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Religions, Reasons and Gods


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Religions, Reasons And Gods

Traditional theistic proofs are often understood as evidence intended to compel belief in a divinity. John Clayton explores the surprisingly varied applications of such proofs in the work of philosophers and theologians from several periods and traditions, thinkers as varied as Ramanuja, al-Ghazali, Anselm and Jefferson. He shows how the gradual disembedding of theistic proofs from their diverse and local religious contexts is concurrent with the development of natural theologies and atheism as social and intellectual options in early-modern Europe and America. Clayton offers a new reading of the early-modern history of philosophy and theology, arguing that awareness of such history and the local uses of theistic argument offer new ways of managing religious and cultural difference in the public sphere today. He argues for the importance of historically grounded philosophy of religion to the field of religious studies and public debate on religious pluralism and cultural diversity.

PROFESSOR JOHN CLAYTON taught at Lancaster University for 25 years, eventually as Professor of Religious Studies and later as Head of Department. He was Chair of the Department of Religion and Director of the Graduate Division of Religious and Theological Studies, Boston University, from 1997 until his death in 2003. With Ninian Smart, Patrick Sherry and Steven T. Katz he co-edited the three-volume Nineteenth-Century Religious Thought in the West (1985, 1988).

ANNE M. BLACKBURN is Associate Professor of South Asia and Buddhist Studies in the Department of Asian Studies, Cornell University.

THOMAS D. CARROLL is a Ph.D. candidate in the Graduate Division of Religious and Theological Studies, Boston University.


Essays in Cross-Cultural Philosophy of Religion



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© Cambridge University Press 2006

This publication is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception
and to the provisions of relevant collective licensing agreements,
no reproduction of any part may take place without
the written permission of Cambridge University Press.

First published 2006

Printed in the United Kingdom at the University Press, Cambridge

A catalogue record for this publication is available from the British Library

ISBN-13 978-0-521-42104-1 hardback
ISBN-10 0-521-42104-7 hardback

Cambridge University Press has no responsibility
for the persistence or accuracy of URLs for external or
third-party internet websites referred to in this publication,
and does not guarantee that any content on such
websites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate.

For Anne

Πᾶσα διδασκαλία καὶ πᾶσα μάθησις διανοητικὴ ἐκ
προϋπαρχούσης γίνεται γνώσεως.


It is traditions which are the bearers of reason.

Alasdair MacIntyre


Editorial prefacepage ix
List of abbreviationsxix
1 Claims, contexts and contestability 1
2 Thomas Jefferson and the study of religion 16
3Common ground and defensible difference58
4Religions, reasons and gods80
5Ramanuja, Hume and ‘comparative philosophy’: remarks on the Sribhasya and the Dialogues concerning Natural Religion 101
6Piety and the proofs133
7The otherness of Anselm161
8 The debate about God in early-modern French philosophy 184
9 The Enlightenment project and the debate about God in early-modern German philosophy222
10The debate about God in early-modern British philosophy245
11 Beyond the ‘Enlightenment project’?292
Appendix: The 1997 Hulsean Sermon 310
Bibliography 318

Editorial preface

The proximate point of origin for this volume is John Clayton's 1992 Stanton Lectures, delivered at the University of Cambridge. Clayton had planned to publish his Stanton Lectures soon thereafter with Cambridge University Press. However, that publication was delayed for a variety of reasons. In 1997 he retired from his position as Professor and Head of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Lancaster to become Professor, Chair of Department, and Director of the Graduate Division of Religious and Theological Studies at Boston University. During the late 1990s Clayton focused primarily on the administrative side of his professional work. By 2000, he had returned in earnest to his Stanton Lectures, deciding that Religions, Reasons and Gods: Essays in Cross-Cultural Philosophy of Religion ought to come to publication as a nearly independent typescript rather than as a lightly revised version of the Stanton Lectures. The gods did not smile on Clayton's plans. In the autumn of 2001 he fell seriously ill with a condition requiring exhausting treatment. One year later, he was diagnosed with a second illness, an aggressive cancer that took his life in September 2003.

Clayton recognized that his ambitious plans for the completion of Religions, Reasons and Gods would not be realized in this context of ill-health and, accordingly, he revised arrangements for the publication of this volume. With the generous support of editors at Cambridge University Press, he specified a collection of essays (some previously published and some unpublished). These were to articulate the central claims of the Stanton Lectures as well as Clayton's subsequent reflection on the potential contributions of the philosophy of religion to public contexts of increasing religious pluralism, the history of ‘the Enlightenment project’, and the implications of its history for a reconsideration of the history of philosophy as well as the goals and methods of philosophers of religion. Clayton hoped that Anne M. Blackburn, his partner, would bring Religions, Reasons and Gods to publication. Handsome support from Boston University made possible the involvement of Thomas D. Carroll, a doctoral student with whom Clayton had worked closely prior to his death. Carroll and Blackburn, therefore, have worked together as co-editors of this volume.

Over the course of some months, we explored the materials left behind by Clayton for inclusion in this volume. Previously published essays have been reproduced without further editorial changes, apart from those required to standardize published style or to make current references to Clayton's own work. We have omitted all diacritical marks in transliterated Sanskrit, and have largely followed Clayton's own system of reference notation. Pieces unpublished but evidently complete have likewise received no further substantial editing. One essay crucial to Religions, Reasons and Gods, ‘The Debate about God in Early-Modern British Philosophy’, remained unfinished. Working in the British Library, Carroll drew on Clayton's research notes to retrace investigations made during the year or so before Clayton's death. On this basis, he annotated Clayton's essay and developed an editorial addition and an appendix on natural theology and the design argument in Britain. Clayton had suggested that a paper read in 1996 at a conference on Philosophy of Religion organized by the Commonwealth Institute (London) serve as the final chapter of this volume. Unfortunately, this paper does not remain among Clayton's materials. Despite the good offices of his colleagues, no copy has become available. For that reason, we selected the text of his final Stanton Lecture as the concluding essay in this volume. We have also added a brief introduction to each of the volume's three parts. We have followed Clayton's wishes in the dedication of Religions, Reasons and Gods. The essays which follow speak, of course, for themselves, and we do not wish to intrude unduly on readers’ encounters with Clayton's work. However, since his essays were written in conversation with several disciplines, and for audiences in rather different cultural contexts, it may be useful to provide some very preliminary points of orientation to this volume.

The essays drawn together here reflect Clayton's preoccupation with matters of cultural and historical difference and location. It is in one sense no surprise that essays developed in the 1980s and 1990s should evince such concerns, since they were apparent across diverse disciplines in scholarly conversations during that period. Clayton developed these ideas in a distinctive intellectual climate, one characterized by debates about the constitution of and the recognition of ‘the Other’, the relationships of texts to contexts, the nature and limits of interpretative authority, the history of ‘natural’ kinds and categories, and s

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