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Department of Religious Studies
University of Cape Town
Moral and Ethical Frameworks and Performances
Call for Papers
Convenors: Abdulkader Tayob; Andrea Brigaglia
In spite of deep-seated modernist suspicions, religions have been expected by the state and by societies to take some responsibility for morality and ethics. The close connection between moralities and religions has been recognized as an important part of social life. From Kant’s vision of religion rooted in ethics, to the challenges of globalization, ecological degradation and poverty alleviation in our time, religions are expected and often do respond with ethical values and virtues. This hope invested in religion is not always matched by social theory. Most contemporary and early modern scholars have not seen a close affinity between religion and true morality (ethics). The prevailing doxa is that the two are worlds apart. While freedom occupies an essential feature of a truly moral and ethical life, obligation and compulsion are believed to dominate religious life. The latter was characterised by very little scope for deviation and adaptation, which makes ethical choices difficult if not impossible. While closer attention to religious life has challenged these presuppositions, the prevailing prejudice is hard to change. Religious moralities might be valued, but they are hardly regarded as truly ethical.
Recent interest in Aristotle’s virtue ethics has prompted a turn to the religious life worlds where ethics and morality are guided by a complex of beliefs, values and practices. Theodicies (the justification for the persistence of evil) are only one among the many ways in which religious traditions frame human life on earth. Other ways of thinking about how religions frame ethics and ethical dispositions might be conceptions of the nature of good or evil, conceptions of the human person, patterns of social and culture life that sustain moral life, or the future of the good in this world and the afterworlds. But conceptions of a moral life are not presented in clearly organized frameworks. They are embodied and lived through narratives and practices that sustain a moral and religious life for individuals and groups. And they are subtly malleable, but also resilient to winds of change.
This is a call for papers on the deep connection between religious traditions and morality as it is articulated in texts, beliefs, media, dispositions, practices, attitudes and emotions.
- What are the conceptions of the good life and how are they formulated and framed in the foundational texts religious traditions?
- How are ideas of religious ethics and morality embodied and sustained over a period of time. How do they meet the demands of change and challenges in political, economic or cultural contexts?
- How are ethics and moralities sustained and transmitted through informal and formal educational projects?
Religion and Morality by Douglas R McGaughey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
Religion and Morality
Douglas R McGaughey
30 January 2019
If there is anyone who was not (and today would not be) surprised about a disconnect “between religion and ethics, it would be Immanuel Kant. Nonetheless, the two are deeply connected: there can be no morality without particular experience in the world and the transcendental conditions of possibility for which the term religion is appropriate.
Design: A Heuristic Strategy, not Metaphysical Doctrine by Douglas R McGaughey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
A Heuristic Strategy, Not Metaphysical Doctrine
Because there’s only indirect access to causes, given effects can be understood to have multiple causes, and the same cause can produce multiple effects, the criterion for the evaluation of a causal explanation is neither empirical proof nor disproof. Rather, the evaluation must be in terms of the consequences of holding the cause for an adequate explanation of the event. The Physico-Theological argument for design as a form of cause in nature cannot serve to give us any information about the Noumenon (God) that it presupposes – certainly not any information about anthropomorphic characteristics of that Noumenon. Rather, its value is to confirm our confidence in the intelligibility (the rule-governed character) of nature in contrast, for example, to the chaos of nocturnal dreams. To the extent of confidence in this intelligibility, our “explanations” of nature involve necessity, that is, a presumed necessity based upon the functional relationality that accounts for the phenomena. Because all our capacities both theoretical (science) and practical (religion) are dependent upon the material conditions of experience, this criterion is important not only for the furtherance of the natural scientific enterprise but also for religion. Drawing on pre-critical and critical writings of Kant, I reject the Naturalistic reading of Kant by P.F. Strawson et al. to argue that Kant’s Critical Idealism is beneficial for an investigating of the meaning and role of design in experience.
This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/.
On the So-Called Conundrums in Kant’s Philosophical Theology
Overview: In which three conundrums of Kant’s pure religion—the good will, radical evil, and grace—are addressed, and three strategies employed for understanding the role of the afterlife in religion (noting that pure religion is concerned with the moral improvement in history of the species generally and not merely the moral improvement of the individual). We conclude with an examination of the question of Theodicy in Kant’s pure religion.
