In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Philosophy of Religion

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Textbooks
  • Reference Works
  • Journals/Serials
  • The Epistemology of Religion
  • Miracles
  • The Nature of God: General Works
  • Religious Language

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Philosophy Philosophy of Religion
Jonathan L. Kvanvig
  • LAST REVIEWED: 10 May 2010
  • LAST MODIFIED: 10 May 2010
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0103


The philosophy of religion became a recognizable subdiscipline in philosophy in the mid- to late 20th century, together with other notable subdisciplines such as the philosophy of science and the philosophy of language. Work in the philosophy of religion has always been present in the history of philosophy, but prior to the 20th century, it tended to be embedded in larger philosophical projects. By the mid-20th century, however, the process of specialization in philosophy led to an identifiable subfield with identifiable specialists in the area. This subfield can be roughly characterized in terms of its epistemological and metaphysical aspects. On the epistemological side are the various attempts to demonstrate or prove God’s existence (e.g., the classic ontological, cosmological, and teleological arguments) or nonexistence (e.g., the problem of evil) and the discussions of what is required for an adequate demonstration or proof, and there are further discussions of whether a proof or demonstration is needed in order for belief in God to be rational or justified. Included in the latter area is the large question of the degree to which one’s intellectual life ought to be guided by purely truth-related concerns or whether pragmatic concerns are legitimate factors in determining not only how to act but also what to think. On the metaphysical side are controversies about a proper conception of the nature of God, both about specific characteristics of God such as omnipotence, omniscience, simplicity, eternity, and moral perfection, and also about what general approach to the issue of the nature of God is appropriate (e.g., whether a process conception is preferable to a perfect being conception). There is also the question of God’s relationship to the world, both in terms of creation and providential control, and the related issue of whether miracles are possible and whether it is ever reasonable to believe that one has occurred. Finally, there is the further question of the significance of religious language itself, whether sense can be made of talking about a being and realms of reality that are difficult to account for in terms of empirical acquaintance and, if so, exactly what precise account can be given of the content of such language.

General Overviews

General overviews of the subject are available in the various high-quality encyclopedias of philosophy that have been published since the late 1990s. These include the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, containing Clark 2009, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, containing Forrest 2009 and Taliaferro 2007, and the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, containing Stump 1998.

  • Clark, Kelly. “Religious Epistemology.” In Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by James Fieser and Bradley Dowden. 2009.

    A lucid summary of the evidentialist objection to religious belief and the primary responses on behalf of religious belief: natural theology and the attempt to demonstrate the truth of various religious beliefs, the fideistic response that views the demand for justification as ill-formed, and reformed epistemology defending the idea that belief in God can be rational apart from argument or evidence.

  • Forrest, Peter. “The Epistemology of Religion.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. 2009.

    Devoted to the epistemological issues, especially the debate between evidentialists, who maintain that one cannot rationally believe in the absence of good evidence or arguments for what one believes, and alternative positions such as Wittgensteinian fideism, according to which criticisms from outside a language game misunderstand the logic, grammar, or justification, and reformed epistemology, according to which certain beliefs can be properly held in the absence of argument or evidence.

  • Stump, Eleonore. “Religion, Philosophy of.” In the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward Craig. London: Routledge, 1998.

    A general introduction to the variety of issues and topics involved in the philosophy of religion, by one of the major philosophers in the philosophy of religion since 1960. Available online by subscription.

  • Taliaferro, Charles. “Philosophy of Religion.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. 2007.

    An introduction to the philosophy of religion containing unusually extensive discussion of the history of the subdiscipline as well as an extensive and useful bibliography.

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