Symposium Introduction

Alongside recent works by Tyler Roberts (2013), Kevin Schilbrack (2014), and Wesley Wildman (2011), Thomas A. Lewis’s Why Philosophy Matters for the Study of Religion—and Vice Versa (2015) marshals the resources of the philosophy of religion to think through the intellectual and methodological divisions permeating religious studies.1 What motivates Lewis? In one of his book’s many self-reflexive moments,2 Lewis comments on his own undergraduate and graduate training. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, he writes, “the readings, themes, and modes of analysis dominant in required seminars on methods and theories [in the study of religion] were largely philosophical” (1). But a sea change has occurred in religious studies: sociohistorical work now dominates methods and theories courses. On Lewis’s view, then, much of religious studies has committed itself to descriptive scholarship (e.g., history and ethnography), displacing in the process the work done by scholars whose work is explicitly normative (e.g., ethics, philosophy, and theology).

In many senses, the turn toward descriptive methodologies has been salutary. Among other things, scholars have become increasingly attentive to the operations of power, the importance of praxis, and engaged with material culture; moreover, they have “interrogated the historical process through which ‘religion’ has been conceptualized, particularly in the modern West” (2). Consequently, the very category of “religion” and the range of human beliefs and practices that might be called “religious” has been reimagined. So much the better for religious studies. But while committing themselves to such critique, such scholars frequently suffer from a lack of engagement with philosophical thought. Without such engagement, such scholars fail to note that their own work is itself normative. On Lewis’s view, “normativity is pervasive, in history and philosophy as well as religious studies.” Given the pervasiveness of normativity, he adds, “[it] should not be avoided but rather self-consciously acknowledged and defended.” Whereas some scholars may claim that normative work isn’t academic, Lewis holds that “what is crucial to the study of religion’s being academic is a principled willingness to submit all claims to scrutiny and questioning, to insist that no assumptions, doctrines, or authorities are beyond questioning” (8).

In addition to highlighting the pervasiveness of normativity, Lewis engages topics such as comparison (chapters 4 and 5), history (chapter 3), and religious literacy (chapter 5). Through doing so, he aims to explicate and deploy a “programmatic vision of philosophy of religion,” one that thinks together the resources of the descriptive and the normative. On this vision of the philosophy of religion, Lewis writes:

Philosophy of religion should be conceived less in terms of a fixed set of questions than in terms of philosophical modes of analysis of a range of questions and topics generated both by the study of particular religions and by the process of studying religion itself. Philosophy of religion so understood is not only attentive to a range of questions raised by diverse religious traditions but also self-conscious about the category of religion itself—including its history—and the way that this and other categories frame our questions and studies in the first place. (6; emphasis original)

Philosophy matters for the study of religion: scholars need to make explicit and interrogate their own assumptions. And religion matters for the study of philosophy: Lewis calls on scholars to recognize that both they themselves and their subjects and objects of inquiry are situated in and emerge from particular sociohistorical contexts. Through attending to religion, history, and the history of religion, scholars are called to task for the ways in which they are “implicated in the global dominance of particular people and agendas” (65). But thinking the two together may offer a way forward. Both matter for how we think about the methods, terms, and theories we use in the academic study of religion, whether in our sub-disciplinary conversations or across the discipline of religious studies itself; thinking the two together therefore may offer a way to think together the universal and the particular, the necessary and the contingent, the normative and the descriptive.

