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Responses to the Enlightenment

An Exchange on Foundations, Faith, and Community

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William Sweet and Hendrik Hart

Since the time of the Enlightenment in Western Europe, discussions of faith and reason have often pitted the believer against the skeptic, the theist against the atheist, and the person of one faith against the person of no professed faith. But the relation of reason to faith has been a matter of debate among believers as well. There are those who hold that religious faith can be proven or supported by rational argument. Others say that to try to give reasons and arguments does violence to religious faith, or opens it to misunderstanding and doubt, or trivializes it. Responses to the Enlightenment: An Exchange on Foundations, Faith, and Community is a dialogue between Hendrik Hart and William Sweet, two philosophers who identify themselves as Christians, and who seek to respond to the challenges of the Enlightenment and its legacy. The authors approach the relation of faith to reason, however, in very different ways: Hart from the perspective of the Calvinian tradition and postmodern philosophy, Sweet from the Catholic tradition and analytic philosophy. Among the topics discussed are the nature of religious faith and of reason, liberalism and orthodoxy in religion, the relation of religious experience and rationality, and building community in a religiously and culturally pluralistic world. This exchange presents two distinctive perspectives to some of the major challenges of the reason to religious belief, but seeks to find common ground between them.

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Yuval Lurie

Wittgenstein on the Human Spirit provides a new understanding of Wittgenstein’s discourse as an insightful philosophy of culture, pursued through self-reflection. It offers an edifying perspective on the conceptual underpinnings of culture as a shared expressive spiritual form of life. The ideas investigated in it are highly relevant for discussions in philosophy, aesthetics, anthropology, and cultural studies. The book embraces three studies: The Spirit of Jews, The Spirits of Culture and Civilization, and The Common Spirit of Human Beings. The first discusses Wittgenstein's remarks about Jews, focusing on their place within his philosophical thinking, self-reflection, and European discourse about culture and Jews. It shows how overcoming the anti-Semitic attitude implicit in them set off the major change in his philosophy. The second discusses Wittgenstein’s reflections on the “deterioration of culture” in the modern period, showing how they are related to his remarks about following rules. The third discusses Wittgenstein’s insights regarding the symbolic nature of myth, magic and religion. It suggests that modern human beings and those of ancient cultures possess a common expressive spiritual nature. This enables us to understand expressive practices in other cultures without interpretation. Nonetheless religious belief during the modern period is problematic.

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Petruschka Schaafsma

The idea that religion provides ideas and practices that help people cope with evil is widespread. It may be used in a neutral way to define the function of religion but can also be used by both adversaries and advocates of religion. Thus religion may be criticized for “easy coping,” for providing cheap, comforting theories. Religion may also be appreciated for giving an anchor or focus to life in hard times. In this paper, the coping thesis and the presuppositions behind it are confronted with the example of Karl Barth’s view of evil and Christian belief. Barth deals with evil under the term das Nichtige and aims to understand God’s relation to it. He criticizes the idea that human beings by themselves can know what evil is and how they should cope with it. Thus, Barth’s view seems to differ on important points from the coping thesis. What does this mean for the value of this thesis?

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Beverley Clack

Theodicists have sought to show that belief in an all-powerful, all-loving, personal God is not at odds with the existence of evil and, in particular, with the extreme suffering that results from it. This paper, in common with other antitheodical approaches, argues that the attempt to show that God and evil can coexist invariably leads to the distortion and misrepresentation of suffering. At the same time, it builds upon such criticisms, proposing an approach that does not seek to provide a solution to evil conceived as a puzzle. Rather, it contends that the philosopher should take suffering seriously, allowing it to challenge the assumptions that underlie Western philosophy of religion. In particular, it accepts the limited significance of theoretical claims in the light of events that often challenge any attempt to impose meaning.

Religious Experience Revisited

Expressing the Inexpressible?

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Edited by Thomas Hardtke, Ulrich Schmiedel and Tobias Tan

Religious Experience Revisited explores a dilemma which has haunted the study of religion since William James. Is religion rooted in experiences? Is religion rooted in expressions? How are experiences and expressions related? The contributors to this international and interdisciplinary compilation explore the possibilities and the impossibilities of a hermeneutics of religion. Combining theology and philosophy with biblical, cultural, historical and literary studies, they examine how religious experiences and religious expressions have been entangled in the past and in the present. These entanglements call for interdisciplinary conversations in which those who study experiences and those who study expressions can learn from each other in order to carve out important and instructive spaces for the study of religion.