The Significance of Religious Experience

The Significance of Religious Experience

The Significance of Religious Experience

The Significance of Religious Experience


This book is collection of published and unpublished essays on the philosophy of religion by Howard Wettstein, who is a widely respected analytic philosopher. Over the past twenty years, Wettstein has attempted to reconcile his faith with his philosophy, and he brings his personal investmentin this mission to the essays collected here. Influenced by the work of George Santayana, Wittgenstein, and A.J. Heschel, Wettstein grapples with central issues in the philosophy of religion such as the relationship of religious practice to religious belief, what is at stake in the debate betweenatheists and theists, and the place of doctrine in religion. His discussions draw from Jewish texts as well as Christianity, Islam, and classical philosophy. The challenge Wettstein undertakes throughout the volume is to maintain a philosophical naturalism while pursuing an encounter with God and traditional religion. In the Introduction to this volume,Wettstein elucidates the uniting themes among the collected essays.


Recent times have seen the advent of a new atheism. A number of writers have weighed in—philosophers, scientists, literary people— individuals with little sympathy for traditional Judeo-Christian-Muslim religion with what they see as its metaphysical and epistemological pretensions. Even worse, from their point of view, are ethical pretensions that stand in contrast with a highly spotty ethical history. I share many of their concerns, and yet I count myself among the practitioners of traditional religion. My return to Jewish religious life some twenty years ago was a response to a hunger for meaning, one to which life in the academy was, while not irrelevant, not quite adequate.

Since that time I have been on something of a mission, to understand what to make of religion—its truth, its mythological dimension, its monumental ethical successes, and equally monumental failures— and of the fact that while my orientation in philosophy is naturalistic, I find myself powerfully drawn to religious life. The essays in this book represent my attempt to come to terms with the matter.

My inspiration and direction in this project derive from multiple and very different sources, some philosophical, some religious, others somewhere in between. On the philosophical side, there is the sense that philosophy should have something to say about the large issues in human life. Religion—more generally the domain of the sacred—is a prime candidate, one that did not receive much attention during the heyday of analytic philosophy.

A second factor, at once a kind of constraint on how to think about religion (and everything else), is the naturalism of which I

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