The contributors to this symposium on Lewis’s book—Matthew Bagger, Travis Cooper, Sonia Hazard, Samuel Kessler, Anne Monius, and Anil Mundra—draw from their respective intellectual concerns and methodological commitments to engage with him. What’s clear—for them and (hopefully) for readers of this symposium—is that normativity proves to be the salient site of debate. But how should normativity be conceived? And does normativity have any place in the academic study of religion? For many critics, explicitly normative work has no place in religious studies. In the debate about whether explicitly normative work belongs in religious studies, Lewis comments:

A crucial background assumption—sometimes stated but often not—is that whereas theologians make normative claims, religious studies scholars should refrain from doing so. Rather, scholars in religious studies should distinguish themselves from theologians precisely by striving for some type of distance, neutrality, or objectivity in relation to their subject matter, where this is understood to entail analysis regarding what is rather than claims about what ought to be. (44)

Underwriting the critics’ view, Lewis notes, is the assumption that “normative claims related to religion cannot be argued about but are fundamentally matters of ‘faith’” (45). But for Lewis, we should understand normative claims and our scholarly engagement with them differently:

Normative claims are inevitable in the study of religion (as in most disciplines). What is important is not to try somehow to exclude normative claims but rather to be willing to offer justification for the norms that we invoke. Participants in the academic study of religion must be willing to bring the norms themselves into debate and subject them to critical inquiry. (45–46)

In highlighting normativity, I hope that readers note not only the ways in which the contributors to this symposium engage Lewis but also ask themselves what sorts of implicit or explicit commitments underwrite their own engagements with him. (I also hope that readers ask themselves further questions apart from this symposium. For example, which books in the study of religion are you reading? Are any of them from a sub-discipline different than your own? Who are and aren’t your conversation partners in the study of religion? Beyond departmental collegiality, when you engage someone from a different sub-discipline, why and on what terms?)

There is much that is exciting and commendable about Lewis’s book. In charting the interrelation between philosophy and religion, Lewis has provided us with a work that is both critical and generous; it simultaneously challenges our own guiding principles while also inviting us into deeper dialogue with scholars across the various sub-disciplines that constitute religious studies.

Works Cited

Lewis, Thomas A. 2015. Why Philosophy Matters for the Study of Religion—and Vice Versa. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Ranganathan, Bharat. 2018. “Description, Prescription, and Value in the Study of Religion.” Religions 9.10 (2018) 1–4.

Roberts, Tyler. 2013. Encountering Religion: Responsibility and Criticism after Secularism. New York: Columbia University Press.

Schilbrack, Kevin. 2014. Philosophy and the Study of Religions: A Manifesto. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

Wildman, Wesley. 2011. Religious Philosophy as Multidisciplinary Comparative Inquiry: Envisioning a Future for the Philosophy of Religion. Albany: State University of New York Press.


  1. For a brief overview of these divisions, see Ranganathan 2018.

  2. In the book’s conclusion, as only one other example, Lewis writes, “I have sought to provide partial—though always imperfect—justification for the position I am defending by demonstrating how it emerges from the combination of successes and failure of previous moments. I seek to show the view I am defending as a rational way forward in light of where we have been and are” (157).

Anne Monius

Response

What Is “Philosophy” in the Philosophy of Religion?

I accepted the invitation to participate in this Syndicate symposium on Thomas A. Lewis’s recent book, Why Philosophy Matters for the Study of Religion—and Vice Versa, with a hefty measure of trepidation. By no stretch of even the most vivid imagination would anyone call me a “philosopher of religion,” nor does my intellectual work focus on the Euro-American materials at the center of this study. I work instead in the rich fields of religion and literature in pre-colonial southern India, in a period one might roughly call “medieval,” and am primarily interested in the complex ways in which lengthy poetic narratives and the aesthetic experiences that they generate shape their audiences both religiously and ethically. Like Lewis’s own disclaimer as he turns to works on mid-twentieth-century French theory, W. E. B. Du Bois, and classical Buddhist philosophy in chapter 1, “I cannot speak to how responsibly [this book] engage[s] with the primary or secondary materials or [how it] fit[s] into other contemporary scholarship on other aspects of [his] topic” (30). Unless a community of twelfth-century Tamil-speakers were suddenly to appear miraculously on the horizon, my scholarly work has little to contribute directly to contemporary discussions of religion in the American public square. Yet the seeming chasm between Lewis’s work and my own in no way lessens the provocative value of Why Philosophy Matters. What does this work teach a scholar thinking far afield in terms of both topic and modes of analysis?

