PY4638: Philosophy of Religion

September 2022

at the University of St Andrews

py4638: Philosophy of Religion aims to provide a philosophical understanding of the phenomenon of religion and its relation to other central human activities, studying such topics as religious and cultural diversity, religious experience, belief and justification, faith and reason, religious language, religion and metaphysics, or religion and science.

In 2022, we will be exploring one important topic in the philosophy of religion from three different perspectives. We will explore the notion that ultimate reality—or God—is in some sense ineffable, beyond our grasp, or transcendent. Understanding God or the ground of being as utterly transcendent is an important aspect of not just one religious tradition, and not just one cultural grouping, and reflective religious thinkers and philosophers through history have had very many interesting things to say about ineffability and transcendence. When we attempt to make sense of religious claims about transcendence, we are brought right up to key philosophical questions about the nature of reality, our capacity to understand reality, and the power and limits of our language.

The module has three connected parts:

First, Greg will examine the interconnected notions of transcendence, ineffability, and simplicity; whether it is consistent to describe something as truly ineffable; and how coming to terms with religious use of claims like these might lead to reconsidering fundamental assumptions about our language. This leads us to questions about realism and anti-realism and the different frameworks for understanding language.

Second, Alex will focus on the notion of God as an indeterminate being, in various traditions. We will first look at Spinoza and Hegel on the principle that “all determination is negation” and its implication that God, as a purely positive being, must be entirely indeterminate. Then we will look at Sufism and Daoism, drawing especially on the comparative study by Toshihiko Izutsu.

Third, Aaron will focus on the metaphysics of divine reality, asking four interconnected questions — Is God in time? Is God in space? Is God in modal space? Is God beyond logic?

In combining these three parts into one module, we hope to learn from each other. We will bring metaphysics, history of philosophy and philosophy of language together, to provide an example of how different approaches to questions in philosophy can fruitfully interact.


I’m Greg Restall, and this is my personal website. I am the Shelby Cullom Davis Professor of Philosophy at the University of St Andrews, and the Director of the Arché Philosophical Research Centre for Logic, Language, Metaphysics and Epistemology I like thinking about – and helping other people think about – logic and philosophy and the many different ways they can inform each other.


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