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Jim Kanaris, Ph.D.
Describing Bernard Lonergan’s relation to philosophy of religion is tricky business, with complications arising on different levels. To begin with, he does not use the term as it is usually understood in the field of the same name. Moreover, he addresses the same issues as philosophers of religion, but under the guise of philosophy of God or natural theology. Finally, he understands idiosyncratically the issue of religious experience, which is now a specialized category in philosophy of religion called upon to support formally rational statements for or against theistic belief. This central issue in Lonergan is further complicated by the fact that his idiosyncratic understanding of (religious) experience plays different roles in his thinking about God and religion. In this study I flesh out the dynamics of these various components, their interrelationships, and their function from early to late development.
My point of departure is a period in Lonergan’s thought where he attributes more to the influence of religious experience in our thinking than at any time prior in his career. In chapter 1 I pursue some reasons that have been given for the tardiness of his response, intimating its nature and what it meant for his controversial “proof” for God’s existence. Something of a detour is taken in chapter 2 since discussion of the concept of religious experience in Lonergan must grapple with what he means by experience in general. I decipher three senses to the term integral to his concept of consciousness that I distinguish from a contemporary model, that of David Chalmers. Since Lonergan is emphatic about distinguishing consciousness from its concept I trace this aspect of his philosophical claim against the background of Kant and Hegel, his main dialogue partners on the question. In chapter 3 I return to the specifically religious dimension of the notion of experience in the early Lonergan. Here I track the development of his category of religious experience as it moves from the periphery to the explanatory basis of his thought. In chapter 4 the relevant later literature in Lonergan is examined in which is seen the emergence of what is technically philosophy of religion to him. Among the distinctions I introduce is the difference between his model of religion and what he calls his philosophy of religion. Conceiving it historically, I see the former, his model of religion, as the departure point for what in his philosophy of religion he sets out to accomplish. They are related, of course, but not one and the same thing. To avoid confusion with the field of the same name, I recommend that we refer to his philosophy of religion as it is literally, as a philosophy of religious studies, distinguishing it firstly from his philosophy of God and secondly from his model of religious experience.
Besides providing a comprehensive understanding of Lonergan’s philosophy of religion, outlining the matter this way also aids in identifying precisely what are the points of contact between Lonergan’s thoughts on God and religion and the issues presently discussed by philosophers of religion. The conclusion offers an example of this at the level of “philosophy of,” the formal component of Lonergan’s philosophy of religion in the generic sense in which I understand it. It represents steps toward a larger project, which I adumbrate in the appendix.