Several of the arguments made here for new directions in the philosophy of religion echo similar developments in the field of South Asian religions since the first publication of Edward Said’s Orientalism in 1978. In the decades since Said’s devastating critique of colonial-era knowledge production in the service of empire, historians of religion in South Asia have painstakingly deconstructed notions of “Hinduism” and “Buddhism” as monolithic “traditions” (see, for example, Halbfass 1988; Lopez 1995; Inden 2000; Pennington 2005). Implicit in the dismantling of monolithic traditions has been new focus on the dizzying varieties of regional communities, texts, and practices from across South Asia, rendering Stephen Prothero’s approach of basic literacy wholly insufficient to capture such diversity. Lewis’s call to incorporate the lessons of comparative religious ethics into the broader discussion of religious ethics as a whole mirrors similar calls in the study of South Asia to take Sanskrit literary theory seriously as literary theory (Pollock 2006: 567–80) and to incorporate the innovations of Sanskrit logicians into contemporary Euro-American philosophical discussions of logic (see, for example, Ganeri 2001). In a similar vein, Lewis’s contention that “normative claims are inevitable in the study of religion” (45) echoes a growing trend, over the past two decades in the study of South Asian religions, to abandon any pretense that historical or anthropological work can be neutrally descriptive, thus recasting scholarly work as part of ongoing conversations among community members, texts, and the scholar’s own historical and cultural situatedness (see, for example, Ramberg 2014, 1–35; Bloomer 2018, 1–31).

That the impetus to dismantle monolithic “traditions,” to incorporate the work of comparative ethicists in religious ethics more broadly, to attend to the insights generated by historians and anthropologists of religion more carefully, and to take seriously the constructed nature of our shared category, “religion,” comes from a philosopher of religion whose focus lies squarely on the modern Euro-American intellectual tradition is a breath of fresh air to a South Asianist, one sure to spark new ideas and discussions across the broader field of religious studies. One hopes that this “breath” soon grows into a stiff breeze, perhaps even a gale-force wind.

Yet if Why Philosophy Matters is to gain traction beyond philosophy of religion proper, this South Asianist would like to urge the author to think beyond the arguments offered here on at least two fronts, beginning with the fourth chapter on comparative religious ethics (83–118). Lewis duly notes that his call to incorporate the insights of other religious communities initially “with vocabulary and conceptual tools marked by a Western intellectual heritage” (84) is likely to be unsatisfying to scholars working in other religious and cultural contexts, but the problem runs far deeper than that. Fundamental questions about ethics—as basic as “where does thinking about ethics lie?”—remain unanswered, even unasked, in the study of myriad religious communities around the globe. Beginning with foundational Euro-American assumptions—that the discursive practices of ethics are primarily philosophical, for example—led early scholars of India to assume that Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain communities simply possessed no ethical thought, as both literature and śāstra (technical treatise), not philosophy, comprise the primary genres for discussing dharma or ethics. Even if Euro-American questions and categories are to wield no particular authority (112), framing even initial discussions solely in terms of familiar, contemporary categories elides completely any real opportunity for exploring the relationship of aesthetic experience to moral formation, of ritual praxis to ethics, of compatibility of physical substances, of the logic of aucitya or “appropriateness” with which so many discussions of ethics begin in pre-colonial South Asia. If the conversation among religious studies scholars and philosophers of religion is truly to be two-sided, infused with a genuine sense of give-and-take, then more intellectual flexibility must be exercised. What would religious ethics look like if framed, from the ground up, not by Christian materials but by Theravāda Buddhist, Hindu Śaiva, or Sunni Muslim texts and communities of practice? How far would religious ethics and ethicists—both individually and collectively as a field—be willing to bend in the wholly new directions suggested by other religio-cultural milieus?

