If religion is technology what are beliefs

FWF Project "Emuna: Rationality and Religious Beliefs"

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A research project at the University of Innsbruck with generous funding from the Fund for Scientific Research (FWF)

Duration: 2015-2018

Project leader: Katherine Dormandy, DPhil

Employee: Marisa Gasteiger, Susannah Haas, Federica Malfatti

Should religious beliefs always be rational? Some believers feel that epistemic rationality should not always be expected from religious beliefs, since belief as such has little to do with it. In the research project “Emuna: The Rationality of Religious Beliefs”, however, I argue that religious belief itself - and not just epistemology - always requires rational religious beliefs.

To this end, the project will answer the following two questions. The epistemic question reads: What constitutes the rationality of religious beliefs? The general question is: Should such beliefs always be rational?

The epistemic question relates to epistemological norms, while the general question examines norms of religious belief (e.g. that one must trust God). Discussion of these two questions will determine whether these standards can be incompatible.

The project will answer the epistemic question by critically discussing five well-known approaches to the rationality of religious convictions and presenting one of its own. This own approach is called "Emuna" because it comes from the ancient Hebrew term ’emuna, which (roughly translated) for "trust“ [faith, fides] stands, is inspired. This approach is rooted in this ancient religious tradition. The “Emuna” approach states, perhaps surprisingly, that a religious belief is only rational if it takes into account the evidence.

Another question is, of course, whether religious beliefs meet the appropriate standards of rationality always have to take into account. Perhaps religious belief is associated with norms that are incompatible with epistemic norms. If so, then it is understandable that the norms of belief trump those of epistemology. If so, then religious beliefs would be exempt from rationality in such situations.

This is the subject of the general question. Yet the project will argue that religious belief at its best goes hand in hand with rational beliefs about religious issues. This does not just mean that the norms of belief are compatible with those of epistemology. Rather, it is said that epistemic rationality belongs to the ideal of religious faith: the normatively perfect Belief is always epistemically rational.

In defense of this answer, I first show that religious belief (ceteris paribus) is morally better if the beliefs involved are epistemically rational because love and trust, two essential beliefs, are morally better if they are based on well-founded beliefs. Second, I argue that the term ’Emuna Is normatively linked to good reasons: Against a biblical background, people are regularly asked to have ’emuna because there are good epistemic reasons for this attitude.

My answers to the epistemic and “everything under consideration” question contribute to current epistemology, moral psychology, religious philosophy and analytical theology. The "Emuna" approach offers a unified theory of what constitutes the rationality of religious beliefs and why such beliefs should be rational in this sense, based on religious belief itself.