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Durham University

Department of Philosophy

Mystery, Humility and Religious Practice

 Aims and description

The primary aim of the conference is to explore the themes of mystery and humility in contemporary philosophy of religion. Both are established features of Christian religious thought and practice, as well as in other Western and Asian religious and philosophical traditions. A sense of the 'mystery' of the world, it intuitively seems, ought to encourage the epistemological virtue of 'humility', but how this can be cashed out philosophically and in religious practice, is less clear. This conference responds to this unclarity by considering the treatment of mystery and humility in the recent works of David E. Cooper (Durham) and John Cottingham (Reading). Professors Cooper and Cottingham offer alternative accounts of how a sense of 'mystery' should inform human comportment within the world in a way that cultivates humility.

This conference hopes to encourage fruitful dialogue between these two different, but importantly convergent, philosophical perspectives. Whereas Professor Cooper's work is focussed on the theoretical background and on secular, Eastern and Asian manifestations of humility in the face of the mysterious, Professor Cottingham's focus is on the culturally more familiar Western theological tradition and on the religious and aesthetic practices associated with that tradition. Meanwhile, the closely linked concepts central to both philosophers are those of mystery and humility. It is hoped that this conference will inspire reflection among scholars working in the fields of philosophy, philosophy of religion and theology on the themes of mystery, humility and religious practice.

We hope especially that delegates interested in the recent focus on practice in philosophy of religion will benefit from this conference's implicit recognition, reflected in its selection of keynote speakers, of the breadth of cultural, aesthetic and practical manifestations of humility in the face of the mysterious: Eastern and Western, aesthetic and religious. We hope that this conference will make a small but important contribution to a genuinely 'humane' philosophy of religion, both informed by and pertinent to human beings' lived experience of reality.

Date: 14th June 2011 
Invited speakers:
Professor David E. Cooper (University of Durham) - 'Living with Mystery'
Professor John Cottingham (University of Reading) - 'Intimations of the Transcendent'

Organisers: Guy Bennett-Hunter and Ian James Kidd