Philosophy of Religion:
Towards a More Humane Approach

Cambridge University Press, 2014
ISBN 978-1-107-69518-4 Paperback £18.99 ($27.99)
ISBN 978-1-107-01943-0 Hardback £50.00

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“This insightful and beautifully clear book shows us how to think philosophically about religion – not just religious beliefs but also the habits, practices, and transformations that constitute religious life. Cottingham combines careful, rigorous analysis and exemplary scholarship with rare sensitivity to the spiritual questions which animate the philosophy of religion but are too often obscured by it. Everyone interested in the philosophy of religion needs to read this elegant, compelling book.”
– Dr. Clare Carlisle, Senior Lecturer in Philosophy of Religion, King’s College London

“…intellectually brilliant, historically well informed, and engaged with contemporary thought. Cottingham is keenly aware of how the practice of philosophy should inform our search for meaning in our lives; this text is perfect for a class or for individual enrichment.”
– Charles Taliaferro, Chair of the Department of Philosophy, St. Olaf College

“A lovely work: passionately engaged and intellectually serious…it shows how philosophy of religion really can be more humane, engaging with our deepest faculties of need and desire, while remaining thoroughly rigorous....”
– Christopher Hamilton, King’s College London

“Rigorous, elegant, and yet passionate, it is hard to think of a better introduction to this area…Cottingham’s nuanced and capacious survey of the philosophy of religion sheds fresh light on familiar topics and points to fertile new directions.”
– Douglas Hedley, Clare College, Cambridge

“A wide-ranging and compelling philosophical argument for recognizing a spiritually focused and morally oriented approach to the philosophy of religion.”
– Keith Ward, Regius Professor Emeritus of Divinity, University of Oxford

“A wonderful book: creative, harmonious, evocative, reasonable. I cannot recommend it enough.”
– Maximillian De Gaynesford,
The Tablet.

“In this lively and accessible study, John Cottingham shows how religious beliefs are best regarded not as abstract speculations but as reflections integrally connected to the question of what it is for a human being to live well. If religion, so conceived, is to be properly understood, then we require a kind of reflection that is philosophically rigorous and, at the same time, rich in an appreciation of the disciplines of thought that we associate with the humanities. Here is a fine and, indeed, inspiring example of such an inquiry.”
– Mark Wynn, Professor of Philosophy and Religion, University of Leeds

Religious belief is not just about abstract intellectual argument; it also impinges on all aspects of human life. John Cottingham’s Philosophy of Religion opens up fresh perspectives on the nature and basis of the religious outlook , arguing that the detached neutrality of much contemporary philosophizing may be counterproductive – hardening us against the receptivity required for certain kinds of important evidence to become salient. The book covers the traditional areas of the subject, including the meaning of religious claims, the existence of God and the relation between religion and morality, as well as the role of spiritual praxis and how religious belief affects questions about the meaning of life, human suffering, and mortality. While preserving the clarity and rigour that are rightly prized in the analytic tradition, the book also draws on insights from literary and other sources, and aims to engage a wide readership.

Table of Contents

1. Method
The nature of the subject
Detachment and rationality
Ways of philosophizing about religious belief
The heart has its reasons
The question of evidence
Some conclusions about method

2. Metaphysics
Arguing for God
How important are the arguments?
The Enlightenment critique of metaphysics
Mysticism and the apophatic route
A possible way forward?

3. Meaning and modes of access
Speaking of God
Thomistic analogy and Anselmian perfection
Experience of the divine?
Intimations of the transcendent
Assessment and critique

4. Morality
The source of goodness
Divine commands and the Euthyphro dilemma
Theism and the force of obligation

Love, justice and mere preference
Secular accounts of moral objectivity
The limits of argument

5. Misfortune and misery
The demise of teleology?
Evil and theodicy
Suffering and the religious perspective
The dynamics of transformation
The fearful residue

6. Mortality and meaningfulness
The theistic outlook and the human condition
The next world
God, the afterlife and meaningfulness
Alienation, obedience and autonomy
What difference does eternity make?
Personal immortality and Averroean concerns
Mortality, meaning and hope

7. Mathesis
Religion as a way of life and the nature of philosophy
Spiritual praxis
Spirituality, moral growth and the psychoanalytic framework

8. Conclusion:
humane philosophizing about religion