24th Conference of the European Society for Philosophy of Religion – Human Nature and Religion

Human Nature and Religion

The 24th Conference of the European Society for Philosophy of Religion (ESPR) will take place at the
University of Trento, Department of Philosophy and Literature, Trento (Italy) from September 3 – 6, 2024.

The ESPR Conference 2024 will focus on the theme of “human nature” from the perspective of the philosophy of religion and theology. Although the notion of human nature may be questioned from different perspectives and even rejected (for example, from the perspective of evolutionary biology, cultural anthropology, and moral relativism), it continues to play a significant role in philosophical reflection. On the one hand, “human nature” has a descriptive meaning, indicating how the human being is made, the set of physical, biological, and cognitive components distinguishing human beings from other living and non-living entities and making them unique. On the other hand, “human nature” has a prescriptive meaning, indicating the set of attitudes, abilities, and actions that make human beings rich in value and human life rich in meaning. In this sense, the notion of human nature still seems ethically relevant, especially today when technology can produce radical transformations in human beings. ESPR Conference 2024 invites papers that explore those issues within any of the following sub-themes:

Sub-theme 1: Metaphysical and epistemological issues
Over the centuries, philosophers have formulated various theories of human nature based on different metaphysical assumptions (dualism, materialism, hylomorphism, etc.). How do such theories interact with current empirical research on human nature? Is there room for them in the framework of the progressive naturalization of philosophical anthropology? What is the proper method for investigating human nature at the intersection of philosophy, science, religion, and theology? Philosophical theories of human nature can be combined with religious worldviews. What’s the right way to do it? Is it the mysterious character of human nature that leads to the religious dimension? Is it rational to think that human beings’ knowledge of themselves ultimately derives from a divine revelation? Does the connection with religion derive from the fact that human beings have a “desiderium naturale Dei”, that is, they are “capax Dei”? Is there a philosophical theory of human nature that can best be combined or even integrated into a religious worldview? Traditionally, dualism has been the best candidate for this, but today, for example, “Christian materialists” contend this privilege. What might the philosophy of mind contribute to a solution of this problem?

Sub-theme 2: Human Nature, Human Destiny, and Transhumanism
The question of human nature is relevant for earthly life and understanding the phenomenon of death and, if it exists, the afterlife. Is death, as it seems, something that essentially belongs to human nature? From a religious perspective, does the finitude of the human being imply death in any case? In what form can religions reconcile the human being with the phenomenon of death? Are religious imagination and theological doctrines of the afterlife rationally and morally plausible? The moral and spiritual flourishing of the human being is conceived by different religious traditions as a state of “perfection”. Does such a notion make sense? What is the relationship between “perfection” and “perfectibility”? Is it plausible to think of the perfection of the human being as a result of physical and cognitive enhancement? Are the finiteness and vulnerability of the human being at odds with an ideal of perfection or perfectibility, both religious and secular? Today, the belief that science and technology can bring about human immortality is spreading. Are “transhumanism” and “posthumanism” religious substitutes or are they the religions of the future? If human beings survive the death of the physical body, how do they continue to exist? Does only one component of the human being continue to exist, or does it continue to be a “whole”? Is it plausible to think that in earthly immortality or in the afterlife, a human being continues to be a “subjectivity” or a “person”? Religious worldviews offer different views of the afterlife but agree on its existence. Is there any evidence of an afterlife? Are there convincing philosophical arguments in favor of reincarnation or resurrection? Does human survival in the afterlife as “souls” make sense?

Sub-theme 3: Human Nature and Religious Diversity
“Human nature” is often presented as a universal concept; however, every great religion has its own understanding of human nature. What are the different religious notions of human nature? To what extent do they converge, and to what extent do they diverge? Can the notion of human nature be employed to develop a comparative view of religions? Might the project of global philosophy of religion benefit from it? This notion potentially has a critical function concerning religious diversity. Is it legitimate to relativize religious differences in the name of a supposedly common human nature? Does it still make sense to aspire, as people did in the 19th century, to a future “religion of humanity”? Should a hypothetical future “religion of humanity” be conceived as the result of religious syncretism or as a “super-religion” entirely different from existing ones? More modestly, can the notion of human nature be useful for interreligious dialogue and interreligious theology? Might it play a role in the critique of religious fundamentalism?

Sub-theme 4: Ethical and Political Issues
“Human nature” traditionally has ethical connotations. It points to what suits human beings for their moral and spiritual flourishing. However, does use of the term commit us to a particular conception of human beings? Is the diversity of goods to which human beings aspire adequately represented by such a concept? Can it accommodate sexual and gender diversity? To what extent is its meaning expandable without losing its function? Classical political philosophy, both ancient and modern, is based on a particular conception of human nature. Does it still make sense in a pluralistic social context? Is the notion of human nature a privileged tool for biopolitics, or might it offer a barrier? Are the notions of human nature and that of the common good of a political community connected? Can we still give a religious meaning to the relationship between the “common good” and the “supreme good”? Human rights are often based on the notion of human nature. How do different religious conceptions of human nature contribute, or fail to contribute, to the ethics of human rights?

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