Benjamin Y. Fong – “Religion and the Mind: The Co-Delimitation of Concepts in the Eighteenth Century”

Benjamin Y. Fong (Assistant Collegiate Professor, The College, University of Chicago)

“Religion and the Mind: The Co-Delimitation of Concepts in the Eighteenth Century”

Wednesday, March 9th, 4:30 pm

Swift 106

Refreshments served

In The Meaning and End of Religion, Wilfred Cantwell Smith famously argued that the concept of “religion” gained its contemporary meaning in the Enlightenment.  In this paper, an expansion of Smith’s basic contention, I will attempt to demonstrate the immense importance of the new theory of a bodily, mortal, and fallible mind that emerged in the eighteenth century to the delimitation of the concept of religion.  Couching Smith’s argument in the history of psychology allows us to see more clearly what precisely is involved in the Enlightenment “reification” of religion, and also to better understand the basic features of the category of religion that contemporary religious studies scholars have come to know and lament.

[The paper will be distributed in advance of the event via the Workshop’s listerv]

The Workshop on the Philosophy of Religions is committed to maintaining itself as a fully accessible and inclusive workshop.  Please contact Workshop Coordinator Anil Mundra ( in order to make any arrangements necessary to facilitate your participation in workshop events.

Zeke Goggin: “The Idea of Sacrifice in Hegel’s 1793 ‘Volksreligion’ Fragment”

Wednesday February 17th, 4:30pm Swift Hall 106


This paper will focus specifically on some fragments which Hegel began while studying at the Stift in Tübingen and likely completed during a visit home to Stuttgart.  The question of sacrifice arises at the height of a characteristically dialectical difficulty which the young Hegel has not yet developed a logic to conceptualize.  The treatment of sacrifice here indicates certain persistent themes in Hegel’s thought which are sometimes taken to be wholly attributable to the interventions of Hölderlin and Schelling, but which in the context of the Volksreligion Fragment appear some three years prior to the the former, and almost a decade prior to the latter.

The Workshop on the Philosophy of Religions is committed to maintaining itself as a fully accessible and inclusive workshop.  Please contact Workshop Coordinator Anil Mundra ( in order to make any arrangements necessary to facilitate your participation in workshop events.

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.

Tyler Roberts on Religion and Critique

“Reverence as Critical Responsiveness: Between Philosophy and Religion”

Tyler Roberts, Grinnell College

Tuesday May 12, 4:30

Swift Hall, Common Room


A major task of a future philosophy of religion will be to contribute to a post-critical ethos of participation. By “post-critical,” I mean that such a contribution requires philosophers of religion to reimagine the critical relationship between philosophy and religion. By “participation,” I gesture with some hesitation and much qualification to philosophical and religious visions centered on conforming mind and body to God, cosmos, reason or some other fundamental reality through active intellection and receptive contemplation. Today, the idea that we can identify such a reality is properly suspect and so subject to various critical procedures that expose the historical and social construction that produces this “reality.” But even if we agree that it is  imperative to submit all claims for what is ultimately real and authoritative to historicist and other forms of criticism, the question of how we hold together incisive critical thinking and affirmative attachment to or participation in existence remains. Philosophers of religion, because they work at a site of crossing between the philosophical and critical, on the one hand, and the religious and participatory, on the other, have a crucial role to play in working through this question. One starting point is William Desmond’s idea of a “two- way intermediation or communication between religion and philosophy, not just a singular direction from religion to reason.” From here, my paper considers religious dispositions or virtues such as gratitude and reverence as critical disciplines of attention and thoughtful vigilance. I thus seek to counter the modern, but by now well-worn idea that where philosophy and other forms of modern thought are critical, religious thought, grounded in such dispositions, is not.

Benjamin Y. Fong (Assistant Collegiate Prof., Social Sciences, UChicago) on Starbuck’s and James’ psychology of religion

Benjamin Y. Fong

Harper Fellow and Assistant Collegiate Professor of Social Sciences (University of Chicago)

“Freak Stuff or Protestant Stock-in-Trade?: Edwin Diller Starbuck’s The Psychology of Religion in Light of its Influence on William James

Tuesday, February 3, 4:30pm (Location TBA)


“In this paper, my aim is to articulate the nature of William James’ debt to and divergence from the ideas of his student Edwin Diller Starbuck through an analysis of the latter’s The Psychology of Religion conducted in light of the “Conversion” lectures in the Varieties of Religious Experience.  As I will demonstrate, The Psychology of Religion was not simply “source material” for James, who actively edited Starbuck’s work as he presented it.  My hope is contribute to a fuller understanding of James’ Varieties while introducing the work of a mostly forgotten figure in the history of the study of religion, but it is perhaps more importantly to show that the psychology of religion in America, at its inception, was not defined by a single trajectory.”