Analytical Philosophy of Religion with Indian categories

As part of my attempts to go beyond my confort zone, Wednesday and Thursday last week I enjoyed two days of full immersion in the Analytical Philosophy of Religion. In fact, the conference I was attending was about the ontological status of relations from the perspective of Analytical Philosophy of Religion and most speakers started their talk saying that they were not experts in the one or in the other field. I was neither nor, which made me the sub-ideal target for all talks —and yet one who could learn a lot from all.

A few random remarks:

    1. “God” is an ambiguous term, in fact so ambiguous that I wonder why does not each study about philosophy of religion start with a discussion of what the author means by this word. I pragmatically distinguish (for instance, in my teaching) between god as devatā ‘deity’ (a superhuman being which is better than a human one, but only insofar as s/he has the same qualities of a human being in higher degree, like the Greek and Roman deities of mythology), god as īśvara ‘Lord’ (the omniscient and omnipotent being of rational theology), god as brahman ‘impersonal being’ (the impersonal Absolute of most monisms, including Bradley’s one discussed by Guido Bonino) and god as bhagavat ‘personal God’ (the personal God one directly relates to in prayers, without necessarily caring for His/Her omnipotence or omniscience, but rather focusing on Him/Her as spouse, parent, child, etc.). Within this classification, Analytical Philosophy of Religion appears to focus on the īśvara aspect of God.

  1. It is perhaps self-evident that this approach enables one to discuss logically about God and His/Her attributes. God is not a person one is in relation with (who could have whimsical desires etc.), but rather a perfect being who needs to be logically consistent. The only logical problem relates to God’s alterity, so that one could wonder how far can human logic reach before crashing against its boundaries. Nonetheless, unlike in the case of God as bhagavat, one needs not worry too much about His/Her lying completely outside the realm of thinkability. The mysterium can be understood as a challenge to think deeper something which, at a certain point (in the liberated state) we will all be able to grasp.
  2. Consequently, I could listen to several interesting discussions on God’s temporality (does His/Her omnipotence include His/Her producing effects which are temporal, or is rather His/Her own activity itself which is temporal?) and on God’s knowability (having said that God is not fully knowable by living human beings, the purpose of rational theology (continued in analytical philosophy of religion) is to find out whether what we can know about Him/Her is consistent with what we know through revelation).
  3. The main topic of the conference was, however, God’s being and its relation to His/Her qualities. Does God have wisdom? Or is wisdom (part of) God? The first definition leads to several problems, well-known to scholars of Sanskrit philosophy, insofar as one could always conceive a substance without its qualities (e.g., the soul in the state of liberation according to Nyāya) and, consequently, God’s relation to His/Her wisdom would end up being adventitious. By contrast, the second solution leads to a different problem: How can one conceive of God as “being” wisdom? Marco Damonte suggested using Frege’s distinction between sense and reference: All Divine attributes have the same referent (God), but different senses.
  4. Summing up, it seems that the believers in a bhagavat do not gain so much out of their readings of rational theology or analytic philosophy of religion. This is, in Mario Micheletti‘s words “not foundational”: one can believe even without rational theology (and, one might add, vice versa: one can enjoy theological thinking even without believing). Nonetheless, rational theology can persuade believers that what they believe can be rationally believed (and it plays a very important role in the metaphysical and philosophical discourse).

Long story short, I am very grateful to the organisers, Daniele Bertini and Damiano Migliorini. My only suggestion for a further improvement would be to allow for even more time for discussion (perhaps with the help of some leading questions by the organisers themselves?), especially insofar as their audacity in putting together physicists, theologians and historians of philosophy made the attempt to find a common language even more challenging than usual.

(cross-posted, with minor modifications, on my personal blog)

About elisa freschi

My long-term program is to make "Indian Philosophy" part of "Philosophy". You can follow me also on my personal blog:, on Academia, on Amazon, etc.

5 Replies to “Analytical Philosophy of Religion with Indian categories”

  1. Thanks for this, Elisa!

    I’ve always thought of īśvara as the God of Natural Theology that may then be ported to and adapted by various sects as they may choose (or not). Udayana’s opening to the Nyāyakusumāñjali says as much.

    I like your typology of the three major approaches to God with Indian flavorings.

    Your point #4 is rich for reflection; insofar as we may think of “theology” broadly as philosophical reasoning about God, it’s pretty hard to avoid entirely, even for Fideists. One can always ask “what is it about God that makes Fideism reasonable” and we are off to the races. Sure, bhagavatas may argue that rational theology is a failed enterprise (and have historically, for the sake of safeguarding the status of sacred testimony as pramāṇa; śastra-yonitvāt). But it seems to me that the attempt to insulate God or religious faith from theological consistency entirely should lead one to skepticism about the divine, not faith.

    • Many thanks for this, Matthew.

      I agree that a believer can hardly avoid thinking about God and that s/he will have to figure a way to make all her/his beliefs consistent with each other. However, I disagree as for the implicit assumption that the only way to do it would be rational theology. What about attempts such as Jean-Luc Marion’s? Could not there be a God beyond being?

  2. Swatantro Bhagavan Vishnu. Independence is GOD. Vishnu is the only
    independent reality. All other qualities are derivable therefrom. These are Sa-Guna , auspicious attributes. God’s gender is unfathomable.
    He or She makes Himself visible as per expediency . Hence His
    invisibility is not a defect. Sri Jayatheertha of Madhva’s school writes
    that He is in everything as manifestation and everything is in Him
    as the benevolent totalitarian

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