I thought it would be a good idea to begin a series on some important developments in the theory of religion since the Enlightenment given that I’ve been doing quite a bit of reading on the subject lately in my first year of doctoral work. There are a number of reasons why I think it’s important to understand these developments as a Christian. This sort of study reveals the historical development of the challenges contemporary Christianity faces with regard to religious epistemology especially in relation to science and secular reason. The suspicion raised in many of these treatments of religion helps us to see where the historical practice of Christianity has failed miserably in understanding its own epistemological underpinnings. That is, understanding these developments and criticisms can help us see how our current practice or ways of thinking about our practice might be shifted to move us toward a much better account and method and even a richer experience.
This is a broad topic, and there are many places one could begin. The first post of the series will deal with Immanuel Kant’s account of religious experience. The reason why Kant makes for a good starting point is that in contrast to many thinkers of the medieval and early modern periods, the question of the metaphysical reality of God (whether or not there is a God) is not of primary importance. Rather, Kant is interested in the rational viability and function of religious experience and practice in general. In other words, he is asking and seeking to answer this question: Is religious belief reasonable? In fact, none of the thinkers covered in this series are necessarily interested in the existence of a transcendent being, though many make the indirect claim that there is no such being. However, they do so on their way to an account of the origin and function of religious experience.
Remember: this series is not evaluative–at least not in the sense of pure refutation of the claims set forth. Rather, the purpose is to extract the salient points and reflect on what these thinkers contribute to our understanding of religion.