Early in the discussion of possible futures for comparative religious ethics, Lewis notes that comparative work demands “the abandonment of aspirations to universality,” going on to note that “the point about universality cuts deeper, however: it concerns not simply the conclusions but also the structure of arguments” (86). Not much more is said about what such a shedding of universality in the structure of arguments might mean for the philosophy of religion going forward, but this comment engenders a second cluster of comments for the author. Lewis himself admits that, in planning possible futures for the philosophy of religion, he pays more attention to “religion” than to “philosophy,” primarily defining philosophy in terms of its “modes of analysis,” while urging that such analytic modes take up new topics and expand the historical canon (9). Yet what of philosophy itself? What might it mean for philosophy of religion to interrogate its own presuppositions and constructions of “philosophy,” in addition to incorporating the critical scholarship on “religion” that Lewis invites here? Is philosophy any more a naturally occurring object in the world than religion? What might it mean—for both philosophy of religion and religious studies more broadly—to consider the full variety of discursive and bodily practices that may or may not currently fall under the umbrella of “philosophy”?

The relative clarity with which Lewis describes the current state of affairs in religious studies (and with which he takes issue)—that “theologians make normative claims, [whereas] religious studies scholars should refrain from doing so” (44)—finds no echo in the history of religions in South Asia. Texts and thinkers are labeled “philosophy,” “theology,” or “theory” seemingly on the basis of the predilections of individual scholars. Hindu logicians and Buddhist thinkers of all sorts tend to be labeled “philosophers” (Matilal 1998; Arnold 2005; Garfield 2015), as are Hindu thinkers whose work backgrounds any theistic inclination (Rambachan 1991; Nicholson 2010); those who emphasize any sort of theistic devotion are more likely to be labeled “theologians” (Carman 1974; Clooney 1993). “Theory” is primarily reserved for topics that appear, at first glance, to be about nonreligious topics, such as poetics (Pollock 2001) and ritual (Michaels 2016), despite the deeply religious contexts in which all of the materials above are clearly embedded.

Despite the unsystematic way in which South Asian materials are often labeled, such materials do beg various questions of the natural object that “philosophy” is often assumed to be in our own intellectual context. The first concerns form in relation to content. Where, as noted above, Lewis favors throughout a view of philosophy as particular “modes of analysis” (9), South Asian materials present philosophical modes of analysis expressed in widely varying ways: in commentarial prose on root-texts, in treatises composed entirely in verse, and as sequences in long poetic narratives, to name just a few examples. The seventh-century Buddhist philosopher Dharmakīrti (at the center of Lewis’s discussion of Dan Arnold’s most recent book [36–41]), for example, composed his Pramāṇavārttika entirely in verse (Dharmakīrti 1938); Śāntideva’s eighth-century treatment of the bodhisattva path, the Bodhicaryāvatāra, is both philosophically rich and beautiful poetry (1960), while his Śikṣāsamuccaya provides a prose commentary on twenty-seven short verses (1961). Dense philosophical discussion—often in metrical stanzas—lies embedded in all manner of long narratives, from the epic Mahābhārata and Rāmāyaṇa in Sanskrit to Jain purāṇas (universal histories), Buddhist kāvya (ornate courtly poetry), and stories told in all the regional languages of South Asia. Well into the nineteenth century, philosophical argumentation is couched in wholly narrative forms (see, for example, Allen 2013). How do the different forms that philosophical modes of analysis take in South Asia possibly affect those modes of analysis themselves? Why would a single author—such as Śāntideva, to cite but one example—choose to write one mode of analysis in prose, the other in verse? The limited forms of expression deployed in Euro-American philosophy suggest that content naturally adheres to only one expressive form, one that argues and convinces through the highly structured ordering of evidence in prose. What happens to such a project if the expressive form is poetry, or narrative, or some mixture of both? Does the work of philosophy remain precisely the same?

