The question concerning the meaning of religious language has assumed a considerable importance during the last few decades and has presented a formidable challenge to the theologians and philosophers of religion. Some recent and contemporary philosophers have made a searching analysis of the various aspects of this problem and have arrived at different and often diametrically opposed views concerning the meaning of religious language and the function and truth of religion itself. But this work has so for been taken up mainly by the philosophers and theologians of the West. It does not seem to have made any appreciable impact on the philosophers of this country, though the signs or a growing interest in this live issue are visible here and there. The reason of the apathy on the part of philosophers and thinkers of India towards the issue of religious language is understandable. The foundations of religion, its basic tenets and beliefs have not so far been questioned with that ruthlessness and iconoclastic spirit in this country as it is witnessed in the West. So we do not find any particular zeal and earnestness in the philosophical circles of this country to adopt either aggressive or defensive postures in respect of religion and the allied issues.
The present work comprises papers which were presented in an all-India Seminar organized by the Banaras Hindu University on "Religious Language" in March 1974. It is also enriched 'by some special papers contributed by some members of staff of the Department of Philosophy of this University. It also contains a valuable and learned introduction by Professor N. S. S. Raman who has taken great pains in editing it.
The problems concerning religious language have been studied so far mainly in the light of Judaic-Christian tradition. I believe that the question of the factual character of religious assertions can be studied in a more rational and fruitful way in the light of Indian religions which lay supreme emphasis on
knowledge and experience, variously characterised as Para Vidya, Jnana, Prajna, Bodhi, Aparoksanubhuti etc. This emphasis on knowledge is not much in evidence in the Judaic-Christian tradition which puts absolute reliance on the revelation which is imparted to man from the Beyond. The present volume cannot claim to have brought this issue into clear focus, though some attempt has been made in that direction. It is hoped that it will stimulate Indian philosophers and thinkers to study the problems relating to religious language and religion itself in the perspective of Indian religions, specially Hinduism and Buddhism.
I hope scholars of philosophy and religion will find this volume refreshing and useful.
The attitude of the philosopher of religion may be said to have changed during the last hundred years. During my student days, I distinctly remember the fascination which a book like Pringle-Pattisou's Idea of God in Recent Philosophy had for us. J also remember reading William James' Varieties of Religious Experience with a great deal of enthusiasm. Some of these great classics were based on the famous Gifford lectures on 'Natural Theology' delivered in the Scottish universities. Whether these lectures still receive the same intellectual response or not is for us in this country, very difficult to say, but the way the English-speaking circles have taken to linguistic analysis and have applied it to the analysis of religious language is suggestive of the new tendency to ignore the traditional approach to the study of religions. Philosophers appear to be less interested now in the study of religious experience and more enthusiastic about the language in which such experience is expressed. There are also those who examine statements concerning religious objects (e.g. God) which we make as philosophers or as ordinal y men. In spite of the so-called "principle of empirical verification" being bandied about so frequently by the new philosophers, religious statements continue to be made, and I do not know why the analytical philosopher is not so outspoken as to call these statements nonsensical. On the contrary, enquiries are made about the meaningfulness of the religious statements.
It would therefore be unfair to dismiss problems of philosophy of religion as pseudo-problems, because they, like the metaphysical problems are expressed in 'unverifiable' terms. Some linguistic analysts could not pick up any courage, or to put it more mildly were hesitant to apply the same principles of linguistic analysis which they applied to metaphysical statements, to religious, ethical or poetic statements. It became increasingly recognized that these activities did not all pose the same type of problems. Hence the attention of the linguistic analysts was turned towards understanding these special problems, and to analyse the religious, moral or aesthetic statements in a new light. For instance, symbolic utterances and mythical language could not be analysed with the same cold logic that analytical philosophers apply to meta- physical statements. Again, a distinction must be made between religious and theological statements. For example, there is a difference between utterances of a person like Sri Ramakrishna and a professor of theology or of philosophy of religion talking about the ontological argument for the existence of God. Even at the level of Western intellectual history, one finds a wide divergence between the languages of Meister Eckhart and St. Thomas Aquinas. Hence one would doubt the validity of some analytical philosophers speaking of religious language, subsuming under it various types of religious expressions. From this point of view it would be absurd to subject the Upanisadic statements to an acute logical analysis. The analytical philosopher sometimes admits, like R. M. Hare, that there are many things we do with words, each different from the other; thus the scientific use of words would be different from their use in a moral situation or in a religious context. In our view, even in the religious context, words have different kinds of uses. 1 he differences arise not merely due to one's special outlook or rather to what Hare has called -bl iks' but essentially to factors which are non-logical and even irrational in character. The language of symbols, parables, and metaphors is a case in point. We cannot talk about 'facts' in their case, and cannot in any case, apply cold logic in order to verify their validity. We need different kinds of framework to understand them all. A detailed study of religious symbolism, which a philosopher like Paul Tillich would suggest (making all religions symbolic in character), would be a good starting- point, but does not cover the entire range of religious symbolism.
In recent years, the importance of hermeneutics has been emphasized. Hermeneutics if properly understood, should allow for different types and ways of expressing religious consciousness; a proper procedure or rather proper procedures have to be evolved for interpreting various kinds of utterances. In fact, if as Whitehead has remarked (though in a different context), religion is what one does with one's solitude, then the language in which one expresses the dialogue with oneself has to be distinct and unique for each individual. Each encounters the religious truth in his or her own peculiar way, and it is douhtful if they could all be subsumed or• classified into one or a few heads. And if one expresses the encounter with transcendence also in different 'ciphers' (as Karl Jaspers would call them), then there can hardly be a single methodology for its 'study'. In fact it would not even be a topic for any academic study.
In this country, however, we rely a little too much on the Western approach to the philosophy of religion, and therefore we have also taken to analytical philosophy with the same frame of mind. I mean 'Western' in the same sense as being influenced either by those philosophers of religion who respond only to Christianity or at the most to Judaism. Max Muller is reported to have once said, "He who knows only one religion, knows no religion", to which another theologian Adolf von Harnack is said to have responded with words which sound somewhat parochial, "He who knows Christianity, knows all religions". This anecdote illustrates very well the attitude of most Western theologians. It is high time that we in India, which is the home of many of world's great religions, develop our own tradition in the study of religions. Even the Catholic theologians who were reputed to be highly dogmatic in their approach, have in recent years become somewhat more liberal in their attitude to other religions.
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