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Religious Pluralism as a Problem for ‘Practical’ Religious Epistemology

  • Terrence W. Tilley (a1)

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After being dismissed for decades in philosophical theology, experiential arguments for the justification of religious belief, including belief in God, have again come to centre stage. One of the most thorough of these is William Alston's recent study, Perceiving God. Alston's purpose is to show that it is rational for someone to participate in what he calls Christian Mystical Practice (CMP) because CMP ‘is a socially established doxastic practice that is not demonstrably unreliable or otherwise disqualified for rational acceptance’ and to hold beliefs which that participation reliably generates. The thesis of this essay is that his individuation of mystical practices is not sufficiently nuanced. Once his naturalistic approach is brought more closely into line with actual practices, what he calls CMP splinters into multiple practices. A more complete account requires a more pluralistic understanding of the Christian traditions than Alston acknowledges.

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1 Alston, William P., Perceiving God: The Epistemology of Religious Experience (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991), p. 194. Subsequent references to this work will be made parenthetically in the text. The following summary is based, in part, on my review in Theological Studies LII, 3 (1993), 554–6.

2 ‘The Institutional Element in Religion’, Modern Theology X, 2 (1994), 185212.

3 ‘Reformed Epistemology in a Jamesian Perspective’, Horizons, XIX, 1 (1992), 8498.

4 Of course, a Kierkegaardian or irrationalist might say that that is just the point: when we reach the end of reasons, we must choose without them. This may well be true, but it is not clear that we have reached the end of reasons.

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