Building on the questions raised above, further interrogation of the category of “philosophy” itself—as in the case of “religion”—would inevitably yield a wider array of possibilities for relating philosophical modes of analysis and discursive practices to those of religion. While Lewis rightly lauds both Hollywood (30–33) and Arnold (36–41) for placing specific philosophical arguments in wider contexts of political commitment (Hollywood) and intellectual exchange (Arnold), what might happen if we imagine philosophical thinking to be not merely affected by political, social, intellectual, and religious circumstances, but utterly intertwined with such concerns, perhaps even dependent upon sets of ritual practices, bodily disciplines, and intellectual formation gained from other fields of inquiry? This, of course, echoes in part Hadot’s celebrated study of classical Mediterranean “philosophy as a way of life” (1995), but also extends considerably beyond, asking not just how philosophy might best describe and theorize religion, but what role religion might play in the conceptualization of philosophy itself.

Simply put, evidence from South Asian religious communities suggests that philosophical forms of expression and modes of analysis are predicated on lifetimes of ritual and other bodily and mental exercises, and finely attuned (as above) to the larger textual contexts in which they appear. When the Brahmasūtras attributed to Bādarāyaṇa—the root-text whose commentarial traditions generate the three major schools of one of the most influential Hindu philosophical schools, the Vedānta—open with athāto brahma jijñāsa (1887, 1.1.1), “thus the desire to inquire into brahma (the ground of all existence)”—what precisely does the “thus” (athāto) suggest? Different commentators disagree on the precise requirements for the philosophical inquiry that follows, but much is said, in the opening of the most celebrated and influential commentaries, about the cultivation of meditational focus, devotion, ritual comportment, and the like across many lifetimes. The texts that govern South Indian temple life—the Śaivāgamas and the Pāñcarātrasaṃhitās—by definition embed philosophical modes of analysis (jñāna) with discussions of ritual action (kriyā), proper conduct (caryā), and bodily and mental discipline (yoga) (see, for example, Davis 1991: 10). How do those other practices (associated, in contemporary parlance, with “religion” and/or “ethics”) enhance (and/or curtail) the place of philosophy (jñāna) in religious life? Two excellent pieces of recent work (Reich 2016; Williams 2017) demonstrate the complex and profound ways in which literary theorization and tantric philosophy, poetic emotion and theology are inextricably intertwined in the work of medieval intellectuals in Kashmir. What is “philosophy” as a mode of analysis when embedded in, perhaps even dependent upon, other modes of inquiry and expression? How should the scholar of religion—or philosophy—understand the work of a fourteenth-century thinker such as Vedāntadeśika, who composed both dense philosophical work in Sanskrit (Clooney 2008) and poetry in multiple literary languages (Hopkins 2002) as part of a single life-project? Lewis comments that Schellenberg’s work suffers from an “inordinate focus on faith and/or belief . . . lead[ing] to the neglect of practical and material aspects of religion” (22), but what becomes of “philosophy” itself if its inquiry depends upon those very same praxis-oriented and material aspects of religion, if philosophical work can only be undertaken and properly understood in relation to those other forms of bodily and mental practice and expression?

Even if the primary intellectual concerns of Why Philosophy Matters seem rather distant from one’s own, Lewis’s work generates a wide range of provocative questions for any scholar of religion.

Works Cited

Allen, Michael. 2013. “The Ocean of Inquiry: A Neglected Classic of Late Advaita Vedānta.” PhD dissertation, Harvard University.

Arnold, Dan. 2005. Buddhists, Brahmins, and Belief: Epistemology in South Asian Philosophy of Religion. New York: Columbia University Press.

Bādarāyaṇa. 1887. Brahmasūtra. 3 vols. Bombay.

Bloomer, Kristin C. 2018. Possessed by the Virgin: Hinduism, Roman Catholicism, and Marian Possession in South India. New York: Oxford University Press.

Carman, John Braisted. 1974. The Theology of Rāmānuja: An Essay in Interreligious Understanding. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Clooney, Francis X. 1993. Theology after Vedānta: An Experiment in Comparative Theology. Albany: State University of New York Press.

———. 2008. Beyond Compare: St. Francis de Sales and Śrī Vedānta Deśika on Loving Surrender to God. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.

