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Religion in Late Modernity

Robert Cummings Neville

Publication Year: 2002

A well-known theologian and philosopher offers a late-modern perspective on religion, one opposed to the received truths of postmodern religious thought. Religion in Late Modernity runs against the grain of common suppositions of contemporary theology and philosophy of religion. Against the common supposition that basic religious terms have no real reference but are mere functions of human need, the book presents a pragmatic theory of religious symbolism in terms of which the cognitive engagement of the Ultimate is of a piece with the cognitive engagement of nature and persons. Throughout this discussion, Neville develops a late-modern conception of God that is defensible in a global theological public. Against the common supposition that religion is on the retreat in late modernity except in fundamentalist forms, the author argues that religion in our time is a stimulus to religiously oriented scholarship, a civilizing force among world societies, a foundation for obligation in politics, a source for healthy social experimentation, and the most important mover of soul. Against the common supposition that religious thinking or theology is confessional and inevitably biased in favor of the thinker’s community, Neville argues for the public character of theology, the need for history and phenomenology of religion in philosophy of religion, and the possibility of objectivity through the contextualization of philosophy, contrary to the fashionable claims of neo-pragmatism. This vigorous analysis and program for religious thinking is straightforwardly pro-late-modern and anti-postmodern, a rousing gallop along the high road around modernism.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. xi-xv

Religion in Late Modernity is a contrarian title in two ways. The fashion now is to speak of “religions,” not “religion,” because the latter suggests a kind of universal nature or essence of religion. That very suggestion would bias inquiry because it would select what counts to be compared...

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pp. 1-6

These are roughly the topics of the chapters of this book, respectively. They are hardly unique to late modernity, but they have late-modern forms and together shape much of the complexity of religion in the late-modern situation...

PART ONE. Late-Modern Topics

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pp. 7-8

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CHAPTER 1. The Contingencies of Nature

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pp. 9-28

The thesis of this chapter, fundamental to and presupposed in nearly all the others, is that civilized experience includes a primordial apprehension of the contingency of nature.1 The expressions of this apprehension of contingency have taken many forms...

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CHAPTER 2. Human Nature

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pp. 29-44

Is there a human nature? Is there an essence of human nature? Proposals concerning an essential human nature have been made in response to at least six kinds of questions. The first is the ancient question of classification: are we featherless bipeds, rational animals...

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CHAPTER 3. Religious Symbols

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pp. 45-65

Western theories of religious symbolism generally have been reductionistic in vicious senses. Those deriving from anthropology and phenomenology of religions are overly indebted to classificatory schemes that rightly have been criticized for cultural bias...

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CHAPTER 4. The Symbols of Divine Action

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pp. 66-87

The field of science and religion in Europe and North America is cultivated by several separate conversations that are not in adequate communication with one another, two of which will be joined here. One is the inquiry concerning divine action that takes its rise from people who affirm as a supposition the belief that God is a personal being of some...

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CHAPTER 5. Eternity and the Transformation of Soul

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pp. 88-106

Spirituality, disciplined spiritual formation, and the professional art of spiritual direction are receiving renewed emphasis in late-modern North Atlantic societies. Among the many reasons for this are developments in the understanding of religious symbolism. Quickly put, Paul Tillich’s theory of symbols articulated ways in which certain symbols effect...

PART TWO. Late-Modern Religion

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pp. 107-108

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CHAPTER 6. Religion and Scholarship

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pp. 109-130

Among the contemporary forms of spirituality is the life of inquiry practised by some scholars of religion in which they cultivate a peculiar combination of distance from and engagement with the religious matters under study. The academic objectivity sought is a critical engagement that renders scholarship vulnerable to correction where it is off the mark...

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CHAPTER 7. Religion and Society

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pp. 131-157

This chapter addresses the theme of world community and religion from four angles. First, it draws some careful distinctions between world society, world culture, and world community, indicating how different those social phenomena are from one another. Second, it discusses how the world religions relate to each of these...

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CHAPTER 8. Religion and Politics: Spheres of Tolerance

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pp. 158-170

This brief chapter speaks to five theses concerning political tolerance of diverse religions. First, the widespread renewal of religious warfare in our time refutes the modern secular belief that religion is only private and can be marginalized in public life. That belief is empirically false. Second, to improve upon the modern secular approach...

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CHAPTER 9. Religion and the American Experiment

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pp. 171-183

Enthusiastic participants in religion as well as observers with more jaded points of view have commented on the importance of religion in American life. Few, however, recognize the diversity of religious expression in America or the many different senses in which it has been important...

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CHAPTER 10. Religion and Vital Engagement

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pp. 184-199

Two philosophical observations help to understand the contribution of midnineteenth- century American letters to the vital roles of religious doctrine. The points hold for religious doctrine generally. But they are especially pertinent to understanding Emerson and the Transcendentalists, as well as poets such as Whitman and novelists such as Melville, although the discussion here shall be limited to Emerson...

PART THREE. Religion and Philosophy in Late Modernity

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pp. 200-201

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CHAPTER 11. The Public Character of Theology and Religious Studies

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pp. 203-216

The American Academy of Religion is at a crisis point in its self-definition, which in turn is critical for the definition of the study of religion. The crisis has been building for many years, as is the nature of such things...

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CHAPTER 12. Religions, Philosophies,and Philosophy of Religion

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pp. 217-232

The most dramatic change in the academic study of religion in the last twenty-five years has been the vast increase in the knowledge, by Western scholars, of the world’s diverse religious traditions. Before this, the background images of religion that came to mind were drawn...

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CHAPTER 13. A Paleopragmatic Philosophy of the History of Philosophy

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pp. 233-248

Among the most important contributions of Richard Rorty to the revival and extension of pragmatism is a philosophy of the history of philosophy. Peirce, James, and Dewey had all commented on historical philosophers, often with great insight. They also had important points to make about the history of philosophy...


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pp. 249-260


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pp. 261-268


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pp. 269-284

E-ISBN-13: 9780791488256
E-ISBN-10: 079148825X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791454237
Print-ISBN-10: 0791454231

Page Count: 284
Publication Year: 2002