A Concise Encyclopedia of the Philosophy of Religion

A Concise Encyclopedia of the Philosophy of Religion

By Anthony C. Thiselton
Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 2002. Softcover, viii + 344 pages.

Have you ever wondered who the main academic philosophers of religion are and what they say? This book is a good sampling. Different thinker's views about God and the human mind are laid out in short, clear, and authoritative encyclopedia-type articles. If you want to know just what Thomas Aquinas's famous five proofs of the existence of God were, or how modern existentialism interfaces with faith, this is the book to read. It is also a good source to look up basic terms like Belief, Metaphysics, Realism, Logic, and of course God, among others, to see what thinkers are thinking about them now.

This book is from the world of western university philosophy departments. It presents the intellectual stream central to that world, from the Greeks to the latest schools of analytic philosophy, together with name-theologians like Barth and Tillich. Eastern philosophies are presented fairly but less fully, while alternative strands of western thought, including Theosophy, are passed over. Contemporary British philosophies of religion are especially prominent, which is understandable since the author is canon theologian at two English cathedrals.

Personally, I found the discussion of Alvin Platinga, an American philosopher of religion who has taught at Calvin College and Notre Dame University, particularly intriguing. He has argued, in books like God and Other Minds, that while we cannot prove that anyone other than oneself is conscious-that person in the room with you, or with whom you live, could be a robot just programmed to act like a conscious being-it seems warranted to extrapolate from one's own consciousness to postulate consciousness in another similar being. In the same way, though we cannot prove there is a divine mind behind the universe, there are enough clues, from the mystery and orderliness of it all to our own consciousness, to warrant reasonable belief. This is similar to examples and arguments I have used in respect to theosophical ideas that matter and consciousness interact throughout the universe, from quantum phenomena through human beings to planets and galaxies and the Root of it all.

One could not expect everything in one handy, moderately-priced book, and there are other resources to fill in the lacunae. But like any good bit of philosophy it can get thought started, as it did mine. As a reference work in philosophy, or just as a good read if you enjoy exposure to stimulating philosophical ideas and the thinkers behind them, A Concise Encyclopedia of the Philosophy of Religion is highly recommended.


January/February 2004