Davis, Richard H. 1991. Ritual in an Oscillating Universe: Worshiping Śiva in Medieval India. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Dharmakīrti. 1938. Pramāṇavārttikam. Edited by Rāhula Sāṅkṛtyāyana. Patna: Bihar and Orissa Research Society.

Ganeri, Jonardon. 2001. Philosophy in Classical India: Proper Work of Reason. New York: Routledge.

Garfield, Jay. 2015. Engaging Buddhism: Why It Matters to Philosophy. New York: Oxford University Press.

Hadot, Pierre. 1995. Philosophy as a Way of Life: Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault. Translated by Michael Chase. New York: Blackwell.

Halbfass, Wilhelm. 1988. India and Europe: An Essay in Understanding. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Hopkins, Steven P. 2002. Singing the Body of God: The Hymns of Vedāntadeśika in Their South Indian Context. New York: Oxford University Press.

Inden, Ronald B. 2000. Imagining India. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Lewis, Thomas A. 2015. Why Philosophy Matters for the Study of Religion—and Vice Versa. New York: Oxford University Press.

Lopez, Donald S., ed. 1995. Curators of the Buddha: The Study of Buddhism under Colonialism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Matilal, Bimal Krishna. 1998. The Character of Logic in India. Edited by Jonardon Ganeri and Heeraman Tiwari. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Michaels, Axel. 2016. Homo Ritualis: Hindu Ritual and Its Significance to Ritual Theory. New York: Oxford University Press.

Nicholson, Andrew J. 2010. Unifying Hinduism: Philosophy and Identity in Indian Intellectual History. New York: Columbia University Press.

Pennington, Brian K. 2005. Was Hinduism Invented? Britons, Indians, and Colonial Construction of Religion. New York: Oxford University Press.

Pollock, Sheldon. 2001. “The Social Aesthetic and Sanskrit Literary Theory.” Journal of Indian Philosophy 29.1–2: 197–229.

———. 2006. The Language of the Gods in the World of Men: Sanskrit, Culture, and Power in Premodern India. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Rambachan, Anantanand. 1991. Accomplishing the Accomplished: The Vedas as a Source of Valid Knowledge in Śaṅkara. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

Ramberg, Lucinda. 2014. Given to the Goddess: South Indian Devadasis and the Sexuality of Religion. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Reich, James D. 2016. “Meaning and Appearance: The Theology of Literary Emotions in Medieval Kashmir.” PhD dissertation, Harvard University.

Said, Edward W. 1978. Orientalism. New York: Pantheon.

Śāntideva. 1960. Bodhicaryāvatāra of Śāntideva with the Commentary, Pañjikā, of Prajñākaramti. Edited by P. L. Vaidya. Darbhanga: Mithila Institute.

———. 1961. Śikṣāsamuccaya of Śāntideva. Edited by P. L. Vaidya. Darbhanga: Mithila Institute.

Williams, Ben. 2017. “Abhinavagupta’s Portrait of a Guru: Revelation and Religious Authority in Kashmir.” PhD dissertation, Harvard University.

  • Thomas A. Lewis

    Thomas A. Lewis

    Reply

    On Where We Begin . . . and How We Move Forward

    One of the central goals of Why Philosophy Matters for the Study of Religion—and Vice Versa is to foster conversations across the usual boundaries of philosophy of religion in order to illuminate and challenge presuppositions that have often constricted the field. Anne Monius’s thoughtful and thought-provoking response moves the discussion forward in just this way. Much of my response to her, then, consists in an invitation to keep going.

    Amongst the many important issues she raises, one of Monius’s most prominent concerns pertains to my contention that the

    conversation will initially be conducted with vocabulary and conceptual tools marked by a Western intellectual heritage, but it can and should be continually supplemented and expanded through encounters with materials from a wide range of other contexts. (84)

    In my elaboration of that point later in that chapter (see 112–13), I seek to articulate how minimally I mean this privilege. Moreover, I highlight that it derives from being historically situated in academic settings in which more scholars are more extensively shaped by and engaged with materials emerging from broadly Western intellectual traditions. Recognizing that we start somewhere in particular—rather than from an Archimedean point—seems to me vital to figuring out how we move forward.

