Knowing in Religion and Morality

Purdue University, 2010-2013

Although religious and moral beliefs are widely held, doubts about them are also very common and skepticism about or even outright rejection of religious and moral beliefs is increasingly a live option for people.  But genuine doubt or skepticism about our perceptual beliefs in the existence of an external world is almost unheard of outside of philosophy departments, and even among people there, it is rarely taken seriously in their everyday lives.  This project on "Knowing in Religion and Morality" will critically examine to what degree, if any, this difference in attitude toward perceptual beliefs, on the one hand, and religious and moral beliefs, on the other, is justified. 

The aim of this project is twofold: (i) to develop and evaluate defenses of the view that moral and religious beliefs are relevantly similar to perceptual beliefs, both in terms of how they are produced and in terms of their rationality; and (ii) to critically examine objections to moral and religious belief—in particular, objections based on the prevalence of disagreement about their subject matter and on evolutionary accounts of their origins (both of which are objections that don’t seem to apply to perceptual belief).

The project director is Michael Bergmann who works on epistemology and philosophy of religion. He will be collaborating with the associate director, Patrick Kain, who is an expert on the philosophy of Immanuel Kant and ethics. Both are members of the Department of Philosophy at Purdue University and together they have received a three-year grant for this project, which has the following four components:

  • A monograph by Bergmann, provisionally entitled Perceptual, Moral, and Religious Skepticism.
  • A 2011 summer seminar led by Bergmann on the topics of the monograph.
  • A 2012 interdisciplinary conference co-organized by Bergmann and Kain and focused on challenges to religious and moral belief.
  • A volume called "Challenges to Moral and Religious Belief" (Oxford, 2014) edited by Bergmann and Kain that collects together the papers from the 2012 conference.

Generous support for this project has been provided by the John Templeton Foundation and Purdue University. For more information, see this news release from the Purdue Newsroom.