28 Philosophy of Religion – Overview and Coursework

Philosophy of Religion examines a wide array of topics related to the meaning and nature of religion. This philosophical study delves into arguments and concepts related to religious beliefs and practices. It intersects with metaphysics by asking questions about the existence of God and nature of the universe, with epistemology by exploring how we know and understand spiritual matters and beliefs, and with ethics by considering to what extent religion and morality may be connected. Philosophy of Religion is a vast discipline. Our introduction to this area of philosophy will look first at views on the nature of religion held by both late 19th-century and contemporary philosophers, and then will examine historical arguments about the existence of God and the problem of evil.


Successful completion of our study of this unit will enable you to:

  1. Describe perspectives for understanding religion in terms of the experiences of individuals as well as activities practiced by groups or communities.
  2. Understand the explanations of religion held by several mainstream philosophers.
  3. Explain historical arguments related to the existence of God and the problem of evil.


The Course Content for this unit provides the primary reading material, links to any additional assigned reading or viewing resources, and assigned coursework. The unit concludes with a test. Material is presented in these subsections:

7.1 What is Religion?
7.2 Does God Exist?

Dates for completing all assigned work are in the Schedule of Work.

Philosophers We Will Meet

In our investigation and readings for Philosophy of Religion, we will encounter the work of these philosophers. You may select a name here to link to a short biography, or you may link to the same information at your first encounter the philosopher’s name in the Course Content sections:

William James (1842-1910)
Karen Armstrong (1944-)
Emile Durkheim (1858-1917)
Mircea Eliade (1907-1986)
Kwame Anthony Appiah (1954-)
Saint Anselm (1033-1109)
Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225 -1274)
William Paley (1743-1805)
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)
John Hick (1922-2012)

Key Terms

It is important to understand the meaning and use of these terms.

Agnosticism: The view that whether or not God exists is unknown or unknowable, that sufficient or persuasive evidence has not been given either way.
Atheism: The view that God does not exist.
Cosmological: Relating to theories about the origin and development of the universe.
Defense (theology): See “theodicy.”
Monotheism: The view that there is one and only one deity.
Ontological: Relating to the branch of metaphysics dealing with the nature of being.
Pluralism: In philosophy of religion, the view that a diversity of religious belief systems can co-exist and make claims that are equally valid.
Pragmatism: The view that meaning and truth of ideas and beliefs are explained in terms of observable practical outcomes.
Sacred Object: For Durkheim, whatever becomes the focal point of religious belief and practice.
Teleological: Relating to design or purpose.
Theism: The view that God exists.
Theodicy: A justification for the possible co-existence of God and evil that includes a plausible justification for God’s permitting evil. Contrast with a “defense,” which is a logical rebuttal of the argument that God and evil cannot co-exist.


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