This page contains a list of the eight best books on the Philosophy of Religion. Finding good introductory philosophy books can be difficult for two reasons. First, searching google for recommendations usually doesn’t bring up anything useful. Second, phrases like “best books on religion” are ambiguous. One person may be looking for a short, beginner friendly introduction, someone else may want a comprehensive academic overview, a third person may be looking for classic works on religion. This list tries to account for this ambiguity by recommending different types of books on religion. Here are the best books on the philosophy of religion in no particular order:
Publisher’s description: What is the philosophy of religion? How can we distinguish it from theology on the one hand and the psychology/sociology of religious belief on the other? What does it mean to describe God as “eternal”? And should religious people want there to be good arguments for the existence of God, or is religious belief only authentic in the absence of these good arguments?
In this Very Short Introduction Tim Bayne introduces the field of philosophy of religion, and engages with some of the most burning questions that philosophers discuss. Considering how “religion” should be defined, and whether we even need to be able to define it in order to engage in the philosophy of religion, he goes on to discuss whether the existence of God matters. Exploring the problem of evil, Bayne also debates the connection between faith and reason, and the related question of what role reason should play in religious contexts. Shedding light on the relationship between science and religion, Bayne finishes by considering the topics of reincarnation and the afterlife.
An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion – Brian Davies
Publisher’s description: The third edition of An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion provides a critical examination of some fundamental questions posed by religious belief: What does belief in God amount to? Can God’s existence be proved? Is there life after death?
Brian Davies considers these questions and many others, sometimes offering provocative answers of his own, but more often giving readers room to each independent conclusions. He explains how a range of thinkers have approached the subject — including Anselm, Aquinas, Descartes, Leibniz, Hume, and Kant — and also discusses how contemporary author now engage with the issues involved. Completely revised to cover the latest developments in the field, the new edition of this established textbook will prove the ideal introduction for all students of the philosophy of religion.
Philosophy of Religion: A Contemporary Introduction – Keith E. Yandell
Publisher’s description: Keith Yandell’s Philosophy of Religion: A Contemporary Introduction was one of the first textbooks to explore the philosophy of religion with reference to religions other than Christianity. This new, revised edition explores the logical validity and truth claims of several world religions―Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism―with updated, streamlined discussions on important topics in philosophy of religion such as:
- Religious pluralism
- Freedom and responsibility
- Evidentialist Moral Theism>
- Reformed Epistemology
- Doxastic Practice Epistemology
- The problem of evil
- Ontological and cosmological arguments
Philosophy of Religion: An Anthology – Pojman & Rea
Publisher’s description: Philosophy of Religion: AN Anthology uses a balanced blend of classic and contemporary articles to make the philosophy of religion easy to understand. This engaging textbook begins by outlining the traditional concepts of God, then moves into other interesting topics, such as the problem of evil, feminist perspectives of God, and mystical experiences. In addition, Philosophy of Religion: An Anthology presents readers with both the traditional proofs of God’s existence, and the counter arguments. This edition also discusses the interplay between religion and science, religion and faith, and religion and “knowing”.
The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Religion – William Wainwright
Publisher’s description: The philosophy of religion as a distinct discipline is an innovation of the last two hundred years, but its central topics–the existence and nature of the divine, humankind’s relation to it, the nature of religion and its place in human life–have been with us since the inception of philosophy. Philosophers have long critically examined the truth of (and rational justification for) religious claims, and have explored such philosophically interesting phenomena as faith, religious experience and the distinctive features of religious discourse. The second half of the twentieth-century has been an especially fruitful period, with philosophers using new developments in logic and epistemology to mount both sophisticated defenses of, and attacks on, religious claims.
The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Religion contains newly commissioned chapters by 21 prominent experts who cover the field in a comprehensive but accessible manner. Each chapter is expository, critical, and representative of a distinctive viewpoint. The Handbook is divided into two sections. The first, “Problems,” covers the most frequently discussed topics, among them arguments for God’s existence, the problem of evil, and religious epistemology. The second is called “Approaches” and contains four essays assessing the advantages and disadvantages of different methods of practicing philosophy of religion.
The Handbook offers contributors of high stature who present substantive and in-depth treatment of the most central topics. It is a must-have reference for anyone with an interest in philosophy and religion.
Theodicy: Essays on the Goodness of God, the Freedom of Man, and the Origin of Evil – Gottfried Leibniz
Publisher’s description: In order to be truly free, must you act arbitrarily? If an event did not happen, could it have happened? Since there is evil, and God could have made the world without evil, did God fail to pick the best course? Grappling with such simple–yet still intriguing–puzzles, Leibniz was able to present attractively his new theories of the real and the phenomenal, freewill and determinism, and the relation between minds and bodies. Theodicy was Leibniz’s only book-length work to be published in his lifetime, and for many years the work by which he was known to the world. Fully at home with the latest scienctific advances, Leibniz ultimately rejected the new atomistic philosophies of Descartes, Gassendi, and Hobbes, and drew upon the old cosmology of Aristotelian scholasticism. There could be no conflict, he argued between faith and reason, freedom and necessity, natural and divine law. Ingeniously defending his postulate of pre-established harmony, Leibniz made important advances in the precise analysis of concepts.
Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion – David Hume
Publisher’s description: David Hume, the 18th century philosopher, economist, and historian, uses a lively Socratic discussion by three characters to explore the nature of religion and God, particularly whether and how one can know that God exists. Having been accused of heresy during his lifetime, Hume knew not to publish this book until after his death, so he bequeathed the manuscript, a few days before his death, to his printer, but if the printer didn’t publish it within 2 years, the manuscript would go to Hume’s nephew, also named David Hume, which it did and the nephew did publish it.
Religion within the Bounds of Bare Reason – Immanuel Kant
Publisher’s description: Werner S. Pluhar’s masterful rendering of Kant’s major work on religion is meticulously annotated and presented here with a selected bibliography, glossary, and generous index.
Stephen R. Palmquist’s engaging Introduction provides historical background, discusses Religion in the context of Kant’s philosophical system, elucidates Kant’s main arguments, and explores the implications and ongoing relevance of the work.
This list was created by following a method that I’ve found to be useful when searching for introductory philosophy books. It involves:
- browsing required reading lists on university course syllabi
- searching for books using the Open Syllabus Project
- browsing the bibliographies of articles on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- searching for recommendations on philosophy forums
The following sources were used to build this list:
University Course Syllabi:
- Bibliography for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on the Philosophy of Religion
- Bibliography for the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on the Philosophy of Religion
If you’d like to learn more about the philosophy of religion, check out:
- this collection of beginner friendly resources on the Existence of God
- this collection of quotes on God
- Some introductory books on God
And if you’d like to get more philosophy in your life, follow us on Facebook or Twitter or enter your email below to get a quote/passage from a classic work of philosophy delivered to your inbox each day. They include key passages from Plato’s Republic, Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics, Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty, Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil, and many more. Each passage is paired with a link to a beginner friendly article, video, or podcast, so you can easily learn more about that day’s idea. The goal is to make it easier for everyone to get a little bit more philosophy into their life.