    Perhaps more importantly, as the second clause in the passage quoted above emphasizes, to say that we start somewhere does not mean that we remain there. Rather, part of what it means to bring religious ethics into shared—though not homogenized—conversations is to move us past this starting point. It is to take the important questions that Monius asks—such as, “Where does thinking about ethics lie?”—and treat them not simply as relevant to the examination of medieval South Asian materials but as likely fruitful in revealing hidden presuppositions operative in the analyses of many “Western” texts. Thus, I maintain that taking our own historical embeddedness seriously entails that broadly conceived religious ethics in the North American academy, for instance, will initially involve a preponderance of vocabulary and conceptual tools that are deeply shaped by Western intellectual traditions. Yet I am also calling for just the kinds of questions that Monius asks as being crucial to moving us beyond that moment. Moreover, it will be vital not simply to ask these questions but to begin answering them, by showing precisely what difference it makes.

    Monius also raises a number of very productive questions around the concept of “philosophy” itself. As she notes, I do not devote the same attention to the history of the conceptualization of “philosophy” that I do to the history of the conceptualization of “religion.” Yet I agree entirely about the value of interrogating the histories and presuppositions latent in deployments of that term. Though I did not pursue the issues in a parallel manner in this book, “philosophy” is no more a natural category than “religion.”1

    Relatedly, when Monius poses questions such as, “What happens to such a project if the expressive form is poetry, or narrative, or some mixture of both? Does the work of philosophy remain precisely the same?” my response is, “Surely not.” I have no stake in suggesting that it does. To the contrary, I hope the questions Monius asks here do not remain rhetorical; they suggest very important research projects that can and should affect philosophy of religion’s course forward. That is precisely the kind of work that my effort to overcome the segregation of comparative work invites.

    One subset of questions that Monius asks in this context, however, merit particular attention. She asks, “What might happen if we imagine philosophical thinking to be not merely affected by political, social, intellectual, and religious circumstances, but utterly intertwined with such concerns, perhaps even dependent upon sets of ritual practices, bodily disciplines, and intellectual formation gained from other fields of inquiry?” (emphasis in original). I focus in particular on the question of the implications of asking whether “philosophical thinking [might be] . . . dependent upon sets of ritual practices [and] bodily disciplines.” As Monius’s reference to the work of Pierre Hadot highlights, these questions are by no means unique to South Asian materials or to philosophy of religion: I would argue that we can also look to Western figures from Benedict to Ignatius to Marx, to name just a few. But the point raised can be seen as having dramatic consequences. Some versions of this position contend that we can only understand—in the relevant sense—a particular philosophical position on the basis of years of formation, both bodily and intellectual—whether in a highly structured religious order or in a particular form of labor. If that is indeed the case, then the limits on what can be accomplished in settings such as classrooms or scholarship aimed at even a broad scholarly audience may be severe. Of course, strong versions of this claim would undermine far more than the specific kinds of engagement that I am recommending; the challenge concerns much of the work that Monius seems to champion just as much as it does my intervention.

    While we need to take these potential implications seriously, I do not think that attention to the significance of bodily practices and intellectual formation need lead us to that view. Though I cannot fully develop the point here, I think that part of what we need are accounts that do justice to intellectual and bodily formation as well as to the power, possibilities, and challenges of communication among people who do not already share the same formation. I suspect that Monius and I share this goal.


    1. I did focus on this point in my paper, “Who Stands at This Crossroads? On Conceptualizing Philosophy,” delivered at the 2017 meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature.

Sonia Hazard

Response

August 21, 2018, 1:00 am

Samuel J. Kessler

Response

August 28, 2018, 1:00 am

Travis Cooper

Response

September 4, 2018, 1:00 am

Anil Mundra

Response

September 11, 2018, 1:00 am

Matthew Bagger

Response

September 18, 2018, 1:00 am

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