Michael R. Slater
DOI:10.22916/jcpc.2022..38.91 Vol.38 : 91-129
This paper compares the naturalistic interpretations of religion offered by the Chinese Confucian philosopher Xunzi (c. 310-219 BCE) and the American pragmatist philosopher John Dewey (1859-1952), and shows how each philosopher reconceived the nature of religious life in fundamentally non-supernatural, ethical, and therapeutic terms. While acknowledging that there are important differences between their respective views―especially on such matters as the nature and scope of ethical knowledge, the nature of ethics, and what form an ideal society will take―and that their views were furthermore shaped by very different historical and cultural contexts, the paper argues that both philosophers nevertheless took this naturalized, ethical and therapeutic conception of religion to be the correct and more profound way to understand religious life, and the best way to develop an appropriate sense of oneness with and reverence for the social and natural worlds that we inhabit. For both Xunzi and Dewey, in short, religious attitudes, experiences, and practices are valuable not because they put us into proper relations with something supernatural, but rather because of their capacity to orient and enrich our lives at both the individual and social levels and put us into proper relations with other human beings and the natural world. Overall, the paper argues that a comparative study of Xunzi’s and Dewey’s interpretations of religion not only reveals features of their thought that we might otherwise miss, but also helps us to better understand the range of possible forms that a naturalistic interpretation of religion can take.
Xunzi, Dewey, religion, comparative philosophy, naturalism