Waetjen on Romans: A Hermeneutics of Disclosure and Justice by Douglas R McGaughey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
A Hermeneutics of Disclosure and Justice:
A Reading of Herman Waetjen’s The Letter to the Romans: Salvation as Justice and the Deconstruction of the Law
Herman Waetjen offers a profound reading of Paul that takes as its clue Romans 1:17: “For (gar) the justice of God (dikaiosynē theou) is being revealed in it [the gospel] out of trust into trust (ek pisteōs eis pistin) even as it is written, ‘The just will live out of trust (ek pisteōs)’.” What follows understands Herman’s project to be an example of the hermeneutics of disclosure that calls not only the Christian community but also all humanity to do justice in faith/trust. This paper applauds enthusiastically Herman’s reading of Paul and places it in the context of the relationship between what Kant calls “historical” and “pure” religion. In short, although one can neither prove nor disprove whether the Christ event involves an ontological change in the human condition that establishes a New Moral Order as an “historical” religion claims, one can unequivocally affirm that a deconstructed (de-mythologized) Paul challenges humanity “to become what we are” in the sense of trusting in the “law that is above law” to pursue justice “this side of the grave.” Here we have a concrete example of “pure” religion at the core of a “historical” religion and of a New Testament scholar as vanguard engineer of the locomotive of faith rather than leading a rear guard at the back of the train defending “Reformation heresy.”
One World, One Reason, One Faith, but Many Religions: Religious Studies in an Age of Pluralism by Douglass R McGaughey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
One World, One Reason, One Faith, but Many Religions: Religious Studies in an Age of Pluralism
[With an “Excursus: The Nihilism of Meaning and Pure Religion”]
Contrary to the popular notion that “all religions are different paths to the same God” this paper proposes that what unites all religion is not God (much less doctrine, ritual, or institutional structure) but the shared physical conditions and creative capacity that constitute humanity’s extraordinary position and responsibilities in the order of things. Just as the conditions for reason are the same for all, yet reason is manifested differently, there is one religion that involves the communal support of the moral improvement of each individual that is manifested differently in multiple faiths.
“On Peace and Religious Literacy” by Douglas R. McGaughey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
On Peace and „Religious“ Literacy:
A Response to Ulrich Rosenhagen
Not surprisingly, the popular response to religious violence is a call to peaceful understanding of the “other.” Given the pressing need in our climate of violence to foster the understanding of religion, Ulrich Rosenhagen at the University of Wisconsin in his commentary piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education of December 2, 2015, entitled “The Value of Teaching Religious Literacy” calls for an “immersion” approach that would establish student “learning communities” of various religious confessions sharing the same living and study space. The goal is “to learn from one another” not “about” one another. The principle driving this “immersion” model of religious studies is that direct experience of religious differences fosters the cultivation of our common humanity.
This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/.
“Studying Religion: More and Less than Mapping Territories”
Rather than portray Religious Studies by J. Z. Smith’s metaphor of mapping territories, here the metaphor is extended to cover Kant’s description of the human condition as consisting of three regions of experience: fields (Felde), territories (Böden), and domains (Gebiete). All three regions involve clarity of conceptualization. Fields constitute regions of experience where there is conceptualization without rules (e.g., dreams, fantasies, hallucinations), territories regions where rules are possible but not universal (e.g., civic laws), and domains regions where rules are necessary and universal (e.g., nature and creative freedom). Concerned with all three, RS is grounded in the necessary conditions of possibility for experience where there is self-legislation (because imperceptible) of rules for its understanding and action. This paper contrasts this grounding in domains with eleven territories of RS. Neither a mere perspective on life nor limited to a single region of experience, RS focuses on pure religion at the core of all historical religion.
Divine Intervention: Undeniable, but What Difference does it Make? by Douglas R McGaughey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Divine Intervention: Undeniable,
But What Difference does it Make?
Denial of divine intervention in the physical order oversteps the limits to human reason as does its affirmation. Kant’s discussion of miracles acknowledges that it is impossible to prove or disprove a miracle not only, as Hume maintained, because the empirical evidence is too limited and by definition denies duplication but also because the judgment whether or not a miracle has occurred is an a priori synthetic judgment of cause that, as with all causal explanations, the observer must add to the phenomena. We can determine a cause only in reflecting judgment stimulated by its effects, and the appropriateness of our determination hinges on the consequences for the totality of our experience and understanding. When it comes to the “domain” of theoretical reason, those consequences have to do with the causal explanation fitting into a coherent totality of physical laws. Here, a miracle by definition is suspect (even if unprovable) because it claims to be an exception to physical law. More destructive is the consequence for the “domain” of practical reason. Miracles would shift humanity’s focus from “doing the right thing because it is right” to “obsequious pursuit of divine favor” out of mere self-interest.
