Department of Religious Studies

Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Aloysius Martinich

Wed, May 4, 2005

Why do you think philosophy is important to religious studies?
Traditionally, philosophers have tried to understand the most basic components of reality or the most basic concepts that people have. What kinds of things exist? Does God exist? What is goodness? What is truth? Religion deals with many of the same questions. What philosophy can do is to give religious studies students rational methods for answering some of these questions. Does God exist? If he exists, what is his nature?

What do you like most about teaching Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion?
Most students do not know more than a little about one religious tradition. I like telling them about other ways that people conceive of the divine and helping them to think critically.

Is the philosophy of religion particularly relevant today?
Yes, for three reasons. One is that the philosophy of religion has experienced a resurgence in the last twenty years. Many good philosophers are currently working in the area. Second, as a perennial question, philosophical issues are always important. Third, religion has become extremely important in world affairs. What role religion might legitimately play in politics is especially important today in the United States, Israel, and many Islamic countries. Is any religion true, and are some religions better than others? The new pope, Benedict XVI, caused a stir a few years ago when he said that other religions are deficient compared to the Roman Catholic Church.

How did you first become interested in philosophy?
I've always been philosophical. When I was six or seven I asked my mother, "what makes me me?" I wanted to know why I didn't have the consciousness of someone else. My grandmother used to call me in Croation 'moli Salamun,' small Solomon. I read Plato and Thomas Aquinas in high school, and thought I knew everything. Fortunately, I outgrew that callowness... a couple of years ago.

You have written many books and articles about Thomas Hobbes. What intrigues you about him?
Hobbes was writing near the beginning of the development of modern science, the science of Copernicus and Galileo. Their conclusions constituted a challenge to the traditional beliefs of Christians. Copernican astronomy is heliocentric; the Bible is geocentric. According to modern science, the world is much older than the biblical account has it. Seventeenth century intellectuals had basically three choices: accept modern science and reject Christianity, reject modern science and retain Christianity, or accept modern science and re-interpret the traditional beliefs of Christianity. Hobbes tried to do the last. Like Galileo, Hobbes thought that the Bible does not teach us how the heavens go, but how to go to heaven. Its a book of religion, not a book of cosmology or history. Hobbes reinterpreted Christianity according to the Protestant principle of literal interpretation of the Bible and the elimination of beliefs that came from pagan Greek and Roman religion. His effort was brilliant, but flawed. It enraged conservative theologians, who accused him of being an atheist.

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