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.

To mark the fiftieth anniversary of the annual lecture series in the Institute for Philosophy and Religion, we are returning to an idea that was dear to the Institute’s founders, the concept of the “Person.”

The Institute for Philosophy and Religion grew out of a movement known as “Boston Personalism,” a group of Boston scholars who maintained that the key to the meaning of ultimate reality is found in the concept of the “person.” This school had deep influence on Martin Luther King’s convictions about the dignity and worth of all human persons.

This year’s lectures will start with a historical investigation of the concept of the “person” in late 19th-century American philosophy and then bring the concept up to date in contemporary philosophy, cognitive science, and comparative religion.

What can the tradition of Personalism, along with contemporary investigations of the “person,” tell us about the place of human beings in the cosmos, the formation of human communities, and the significance of personhood in ethical, social, and political thought?

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.

I have enjoyed returning 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 an appreciation 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 over 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 2018-19, the series is titled “Persons.”

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.