, upon the development of HR, mainlty from the early twentieth century up through Eliade.  For better or worse, far from figuring as an irrelevant or theological persona non grata in relation to HR, Kierkegaard was embraced by some of its formative contributors as a datum, as a theorist, and ultimately, in one notable case, as an existential soul mate.