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Program on Philosophical Studies of Religion (PPSR)

Co-Directors of Philosophical Studies
Francis Beckwith
Resident Scholar,
Philosophy & Church-State Studies
Trent Dougherty
Associate Graduate Director

Under the umbrella of Baylor’s Institute for Studies of Religion (ISR), the Program in Philosophical Studies of Religion (PPSR) was founded for the purpose of advancing a better understanding of the nature, scope, and rationality of religious belief by making available to the academy and the general public some of the most important and rigorous philosophical work on religion produced by preeminent scholars across the disciplines.

What is the Philosophical Study of Religion?

The philosophical study of any area examines its foundations. So, for example, a philosopher of law, unlike a lawyer, will investigate questions about the nature and justification of law: Is there a natural law, and if there is, must the positive law be consistent with it in order to demand a citizen’s allegiance? In a similar fashion, a philosophical study of religion will involve questions about the nature and justification of religious beliefs: Is belief in God rational? Are the moral and anthropological claims of a particular faith, such as Christianity, rationally defensible, and if so, can they play a formative role in a citizen’s advocacy in the public square? Issues relating to the relationship between faith and reason, theology and science, and religion and society, to name just a few, are well within the orbit of the philosophical study of religion.

What does the Program in Philosophical Studies of Religion (PPSR) hope to accomplish?

PPSR wants to raise public awareness of the very substantial work that has been done in the philosophical studies of religion in recent decades. A quiet revolution of the role of religion in philosophy occurred in the latter half of the 20th Century. Beginning in the mid-1960s, this movement lead to the 1978 formation of the Society of Christian Philosophers (SCP), perhaps the largest subgroup within the American Philosophical Association (APA), the leading professional society of American philosophers.

(For a discussion of this revolution with eminent philosopher Alvin Plantinga and key members of Baylor faculty, watch this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fkt-xaZhSJQ).

While academic research in the philosophical studies of religion has boomed over the past several decades, it has suffered from overspecialization. Thus, so much excellent work is chiefly available in technical academic journals and presses, in which scholars speak chiefly to each other. Although PPSR wants to be in the forefront in further supporting and promoting such research, it also wants to disseminate this work to the wider public via conferences and popular publications as well as to those in adjacent academic disciplines outside of philosophy (e.g., theology, political science, history, religious studies) who also may benefit from this research.

Among the many goals that PPSR hopes to achieve over the next five years are the following

  • Encourage Baylor faculty across the disciplines not only to engage in philosophical research but also to appropriate the work of others. This may be accomplished through informal gatherings, such as “brown bag” luncheons, in which faculty from several different disciplines meet for discussion. Specially targeted here are commerce between the sciences and the humanities.
  • Host or co-sponsor international and domestic academic conferences that focus on issues in philosophy of religion and/or philosophical questions related to religion that overlap several disciplines, e.g., the relationship between theology and science, religion and government neutrality, literary theory and Scripture, natural theology and faith, professional ethics and religious conscience.
  • Make available visiting faculty appointments and post-doctoral fellowships to both established and rising scholars in the philosophy of religion as well as those doing other philosophical work relevant to religion.
  • Pursue and obtain external funding for PPSR’s projects from both public and private sources.
  • Offer to the wider public the specialized findings of philosophical studies in religion by publishing in accessible print and online venues, e.g., First Things, Books & Culture, Wilson Quarterly, The New Republic, The Atlantic, Christianity Today, Claremont Review of Books, Touchstone, New York Review of Books, The Chronicle of Higher Education etc.
  • Commend and endorse the legitimacy and excellence of philosophical scholarship produced by scholars who take religion seriously.
  • Advance a robust and respectful ecumenism among Christians. Given the diversity of ecclesiastical traditions represented in Baylor’s philosophy department, the PPSR can serve as a place in which serious Christians within the Evangelical, Mainline, and Catholic worlds may engage in conversations they could not have anywhere else.