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Module VPR-3331:
20th Century Phil of Religion

Module Facts

Run by School of History, Philosophy and Social Sciences

20 Credits or 10 ECTS Credits

Semester 2

Organiser: Dr Toby Betenson

Overall aims and purpose

At the beginning of the 21st century, the philosophy of religion, at least in the Anglo-American tradition, finds itself at a crossroads. Some philosophers want to see the philosophy of religion increasingly aligned with science and the scientific paradigm. Others consider this to be a mistake, and think it is high-time for the discipline to reappraise its subject, its methods, and its purpose. In this module, we will cover the journey that the philosophy of religion has taken over the course of the past century, indicating how we came to be where we are today. We focus in particular on the revolutionary contribution of Ludwig Wittgenstein, and track the influence of his thought throughout the latter-half of the 20th century and beyond. In the process, we reflect on the ‘meta-philosophy of religion’, enabling ourselves not only to think well about religion, but also to ask what it is to think well or badly about religion.

Course content

The module begins by clarifying the state of the analytic philosophy of religion at the turn of the 20th century, reflecting upon its inheritance of 19th century ‘modernity’. This is contrasted with some concurrent developments in the continental tradition (German Romanticism, Dostoevsky, Nietzsche). This is the context from which, and into which, Wittgenstein speaks. We will cover the early, middle, and late eras of Wittgenstein’s thought, and show the revolutionary impact that his thought had for the philosophy of religion. We track the various directions in which Wittgenstein’s influence was felt; for example, in A. J. Ayer’s verificationism, or those overtly ‘Wittgensteinian’ philosophers of religion such as D. Z. Phillips. The ‘meta-philosophy of religion’ is introduced throughout, as we tackle the question of how best to philosophise about religion.

Assessment Criteria


Shows some knowledge of key areas of the module with acceptable presentation of arguments.


Shows detailed knowledge of key areas covered in the module with the arguments presented in a logical and coherent way.


Shows comprehensive and very detailed understanding of the material covered in the module, with considerable analytic ability or originality.

Learning outcomes

  1. To demonstrate knowledge of, understanding of, and an ability to critically evaluate the major developments that occurred within the philosophy of religion during the 20th century.

  2. To demonstrate knowledge of, understanding of, and an ability to critically evaluate the key concepts within the meta-philosophy of religion.

  3. To analyse, research, and construct a sustained argument applicable to the content of this course, showing some degree of originality.

Assessment Methods

Type Name Description Weight
ESSAY Essay 1 50
EXAM take home exam 50

Teaching and Learning Strategy

Lecture 22
Private study 178

Transferable skills

  • Literacy - Proficiency in reading and writing through a variety of media
  • Computer Literacy - Proficiency in using a varied range of computer software
  • Self-Management - Able to work unsupervised in an efficient, punctual and structured manner. To examine the outcomes of tasks and events, and judge levels of quality and importance
  • Exploring - Able to investigate, research and consider alternatives
  • Information retrieval - Able to access different and multiple sources of information
  • Inter-personal - Able to question, actively listen, examine given answers and interact sensitevely with others
  • Critical analysis & Problem Solving - Able to deconstruct and analyse problems or complex situations. To find solutions to problems through analyses and exploration of all possibilities using appropriate methods, rescources and creativity.
  • Presentation - Able to clearly present information and explanations to an audience. Through the written or oral mode of communication accurately and concisely.
  • Argument - Able to put forward, debate and justify an opinion or a course of action, with an individual or in a wider group setting
  • Self-awareness & Reflectivity - Having an awareness of your own strengths, weaknesses, aims and objectives. Able to regularly review, evaluate and reflect upon the performance of yourself and others

Subject specific skills

  • Articulacy in identifying underlying issues in a wide variety of debates.
  • Precision of thought and expression in the analysis and formulation of complex and controversial problems.
  • Sensitivity in interpretation of religious and philosophical texts drawn from a variety of ages and/or traditions.
  • Clarity and rigour in the critical assessment of arguments presented in such texts.
  • The ability to use and criticise specialised religious and philosophical terminology.
  • The ability to abstract and analyse arguments, and to identify flaws in them, such as false premises and invalid reasoning.
  • The ability to construct rationally persuasive arguments for or against specific religious and philosophical claims.
  • The ability to move between generalisation and appropriately detailed discussion, inventing or discovering examples to support or challenge a position, and distinguishing relevant and irrelevant considerations.
  • The ability to consider unfamiliar ideas and ways of thinking, and to examine critically presuppositions and methods within the disciplines of philosophy and religion.

Courses including this module