"The Thinker," by
Auguste Rodin, 1880








Evaluating Religion(s)


To Evaluate or Not
Academic Evaluation
   Stage Styles and Criteria for Belief
   Evaluating Three Kinds of Religious Truth-Claims
   Four Types of Defenses Against Rationalistic Skepticism
Current Options
   Again the Tension of the Human Quest

Any academic discipline, including religious studies, involves some degree of evaluation and analysis.  Many people, however, consider religion to be solely a personal decision and argue that it is better not to engage in critical evaluation of religious truth claims or values.  Yet failing to evaluate religion can allow harmful human interpretations to become an unquestioned part of a religious tradition.

Any academic evaluation tries to compensate for individual bias by using rules similar to the scientific method.  This requires public argumentation and openness to further challenge.  Careful evaluation of specific styles of belief can provide useful insight into the process of religious faith and thought.  Four major criteria religious people may use to justify belief can include a) the vividness of images or ideas, b) the authority of a community, c) the power of a grand narrative, and d) the force of reason -- or some combination of these.

Evaluating Three Kinds of Religious Truth-Claims
Religions make claims about miracles, the origin and purpose of the universe, and the existence of an Ultimate.  While occurrences of miracles and questions of the purposes of the universe can be evaluated using empirical standards, the nature the Ultimate cannot be tested using observational methods.

Four Types of Defenses Against Critical Evaluations of Religion
Religious thinkers have developed four defenses of religion that seek to exempt religion from outside critical evaluation.  Postmodernists argue that there are no universally valid standards for judging a community's beliefs and practices.  Others claim that religion is a unique (sui generis) mode of experience that science cannot empirically study.  Still others argue that religions should be studied only to be appreciated, not to be criticized. Finally, some sharply divide the sciences from the humanities.  This division insulates religious study from scientific reductionism and skepticism.

People have different reasons for being religious.  The tension between the need to reflect critically and the need for a secure identity and values will continue  Religion will remain part of life in the presence of mystery.

End of notes to Epilogue

This page last changed Monday March 29, 2004

In The Presence of Mystery