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Reviewed by:
  • The Promise of Religious Naturalism
  • Walter Gulick
The Promise of Religious Naturalism. Michael S. Hogue. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2010. xxx + 252 pp. $74.95 cloth. (Reviewed by Walter Gulick, Montana State University, Billings)

The Promise of Religious Naturalism has binocular vision: (1) it offers readers a searching comparative study of several of the leading contemporary exponents of religious naturalism, and (2) it tests the very notion of religious naturalism for its ability to support religious inclinations and moral imperatives in a time of social and ecological disarray. The four religious [End Page 271] naturalists Hogue especially focuses upon are Loyal Rue, Jerome Stone, Ursula Goodenough, and Donald Crosby. Hogue ably shows how each of these thinkers employs a religious variation on the common theme of naturalism. He describes his approach as being “appreciatively critical,” but his appreciation seems more evident than his criticism. His point of view tilts more toward affirming the complementary benefits of diversity than toward arguing for the one most adequate view or synthesis of views.

Five chapters follow an engaging but lengthy introduction. The first chapter, “What’s Going On?” outlines some of the religious and ecological challenges confronting us inheritors of Western modernism. Hogue interprets religion in our time of rapid social and cultural changes as increasingly posttraditional. He alludes to Peter Berger’s notion that this is a heretical time (10–11), that is, one in which personal choice from a cafeteria of religious options has become the norm. Some have retreated to orthodox or fundamentalist security as a defense from too many confusing choices. However, within the pluralistic landscape of developing religious thought, Hogue suggests that immanence has superseded transcendence (a point emphasized by Charles Taylor) and scientific insights inevitably now influence theological formulations. Hogue’s favored gauge for evaluating the success of the moral dimension of each religious naturalist’s vision is how well each provides a worldview that can ameliorate the ecological crisis.

In the second chapter, “Theory and Method in the Moral Present,” Hogue attends more specifically to the character of religious naturalism. He states that “naturalism as I am defining it here is a philosophical orientation that is opposed to metaphysical dualism, idealism, and supernaturalism and is methodologically or epistemologically committed to some form of empiricism” (53). He eschews any rigid distinction between theory and practice or objectivity and subjectivity, but he does make good use of the distinction between a functional and a phenomenological interpretation of religion. A phenomenological theory seeks to understand religion sympathetically from within religious experience and practice, whereas a functionalist approach seeks to explain religious belief and practice in terms of its external contexts. Stone and Goodenough, he suggests, offer a version of religious naturalism that is basically phenomenological in nature, while Rue tends to explain religion in functional, evolutionary terms. This, however, presents differences between these thinkers too starkly, for Hogue is careful to show that there are aspects of phenomenological sympathy and functional suspicion in all four authors. Evolutionary biology serves as the theoretic framework within which phenomenology can be combined coherently with functionalism (67, 71, 225).

The third chapter examines what is religious, and the fourth chapter what is ethical about religious naturalism. Within these chapters, Hogue concentrates [End Page 272] his analysis almost exclusively upon the thought of Rue, Stone, Goodenough, and Crosby. Rather than offering a summary of summaries, I think it more fruitful to pick out several of Hogue’s provocative questions about religious naturalism and see how he as well as his four subjects respond.

(1) “What makes something a ‘religious’ concern rather than, or in addition to, some other kind [of] concern?” (34). In interpreting his subjects’ response to this question, Hogue calls attention to “Rue’s naturalistic conception of religion and religiosity, Stone’s religious conception of naturalism, Crosby’s religion of nature, and Goodenough’s naturalistic religiopoiesis” (86). A religion for Rue is an account and practice grounded in myths and metaphors that provide adherents with an emotionally supported, community constituting vision of the way things are and what really matters. Religions promote the personal and social attitudes conducive not only to survival but also flourishing. From his functionalist perspective, religion...


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