The philosophy of religion deals with the big questions about God and religion: does God exist? Are we justified in believing in God? Should we make a leap of faith? What ought our response to be to evil and suffering? If God exists, what properties does he have? Are religions compatible with one another? Can we communicate with God through prayer and can he communicate with us through religious experiences? Is a belief in God compatible with a respect for science?
Make the distinction between philosophy of religion and theology. Philosophy of religion attempts to investigate the philosophical underpinnings of religion and religious beliefs – about God, for instance. Theology combines some philosophical reflection on these topics with reflection on religious beliefs that take some of the answers for granted that philosophers of religion would want to question.
Prepare yourself personally for studying philosophy of religion. Unlike other branches of philosophy, philosophy of religion questions and seeks reasons for ideas around religion and faith. For many people, their religious faith (or lack of) is a very personal and subjective matter and discussing it frankly and openly in a classroom may be uncomfortable. Decide whether or not you truly want to take part in such discussions and be prepared to change your mind.
Familiarize yourself with the arguments for and against the existence of God. The three main types of arguments are the cosmological or first cause argument, the ontological argument, and the teleological or design argument.
Explore the ontological argument more deeply. Many philosophers of religion, both theist and atheist, will agree that the ontological argument is perhaps the most interesting of the philosophical arguments for the existence of God.
Consider the epistemic questions about faith. Learn about the idea of fideism, and read up on Pascal’s wager. Attempt to answer the question: is it rational to believe in God? Do believers in God have evidence for their beliefs? If they don’t have evidence, can it still be rational to believe in God? Is religious or spiritual experience evidence?
Consider the divine attributes. Many of the sorts of questions one may ask in Sunday school are actual problems that philosophers of religion attempt to resolve: questions like “can God create a rock so big he couldn’t lift it?” (or Homer Simpson’s variation on the theme: “could Jesus microwave a burrito so hot he couldn’t eat it?”) are questioning the compatibility of the “Omni-max” conception of God (omnipotence, omnipresence, omniscience, Omni-benevolence – God being all-powerful, everywhere, all-knowing and all-loving), specifically whether God’s Omni-max properties ever conflict with one another or with the laws of logic or of nature.
Think about the role of religious language. Some philosophers in the logical positivist movement considered religious language to be cognitively meaningless and to lack reference. Some other philosophers try to interpret religious language in a naturalistic, reductionist manner, reducing claims about God to being claims about ethics. Some mystics and religious thinkers deem it impossible to describe God because of his infiniteness, and so prefer to talk about what God is not – this is described as the via negative. In recent times, many philosophers of religion have interpreted religious language through the lens of Wittgenstein’s latter theories.
Think about the problem of evil. How can we say that we live in a universe created and ruled by an Omni-benevolent and all-powerful God when he allows so much pain and suffering to occur? This question has been a primary line of argument from atheists and agnostics, and one that religious philosophers find the most difficult to answer.
Engage in dialogue and write. It is no good just reading the literature: philosophy is not a spectator sport. Attempt to develop the arguments yourself, think them through, write down your thoughts, and discuss them with others. It can be difficult finding people who have also studied the philosophical literature in depth: this may mean finding people on the Internet, attending seminars, conferences and lectures at universities or becoming a student.