The following reflections were originally an oral response to issues raised in Lee Yearley's presentation in May 2009 at Harvard Divinity School. As written here, they follow upon his oral and now written comments, highlighting key issues and points for development, drawing on this respondent's expertise in comparative and Hindu studies.
It is no surprise that the philosophy of religion, the many disciplines counted within the study of religion and theology, and religion-specific studies, all have their own methods and interests, and often proceed necessarily as conversations among small groups of experts. But the intellectual cogency and credibility of such studies also entails a problematization of the boundaries that divide them. While disciplinary distinctions are necessary and valuable, a freer flow of ideas and questions across boundaries is to the benefit of (...) all concerned. In particular, the philosophy of religion proceeds more fruitfully if, among its several dimensions, it is also intentionally comparative and inter-religious, vulnerable to the questions raised by insiders to traditions, and open to the implications of ideas for religious practice. (shrink)
Blaise Pascal began as a mathematical prodigy, developed into a physicist and inventor, and had become by the end of his life in 1662 a profound religious thinker. As a philosopher, he was most convinced by the long tradition of scepticism, and so refused – like Kierkegaard – to build a philosophical or theological system. Instead, he argued that the human heart required other forms of discourse to come to terms with the basic existential questions – our nature, purpose and (...) relationship with God. This introduction to the life and philosophical thought of Pascal is intended for the general reader. Strikingly illustrated, it traces the antithetical tensions in Pascal’s life from his infancy, when he was said to have been placed under the spell of a sorceress, to his final years of extreme asceticism. Pascal stressed both the misery and greatness of humanity, our finitude and our comprehension of the infinite. The book shows how his life, philosophical thought and literary style can best be understood in the light of the paradoxical view of human nature. It covers the methods of argument and the central issues of the Provincial Letters and of the Pensées ; the Introduction places Pascal’s thought in the religious and political climate of seventeenth-century France, and a ‘Chronology of the Life of Pascal’ is also included. (shrink)
This book examines Fuller’s pioneering vision of social epistemology. It focuses specifically on his work post-2000, which is founded in the changing conception of humanity and project into a ‘post-‘ or ‘trans-‘ human future. Chapters treat especially Fuller’s provocative response to the changing boundary conditions of the knower due to anticipated changes in humanity coming from the nanosciences, neuroscience, synthetic biology and computer technology and end on an interview with Fuller himself. While Fuller’s turn in this direction has invited at (...) least as much criticism as his earlier work, to him the result is an extended sense of the knower, or ‘humanity 2.0’, which Fuller himself identifies with transhumanism. The authors assess Fuller’s work on the following issues: Science and Technology Studies (STS), the university and intellectual life, neo-liberal political economy, intelligent design, Cosmism, Gnosticism, agent-oriented epistemology, proactionary vs precautionary principles and Welfare State 2.0. (shrink)
Instead of searching through Hindu sources for appropriate insights into the questions related to "playing God" in biomedicine, the author seeks rather to understand why some Hindus at least are not inclined to ask such questions. Using examples from the r vai ava sect of south India, the author shows how r vai ava Hindus focus primarily on character formation and the practice of the virtues encoded in the classical texts, thereafter leaving it to the individual to "act as he (...) or she will" in the world outside the community – a world which is neutral vis à vis religious values, neither governed by such values nor able to instigate the adjustment of religious values to fit changing times. The question then becomes, "What do modern ethicists have to learn from the moral discourse of the r vai ava community?" Keywords: "playing God", r vai ava, Hinduism, virtue CiteULike Connotea Del.icio.us What's this? (shrink)
In Christ and the Cosmos Keith Ward again rethinks Christian doctrines, so as to restore their intelligibility and relevance. Throughout, he commendably notes parallels in other traditions that have pondered the unity and complexity of the divine. But such references are invariably general and brief; little insight into theologies arising elsewhere is achieved. Even in a small book, mention without depth may imply that no premodern learning answers questions arising in and for the globalized West. But gently sidelining the concepts (...) of premodern traditions risks also losing their transformative energies, making less likely the revitalizing of doctrines of God beyond and in the world. (shrink)
This essay explores a certain kind of uncertainty, a fuzziness, that occurs in inter-religious study where the religions involved both highly prize clarity, truth, and specific commitments. Reading that crosses religious borders creates a body of new insights and even spiritual experiences that neither fit easily into the settled doctrines of traditions nor contest those doctrines by offering new, liberal, or relativizing alternatives. Rather, productive spaces open up wherein spiritual insight and uncertainty go hand in hand, created and accentuated by (...) study, a stubborn fidelity to detail, and the ability to live with incertainty. By way of example, this essay offers an instance from a current study that the author, a Roman Catholic, is undertaking of intensely devotional medieval Hindu poetry, in part read along with passages from the biblical Song of Songs. The uncertainty carefully cultivated in this kind of study is, he argues, beneficial for those who remain committed to doctrinally robust traditions but also engage in the study of other, similarly robust traditions. (shrink)
In the 13th and 14th centuries CE the Śrīvaiṣṇava Hindu community of south India struggled to integrate the traditional values of the older brahmanical hierarchical system with the devotional egalitarianism that had come to the fore with fresh force in the Tamil vernacular tradition in the 7th and 8th centuries and thereafter. One of the most vexed aspects of this integration pertained to caste, and whether devotionalism foreclosed a continuation of traditional caste distinctions: do divine love and grace mandate radical (...) egalitarianism? Śrīvaiṣṇava theologians were divided on the issue, some more conservative, some more radical in their rhetoric about continuity and change. Yet, as this essay argues, none were willing to go to the extremes either of dismissing caste structures entirely or of entirely subordinating devotion to caste. New values were to take primary place, while old norms were to be reinterpreted and given new meanings. Analyzing well-known examples from the tradition they argued instead a balance between norms and exceptions, treating violations of caste as occasions to glorify the power of devotion but without predicting the end of caste altogether. Attention to this case sheds light on caste and devotion in the Hindu context, the nature of ethical debate in India, and consequently too ways in which rhetoric functions more widely in ethical analysis. (shrink)