A part of the recent ferment in religious studies is the new attention being given to the nature and place of the introductory course. It appears that there is now a rather wide and growing conviction that the traditional introductory courses do not accomplish what should be done in a course designed to give students a basic understanding of the field of religion and the role of religion in human experience and culture. The three dominant models now under heavy criticism are the Old and New Testament sequence and the semester survey courses in the Judeo-Christian tradition and world religions.
There also appears to be increasing sentiment that no single course can be expected to do the job of the introductory course; therefore, many (especially the larger) departments, both old and new, are now offering several options to their students — including courses in the various traditions, East and West, as well as courses dealing with approaches to the study of religion and contemporary religious problems.
The idea of offering various options to students taking their initial course in religion is doubtless based on a genuine concern to free departments from the older patterns dominated by sectarian seminary models. (In Protestant colleges this was primarily Old and New Testament; in Catholic colleges, theology and apologetics.) Yet another factor appears to be at work—viz., the not unimportant fact that it is difficult for a diverse group of scholars in the expanding departments, including historians, philosophical theologians, biblical critics, and those pursuing the methods of the social sciences, to agree upon and to teach a common course.
The years 1790 to 1870 are an extraordinarily rich period in Western culture. They encompass the latter years of the Enlightenment and the various critical responses to it, including writers associated with the counter-Enlightenment, the early German romantic circle in Berlin, and the flourishing of German philosophical Idealism and French traditionalism, all offering distinctive critiques of Enlightenment reason, liberalism, and individualism. Later there emerged both left- and right-wing movements of neo-Hegelianism, followed after 1860 by a variety of schools of neo-Kantian philosophy that flourished in Europe. What is significant for our purposes here is that all of these philosophical currents provoked religious and theological responses. Some are now recognized as classic critiques of Western theistic religion (see Chapters 16, 17, 22). Others proved to be impressive speculative revisions of religion, often based on principles quite independent of the theological traditions (see Chapter 17).
A third response to these new challenges, and the one described in this chapter, generally was more conservative, maintaining an allegiance to a historic religious tradition. These writers often put modern critical philosophy itself (e.g., Hume, Kant, and Hegel) in the service of their more traditional apologetic. It is, therefore, important to distinguish these writers both from the radical critics of religion and the writers who were engaged in the speculative revision and defense of religion as a generic aspect of human life. By contrast, the third group of writers was concerned to defend a positive (i.e., historical) revelation and religious tradition. At the same time, they often sought to develop traditional forms of belief so as to show their continuing meaning and relevance, as well as their compatibility with developments in philosophy, science, and historical research.
A God understood would be no God at all.Sir William Hamilton
Who art Thou Lord? We know Thee not; We only know Thy work is vast, And that amid Thy worlds our lot, Unknown to us, by Thee is cast.‘Charles Darwin: A Memorial Poem’ George John Romanes
the Unknowable seems a proposal to take something for God simply because we do not know what the devil it is.F. H. Bradley
At the close of the last century the philosopher James Seth remarked that ‘if one were asked to name the two most characteristic attitudes of the latter half of the nineteenth century, one would be safe in answering – Evolutionism and Agnosticism'. Seth went on to observe how noteworthy and surprising it was that an age which saw such remarkable achievements in science ‘should be also the Age of Agnosticism, the epoch of the creed Ignoramus et ignorabimus'. The late Victorians, too, were struck by this fact, and it constituted a major point of debate between Anglicans and other theists, positivists, and the agnostics themselves concerning the very possibility, the limits, and the effects of this rapidly advancing temper of mind.
We only recently have come to recognize that major shifts in what people believe and in the way they live their lives are traceable not only or even primarily to intellectual causes. This is apparent to us now in assessing the spread of secularization in England in the latter half of the nineteenth century.
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