Letter from the Director

Dear Friends of the Institute,

We are pleased to announce another exciting program of lectures and discussions in the Boston University Institute for Philosophy & Religion, as we continue to reflect on the intersection and cross-fertilization of philosophy, religion, and public life.

This year’s series on “Faith and Doubt” deals with one of the classic issues in the philosophy of religion. It also is a fundamental issue for anyone who reflects thoughtfully on the role of religion in contemporary life. What does it mean to have “Faith” in a contemporary setting? How is Faith related to the experience of Doubt?

The series grows out of the Institute’s long-standing interest in the “virtues” as a way to live a good life. In the past the Institute has sponsored programs on ”Courage,” “Friendship,” and “Happiness,” as well as a volume of essays on the question, “Can Virtue Be Taught?” This year we are continuing that tradition by delving into the first of the “theological virtues,” Faith. Next year we will take up the topic of Hope and Despair. In the following year we will consider Love and Hate.

We begin the series Jennifer Herdt, the Gilbert L. Stark Professor of Christian Ethics at Yale Divinity School. Prof. Herdt is known as a lively and insightful interpreter of the tradition of virtue ethics, especially as it relates Christian ethics. She will help us situate ourselves in the world of the virtues and will begin the exploration of Faith and Doubt. Is Doubt necessarily the opposite of Faith, or is Doubt a necessary component of Faith? We are looking forward to seeing how she engages with this question.

As the series unfolds, we will hear from Michael Zank, Professor of Religion and Director of the Elie Wiesel Center for Judaic Studies at Boston University, on Leo Strauss’s view that Faith and Doubt are necessary components of the philosophy of religion.

Dale Wright from Occidental College will take us into the world of Mahayana Buddhism, where skepticism is a necessary component of the quest for enlightenment. Christopher Ricks, Director of the Boston University Editorial Institute, will explore “the quality of its doubt” in T. S. Eliot’s understanding of Tennyson’s “In Memoriam.” Charles Kimball from the University of Oklahoma will explore the highly contested issue of faith and doubt in contemporary Islam. And the series will conclude with a lecture by C. Stephen Evans on Søren Kierkegaard and the troubling dilemmas of faith.

During the fall semester our lectures will be held at 5:00 p.m. on alternate Wednesdays in room 325 of the School of Theology, 745 Commonwealth Avenue. You can find a schedule of lectures on our website at www.bu.edu/ipr/program.

It has been exciting to return as Director of the Institute after several years away. We feel that we have a fascinating lineup of lectures for the year on a topic that will intrigue anyone who has a sense for the perplexities of religion. I hope you will be able to join us. When you do, I hope that you will introduce yourselves, so that I can greet you in person.

I look forward to welcoming you once again to the Institute for Philosophy & Religion.

Best regards,

David Eckel



For more than 40 years, the Institute for Philosophy & Religion (IPR) has been a unique interdisciplinary forum for the exploration of issues at the intersection of philosophy, religion, and public life. Its origins lie in a group of Boston University philosophers (the Personalists) who were among the teachers of Martin Luther King, Jr. when he was a PhD candidate at Boston University, and over the years the institute’s programs have reflected broad concerns such as the promotion of social justice, the foundation of pluralistic societies, and the deepest questions about life as reflected in theological and philosophical discourse.

Founded in 1970 with the cooperation of three academic units of Boston University—the Department of Philosophy, Department of Religion, and School of Theology—the institute was envisioned as a home for serious philosophical and religious reflection. Under the successive directorships of Professor Lee Rouner and Professor M. David Eckel, the institute has become one of the premier locations on the American academic landscape for interdisciplinary conversation about perennial and pressing intellectual concerns. Past lecturers and participants have included Karen Armstrong, Robert Bellah, Wendy Doniger, Jean Bethke Elshtain, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Charles Hartshorne, Bernard Lonergan, Jürgen Moltmann, W.V. Quine, Christopher Ricks, Paul Ricoeur, Ninian Smart, Huston Smith, Robert Thurman, and Elie Wiesel.

Each year, the institute sponsors a lecture series on issues that cross the boundaries between different academic disciplines and between scholars and the educated public. Past topics have included “Courage,” “Loneliness,” “Civility,” “Life, Death, and Immortality,” “Responsibility,” “Evil,” “Toleration and Freedom,” and “Philosophy and the Future of Religion.” In 2015-16, the series is titled “Faith and Doubt.”

In addition, the institute is the curricular home in the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences for courses that offer BU undergraduate and graduate students the opportunity to explore issues in tandem with each year’s lecture series and conferences. The institute’s course, PH 456/656 (also RN 397/607 and STH TT 821), involves an in-depth exploration of issues and texts related to each year’s series.

Although the institute—as its name suggests—has always hosted a range of programming that reflects the rather wide intersection of concerns implied in the conjunction in its title (philosophy and religion), it has also been, since its founding, a prominent national forum for important academic work in the specific sub-discipline of the philosophy of religion. In taking seriously the concerns of this academic field, the institute offers leading scholars the regular opportunity of presenting cutting-edge work in the philosophy of religion in the context of an annual symposium each spring.

In addition to the annual lecture series, conferences, and symposia, the institute publishes a series of volumes reflecting its research. In 2011, our newly rechristened series, Boston Studies in Philosophy, Religion and Public Life, began its publication with Springer. For information on ordering past volumes in our series, see our publications page.