Philosophy of Religion

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The philosophy of religion is an exciting area, with deep connections not only to theology, but also to other areas of philosophy such as metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, political philosophy, and the history of philosophy. As well as traditional debates – such as arguments for the existence of God, or the problem of evil – contemporary topics include the problem of religious disagreement, divine hiddenness, reformed epistemology, the cognitive science of religion, non-theistic conceptions of the divine, and the relationship between religion and morality.

The Philosophy department has several staff with research interests in this area, while Sheffield also hosts SIIBS (the Sheffield Institute for Interdisciplinary Bible Studies), which includes staff in other departments who work in this field. The department has also been successful in obtaining funded projects, which have covered Martin Luther’s relation to philosophy, the Christian ideal of others-centeredness, arguments for pantheism, the nature of religious experience, and the metaphysics of special divine action. The department also runs the ‘God and the Good’ lecture series, which has invited leading contemporary thinkers to discuss the relation between religion and ethics, such as John Gray, Mona Siddiqui and Giles Fraser. The department is also home to our Philosophy, Religion and Ethics BA degree programme, which offers a range of exciting modules in this field.


The metaphysics & epistemology of religion 

Ryan Byerly works on a broad array of topics in philosophy of religion, including theistic arguments, the problem of evil, divine attributes, and religious epistemology. Much of his work has focused on topics in philosophy of religion that concern the nature of free action, such as the problem of human freedom and divine foreknowledge and the question of whether a perfect being could have free will. Bob Stern is also interested in the question of free will in a religious context, and how this forms the background of the debate between Martin Luther and Erasmus concerning the role of grace. He is currently working on a paper on Kant’s book Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason, in which he discusses the role of these debates in Kant. He is also interested in the debate between Hegel and Kierkegaard concerning the relation between reason and faith. Paul Faulkner has worked on the nature of faith and its relation to trust and belief, and also on the nature of religious conversion. Eric Olson has several papers on the metaphysics of life after death, and is currently co-authoring a debate between dualism and materialism.

Representative publications:

  • Byerly, T. R. (2014). The Mechanics of Divine Foreknowledge and Providence: A Time-Ordering Account. Bloomsbury Press.
  • Byerly, T. R. (2017). “The all-powerful, perfectly good, and free God”. Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion.
  • Byerly, T. R. (2019). “From a necessary being to a perfect being”. Analysis.
  • Faulkner, P. (2019). “The nature and rationality of conversion”. European Journal of Philosophy.
  • Faulkner, P. (manuscript). “On the nature of faith and its relation to belief, hope and trust”.
  • Stern, R. (2020). “Martin Luther” and “Martin Luther’s influence on philosophy”, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Ethics and Religion

Bob Stern works on the broad relation between religion and ethics, and particularly the question of moral obligation, and whether this makes sense without bringing in God as the source of this obligation (divine command theory) or as creator (theistic natural law theory). He has considered these issues in the context of the work of the C20th Danish philosopher and theologian K. E. Løgstrup, where he argues that the latter’s idea of the ‘sovereign expressions of life’ is a secular analogue of the theological conception of grace, whereby we are transformed into good agents through our encounter with others. He is also interested in the connection between religion and ethics to be found in the work of Emmanuel Levinas, Iris Murdoch and Simone Weil. Yonatan Shemmer is interested in some analogies between moral realism and theism. He has a related interest in idolatry. Ryan Byerly is interested in religious perspectives on the virtues and vices of individuals and groups (including religious groups), as well as questions about how a person’s moral character might influence their religious commitments or lack thereof.  Angie Hobbs is interested in how to promote productive dialogue between believers and atheists. 

Representative publications:

  • Byerly, T. R. (2019). Putting Others First: The Christian Ideal of Others-Centeredness. Routledge.
  • Byerly, T. R. (forthcoming). “Being good and loving God”. Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion.
  • Hobbs, A. (2017) ‘Filling the space between: What we can learn from Plato’. In A. Carroll and R. Norman (eds), Religion and Atheism: Beyond the Divide. Routledge.
  • Stern, R. (2012). Understanding Moral Obligation. Cambridge University Press.
  • Stern, R. (2019). The Radical Demand in Løgstrup’s Ethics. Oxford University Press.
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