Defining Religion

Essays in Philosophy of Religion

By Robert Cummings Neville

Subjects: Religion, Theology, Philosophy Of Religion
Hardcover : 9781438469577, 380 pages, January 2018
Paperback : 9781438469584, 380 pages, January 2019

Alternative formats available from:

Table of contents

List of Tables

Part I: Heuristics

Preliminary Remarks

1. Problems of Definition

2. A Heuristic Definition of Religion

3. Theory of Religion in a Pragmatic Philosophical Theology

4. Modeling Ultimate Reality: God, Consciousness, and Emergence
Part II: Pragmatics

Preliminary Remarks

5. A Pragmatic Approach to Religious Experience

6. Semiotics versus Phenomenology: Existential and Hermeneutic Dimensions

7. Hermeneutic and Validity Dimensions of Religious Experience

8. Self-Reliance and the Portability of Pragmatism

Part III: Religious Studies

Preliminary Remarks

9. Why All Theology Should Be Comparative

10. Does the Study of Religion Need Philosophy?

11. Some Recommendations for the Future of Liberal Theology

12. Naturalism: So Easily Wrong
Part IV: Philosophical Theology

Preliminary Remarks

13. A Respectful Alternative to Process Theology: A Letter of Grateful and Affectionate Response to David Ray Griffin’s Whitehead’s Radically Different Postmodern Philosophy: An Argument for Its Contemporary Relevance

14. The Triune God and Creation ex Nihilo, or “The One and the Many” Strikes Again

15. Perpetual Apophasis and the Existential Implosion of Worldviews

16. Ultimate Realities for the Sciences and Humanities
Part V: Players

Preliminary Remarks

17. John E. Smith: Doing Something with American Philosophy

18. Richard Rorty: Pragmatism, Metaphysics, Comparison, and Realism

19. William Desmond’s Philosophical Theology
20. Nancy Frankenberry: Philosopher of Religion, Radical Empiricist, Herald of Contingency


Provides a new orientation to philosophy of religion and a new theory of how religion ought to be defined.


In this collection of essays, written over the past decade, Robert Cummings Neville addresses contemporary debates about the concept of religion and the importance of the comparative method in theology, while advancing and defending his own original definition of religion. Neville's hypothesis is that religion is a cognitive, existential, and practical engagement of ultimate realities—five ultimate conditions of existence that need to be engaged by human beings. The essays, which range from formal articles to invited lectures, develop this hypothesis and explore its ramifications in religious experience, philosophical theology, religious studies, and the works of important thinkers in philosophy of religion. Defining Religion is an excellent introduction to Neville's work, especially to the systematic philosophical theology presented in his magisterial three-volume set Philosophical Theology.

Robert Cummings Neville is Professor of Philosophy, Religion, and Theology and Dean Emeritus of the School of Theology at Boston University. He is the author of many books, including The Good Is One, Its Manifestations Many: Confucian Essays on Metaphysics, Morals, Rituals, Institutions, and Genders, also published by SUNY Press.


"Defining Religion demonstrates the importance of philosophy for critical inquiry into religious phenomena while not excluding questions of truth about first-order issues (such as the nature of ultimate reality). I highly recommend it to comparative theologians, philosophers of religion, and religious studies scholars working in the areas of theory and method. " — Stephen Dawson, Reading Religion

"…the real strength of Neville's book lies in the establishment of a solid, innovative, and axiological well-grounded theory of values … With this book we can—inter alia—learn that even though our opinions, principles, and views are partly conditioned by our practical, theoretical, and cultural experiences, cross-cultural dialogues on such a high level of contemplation offer us genuine hope for expanding our imagination and broadening our horizons. " — China Review International