Philosophy of Religion

Chapter  3: Science and Religion

Section 4.  Contemporary View


At the end of the twentieth century most scientists have come to adopt an approach to the study of religion that was non-reductionist and non-general.  Most have adopted an approach in which it is thought that the most appropriate manner in which to examine and study religion is to observe religious phenomena within the cultural setting in which it emerged and with which it interacts.  In such examinations the approach is to observe without prejudice and without carrying into the observations a reductionist hypothesis that the researcher is seeking to verify.  It may not be that all religion demonstrates any one form of origin or any one set of factors from which it arises.  Neither might it be the case that there is any one set of characteristics which each and every religion in each and every culture must demonstrate.  Further in order not to preclude the possibility of religion providing a unique form of experience or knowledge, the study can not be conducted in an antagonistic manner.  Neither can the study be conducted from the perspective of a single science.

One of the outcomes of the realization of the limits of scientific method in the study of religion is the idea that  the future study of religion lies more in the humanities than in science. The humanities may prove to be far more appropriate.

Religion may involve a set of personal beliefs and behaviors that can only be plausibly explained because they have arisen from complex choices of human agents.


I. Theoretical inquiry serves as powerful incentive to further exploration and deeper understanding

II. Many contemporary theorists regard religion as in some of its aspects being an irreducible phenomena

III. All religious phenomena are to be treated with a respect that accompanies an open mind.  This is needed so that whatever truth there may be concerning such phenomena can be realized.

IV. All religious phenomena occur within history and can not be understood outside of an understanding of the history in which such phenomena unfold.

V. All religious phenomena occur within a culture and a civilization and can not be understood without that context.  They are part and parcel of the culture.  They are produced and transmitted by the culture and they influence the development of that culture.   Religion as experienced and expressed within one culture may differ from that of another culture.

VI. All religious phenomena present a particular worldview which both raises questions as well as providing some answers.

VII. The study of the history of religions assumes that there exists something human that finds its expression only in religion.  This view sees religion as a process that unfolds according to its own immanent laws.  Religion is viewed as a process that is connected to the environments (physical and social) and engages in an active interplay and exchange with those environments.

The scientific study of religion presents humans as existing in a world and led by experience to question their existence and the nature of the world they are in.  Such humans seek solace in an order.  The question remains as to whether or not the order sought has an origin in some realm that is beyond or not sharing in the dimensions and characteristics of the physical cosmos available to the senses.  

Most scientists have found that religion should not be approached as if it were offering scientific claims or historical claims that require exact confirmation with physical evidence.  The non cognitive functions of religious language have come to be appreciated by scientific investigators who have now arrived at a point where the object is to observe and study religion in its natural habitat, as it were, and to learn of its role within the culture and the lives of individuals.

To examine what remains of the conflict of Religion and Science go to the next section.

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Copyright Philip A. Pecorino 2001. All Rights reserved.

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