This is the website for a research project in the philosophy of religion, specifically one centering around religious understanding. It is part of a larger cluster of projects inquiring into ‘varieties’ of understanding, sponsored by the John Templeton Foundation, Fordham University, University of California – Berkeley, and the Henry Luce Foundation. You can read more about this particular project, the broader project cluster and about the study of understanding.
Our goal is to explore what, if anything, is distinctive about religious understanding. Because religion encompasses many facets of human existence, from art to ritual to philosophy to culture, the project’s participants are specialists in areas as diverse as religious studies, theology, philosophy, linguistics, and cultural theory. Furthermore, recognizing that religion is itself an exceedingly broad term, the project gathers experts in several religious traditions, notably Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, and Christianity.
The project orients itself around how religious understanding moves between two conceptualizations of ultimate reality: the first, a positive (kataphatic) one, and the second, a negative (apophatic) one. The first makes positive claims about what divinity might be and especially involves viewing religion as a way of observing and existing within the world (e.g. the way in which certain moral possibilities might appear in the world when “God is love”). The second bars any positive claims, arguing for the radical difference between divinity and everything else (e.g., “God is one”, i.e., incomparable). Through collaborative, interdisciplinary, and crosscultural engagement, this project reveals that quite distinct and often, distant religious traditions enact the same tension between these positive and negative approaches to talking about ultimate reality. Our aim is to critically and comparatively explore the ways in which this tension is navigated across religious traditions and historical epochs. By proceeding in this fashion, the project avoids the pitfalls associated with making claims about ‘religious’ understanding when examining only one or two religious traditions, or one or two elements of religion. By looking at theology, philosophy, art, culture, and religious practice, the project aims to present a more nuanced perspective on religious understanding that is sensitive to the heterogeneous theories and practices within and across different traditions.
We have designed this website in order to be able both (1) to work through our research in a public forum, and (2) thereby involve the public in that research. We hope that you will feel free to contribute your thoughts and insights to our ruminations. In fact, we have created an open thread, exactly for that purpose.