Ruminations after Oxford

So, it is a day or so after the final conference day, and I am now in Maidenhead, in Windsorshire (did I get that right?), next door to some head of state’s home. I visited Louis Constandinos (now there’s a name that has relevance to religion!), a chemist who reads this blog, and he showed my daughter and I a lovely country pub, and found a rather nice pub next to the Thames, with the houseboats and geese and rowers and all. Very picturesque.

The final day of the conference continued to cover questions of the role religion has in causing, or not, tolerance. A lot of comments indicated that religion can be intolerant but coexist, and I suspect this is a function of social evolution rather than intrinsic properties of religions. At the end of the day, there was a panel discussion that will find its way onto the The Science Network that included Richard Dawkins, the always impressive Pat Churchland, and Owen Flanagan, who I now realise I should have done a postdoc with. Keep an eye on that site for the discussion.

One odd claim was made by Roger Trigg and Tony Coady that Dawkins’ claim that it was evil to label children as Catholic or Protestant was unnecessary, since they had not ever seen that, but only “children of Catholics”. I went up to them and said, “I wish I had grown up in your home towns”, as in tolerant Melbourne we used in the mid 60s to throw stones at Catholics kids and they us Proddies, as early as 6 or 7. I think that their view is a function of their social class rather than religion.

Despite that, I found all the participants, even including the Anglican theologian, perfectly nice people, and I was very glad to see the sort of civility I prize in discussion. I fear I am an English Anglican at heart. I’m working on it…

I have decided that the term “religion” is polysemic. It refers to no single property or even cluster of properties. We “define” religion as those social and cognitive and psychological behaviours that happen to approximate our own exemplar of it, even if we are atheists: like the joke about the Irishman asking the atheist if he is a Catholic or Protestant atheist. It is simply not a natural phenomenon. There are a plurality of natural phenomena, such as ritual behaviours, certain cognitive dispositions such as the tendency to take an intentional stance to natural phenomena, and so on, that are natural, but the class, the category of religion, is a mishmash.

This has a lot of impact on both explanations given of religion, and also the moral and political implications. If we are dealing with, say, in-group and out-group behaviours, then religion is not privileged in that respect. If we are dealing with intentionality, neither is religion privileged there. It in the end evaporates in every respect save the social constructed.

I’m offline for a few days as I visit Bath and other places with my daughter, so I won’t be able to prevent Mornington Crescent in the comments.

19 thoughts on “Ruminations after Oxford

  1. Good news – you don’t have to believe in God to be an Anglican. You may have to move to Durham, though.

    Grrl and I are in Riga airport, returning to The Land of Awful Beer (OK Finnish beer is bad, but at least they import the Czech stuff).



    1. Temple? Already? It’s not even noon where I am. Well you people will have your funny ways.




  2. It’s a complete lie. I never met that Wilkins bloke. Nor did he convince me that several arguments I held to be reasonable were in fact utter rubbish. We drank no beer and no one had a curry. That’s not even my name. There is nothing to see here. These aren’t the droids you’re looking for. Move along.

    PZed Magyars is the one true prophet of atheism and my bestest friend ever. So there.


    P.S. Of course some of it might have happened, but only in the National Interest.

    P.P.S. The county is not Windsorshire, don’t be utterly ridiculous. The county is The Royal County of British Superiority, and don’t you forget it. Might I remind you that we used to own everything back in the glory days when clubbing foreigners was ok and women were heard but not seen. Oh it’s all fallen now I tell you, paedophiles on every corner, communists in the bread bin. Bring back Maggie say I.


      1. She is…erm…he is…wait, isn’t that that Cameron bloke…erm…is he different from that Clegg bloke?

        It’s all so confusing, I think I’ll go for a lie down. How was/is Bath?



        1. David Clegg, and Nick Cameron, who can tell them apart? They are both Maggie Thatcher.

          Bath was exhausting and fine I’m staying in Tetbury tonight, though.


  3. That would be Berkshire (pron. Barkshire, and nothing to do with the Berkeley Hunt of rhyming slang fame, although most people seem to think it is.) Home to some Head of State, but also to Ali G.


  4. “and he showed my daughter and I …”

    I understand the desire to appear posh, what in the Home Country and all, but isn’t that “and me”?


  5. “like the joke about the Irishman asking the atheist if he is a Catholic or Protestant atheist.”

    Or the one about the Glaswegian inquiring of a friend whether his new Muslim neighbours are Catholic Muslims or Protestant Muslims.


  6. “Dude, you live where people say “youse guys”.”

    We do not! What a calumny.

    “Youse blokes” perhaps.


  7. “I fear I am an English Anglican at heart.”
    Goddam homophobe.

    Srsly, you expose my ill-kept little secret. I feel much the same way, I think, though I am not now and never have been an actual Anglican, wouldn’t want to make a schism over gay marriage and would fall on the other side of it if it happened, and stubbornly pronounce my Rs. (Some very nice people have pronounced it to be a perfectly good one, in fact.)


  8. ¿u???q ??? o? bu?ob poo?q ?bnou? ???? ?,uop no? pu?? no? ??o??q buo? ?o? ¿p??o? ??? ?o ?p?s ??b?? ??? uo bu??q bu?????ns ????s no? ???


  9. “I fear I am an English Anglican at heart. I’m working on it…”

    This (Welsh) Anglican is reminded of all the times that he’s been mistaken for an Agnostic… 😉

    More seriously, have you seen any of Russ McCutcheon’s work on how the definition of ‘religion’ (he also doubts that any such thing exists) has shaped the discipline of religious studies in the US? It’s pretty interesting stuff, though I’ve no idea how accurate it is, not being a scholar of religious studies working in the US…


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