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“A Philosophical Framework for Interpreting the Future of Religion and Spirituality,” Wesley J. Wildman, Professor of Philosophy, Theology, and Ethics, Boston University School of Theology, October 29, 2014
Abstract: Intellectuals of any kind, including philosophers, can’t exercise much influence over religion. Religion, after all, is as formidably complex as it is intricately particular, and religious people tend not to care even a little about what philosophers say. But philosophy might be useful for guiding predictions about the future of religion. That’s a big claim. Rather than argue in the abstract that philosophy is useful for guiding predictions, this lecture aims actually to exhibit the usefulness of philosophy. Of course, to proceed in this way implicates me in the questionable business of predicting the future of religion and spirituality. Now that’s an icy road if ever there was one. A lot of vehicles have skidded off that road over the centuries, and this pattern hasn’t changed much in recent years. My claim is that philosophy is like traction control: it keeps the vehicle of prediction safely on the road. At least philosophy can be like this, in principle. In practice, philosophy rarely aspires to be useful in this particular way. But if it’s doable, it couldn’t hurt. From recurring mistaken predictions about the end of the world to the failure of twentieth-century secularization theory, the record of prognostication in regard to the future of religion is dismal. That record certainly couldn’t be made any worse by involving philosophy in the task. How, then, can philosophy help to guide predictions about the future of religion and spirituality? And what specific prediction will I make in this lecture to demonstrate the concrete usefulness of philosophy?