Recently a few articles (see here, here and here) have raised the issue of whether philosophy of religion is not really little more than Christian apologetics. A straightforward answer would be that it is not, but an output of the question is what it means for philosophy of religion (and theology) not to be confined to Christianity only. On the one hand, in fact, one might say that to be “apologetic” is not a bad thing, insofar as it really amounts to taking problems at heart and creating sound arguments about difficult issues (I, for one, am inclined to think that little or no philosophical, mathematical and logical problem at all would have been solved if it were not for one’s determination to take it at heart and consider all possible solutions). On the other, makes it at all sense to look beyond the precinct of the religion(s) we know best while working on a given theological or philosophical issue?
This range of questions lies at the basis of this panel. A legitimate answer to the questions mentioned above could be that one should focus on one religion only and that all comparison might be misleading —and it would be interesting to see why this is the case. Another possibly legitimate answer would be to show that theological topics can be better understood once perceived from a different point of view, as it frequently happens with other philosophical categories. If the latter is the case, this should lead to the result that, e.g., the relationship between God’s Wisdom (the OT Sapientia) and the second person of the Godhead (are they ontologically identical or is one a property of the other? If the former, should this mean that God is not like an (Aristotelian) substance but rather like an action?…) could be better understood or throw light on the relationship between God and his Potency in Śrīvaiṣṇavism (Śrīvaiṣṇavas also claim to be strictly monotheistics, although they admit the presence of God’s Potency beside God Himself). Please note that a sheer juxtaposition of two topics does not make a comparison. We do not expect contributors to be able to shape a comparative contribution themselves, but we expect them to be open for a comparative discussion.
Just as an example, let me attempt to sketch a discussion about God as person which can be rooted in more than one tradition:
Is God a person? If yes, is S/He a person in the same way as we are such? And what does “being a person” imply? Do persons need to correspond to a substrate? Does this substrate coincide with their body? And is such a body a material abode or rather the substrate of experience?
The problem can be developed in different ways, ranging from the co-existence of three persons in one God in Christianity (in which sense are they distinct? In which sense are they the same?) to similar problems in other theologies (e.g., the role of God’s personality in Indian theology). Further, is God’s personality an essential part of Him/Her or does it only regard the devotional level?
Each discussion within the panel (although not necessarily each paper) will cross through geographical boundaries (as usual in the Coffee Break Conference model), showing how philosophical (and theological) problems can be debated together from different perspectives. Participants are encouraged to focus on the philosophical significance of the ideas at stake, rather than on a sheer description of a narrow topic.
Provisional list of participants:
Elisa Freschi (the theological implications of God as a person in Christianity and Vaiṣṇavism)
Stephen Harris (Buddhist reflections on suffering)
Marco Lauri (Islamic theological reflections on “God”)
Halina Marlewicz (devotion in Śrī Vaiṣṇavism)
Marion Rastelli (Śrī Vaiṣṇavism)
Silvia Schwarz Linder (‘The Poetry of Thought’ in the Theology of the Tripurarahasya)
Francesco Valerio Tommasi (the category of “sacrament” in Christianity)
Ralph Weber (Chinese religions and comparative theology)