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Arguing Religion


The aim of this research project is to improve our understanding of the goals, prospects and reach of argumentative debate in responding to religious disagreements. Whereas the question of how societies can be enabled to accommodate religious disagreement in ethically and politically legitimate ways has been the topic of extensive research, the question of how much room this kind of disagreement leaves for argumentative debate in its own right and terms has attracted less attention. Building on past and ongoing ISR research in the fields of secularity, post-secularity, and argumentation theory, the project “Arguing Religion” will take a step towards remedying this situation.

We will consider religious disagreements in three different settings: between believers of the same faith (intra-faith disagreement), between believers of distinct faiths (cross-faith disagreement), and between believers and non-believers (either atheists or agnostics). The role, the goals, and the reach of argumentative debate can be expected to differ across these settings and in relation to the religious faiths that are, respectively, involved. Often, convergence of judgment or even consensus are taken to be the intrinsic goals of argumentative debate. Can this convergence or consensus-based conception of the goals of public argumentation be usefully applied to the case of arguing religion? If not so, are there promising alternative conceptions? The project will address these and the following questions from different disciplinary perspectives (philosophy of religion, epistemology, theory of argumentation, theology, religious studies):

  • What is a religious disagreement, and what kinds of religious disagreement are there?
  • What is a religious argument and how can religious arguments be told apart from non-religious arguments?
  • To what extent can and should religious disagreements be conceived of as disagreements in which at least one of the disagreeing parties commits an epistemic mistake (holds a false belief)?
  • What are the theoretical alternatives to a cognitivist construal of religious disagreement and how do they respectively reflect on the role that argumentation and reasoning can and should play in responding to religious disagreements?
  • Can (some) religious disagreements be fruitfully thought of as faultless, i.e. as cases in which, for some propositional content p, A believes that p (or something that entails p), B believes that not-p (or something that entails not-p), and neither A nor B are at fault?
  • What is the epistemic significance of “peer disagreement” in the case of religious argumentation?
  • How is the goal of arguing religion best to be understood? Is it to convince the other, or rather to persuade or to convert her? Or something else altogether?
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