Pdf off-print of article by Douglas R. McGaughey from The Journal of Religion, Vol 93, No. 2 (April 2013): 151-176.
Historical and Pure Religion: A Response to Stephen Palmquist (Journal of Religion article)
Critical Idealism: History, Scripture, and Social Responsibility by Douglas R McGaughey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Critical Idealism: History, Scripture, and Social Responsibility
The linguistic formulation “transcendental consciousness” appears to privilege the non- or a-historical and metaphysical over any and all historical particularity. When one adds to such terminology the recognition that sense perception is exclusively of appearances and not of things-in-themselves, one could easily arrive at the conclusion that historical particularity is secondary to transcendental consciousness since whatever is historical is mere appearance. The final apparent dismissal of the historical seems to be implicit in the Copernican Turn away from external content to internal conditions of possibility and capacities. Given the shift away from consequences to internal conditions and capacities, the physical world of appearances and the historical apparently have no significant role to play in Critical Idealism.
On Normative Religion: An Ethos not a Fact by Douglas R McGaughey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
On Normative Religion:
An ethos not A fact
Christianity has been, is, and will be no one, single, universal teaching of salvation. Since its origins in Palestine in the first decades of our Common Era, Christianity has been a plethora of schools of thought (αἱρέσαι; haireseis) that arrived at their individual self-understandings of the faith in the smithery of conflict. Paul in I Corinthians 11:19 expressed the relationship among alternative positions in the church: “… there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized”, a passage referred to by Origen of Alexender in Contra Celsius Book III, chapter 13:
“… why should we not defend … the existence of heresies in Christianity? And respecting these, Paul appears to me to speak in a very striking manner when he says, “For there must be heresies among you, that they who are approved may be made manifest among you.” For as that man is “approved” in medicine who, on account of his experience in various (medical) heresies, and his honest examination of the majority of them, has selected the preferable system,-and as the great proficient in philosophy is he who, after acquainting himself experimentally with the various views, has given in his adhesion to the best,-so I would say that the wisest Christian was he who had carefully studied the heresies both of Judaism and Christianity. Whereas he who finds fault with Christianity because of its heresies would find fault also with the teaching of Socrates, from whose school have issued many others of discordant views.” [indebted to Gérard Vallée, The Shaping of Christianity, 95, for reference to this text in Origen.]
Critical Idealism and Religion by Douglas R McGaughey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Critical Idealism and Religion
A virtue of Critical Idealism is that its starting point is the assertion of reason’s limits. Karl Barth’s claim that Kant elevated human reason above God is absurd. On the contrary, both theoretical and practical reason necessarily presuppose God, and it is no accident that Kant referred to his work as philosophical theology.
Although reason is limited, religion is at the core of Critical Idealism not because of what we can’t do, which would require divine assistance in order for us to overcome our limits. Rather, religion is at the core of Critical Idealism because of what we can do. In other words, religion is not an answer to a problem. Religion consists of the conditions that constitute the extraordinary capacities of humanity to see things that are not there in phenomena and to initiate a sequence of events that nature could never accomplish on its own. In short, our very ability to understand the world (our theoretical reason) as well as our very ability to be autonomous, creative beings above, yet never separate from, nature (our practical reason) depend upon the givenness of a universe and of capacities that are inscrutable to us, yet absolutely necessary for us to experience, act, and create as we do. Such faith with respect to our not-knowing (that is, with respect to the limits upon which we depend) is constitutive of the human condition, and it is a far more profound faith than any faith with claims to know beyond reason. Critical Idealism is anchored in non-epistemic, but not epistemic faith.
Thinking Critically about Science and Religion by Douglas R McGaughey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Thinking Critically in Science and Religion
Just what is critical thinking? Of course, there’s no single, right answer to this question because we are dealing with metaphors. However, gaining awareness of the options for what it means to think critically can provide us with insight into the place our species assumes in the order of things.