Oakeshott on Religion, Science and Politics

Here are the abstracts for the forthcoming Zygon: A Journal of Religion and Science symposium on Oakeshott.

Elizabeth Corey (Baylor)

RELIGION AND THE MODE OF PRACTICE IN MICHAEL OAKESHOTT

Michael Oakeshott’s religious view of the world stands behind much of his political and philosophical writing. The present essay proceeds first by discussing Oakeshott’s view of religion and the mode of practice in his own terms. I then attempt to illuminate his idea of religion by describing it in less technical language, drawing also upon other thinkers such as Georg Simmel and George Santayana, who share similar views. I then turn to an evaluation of Oakeshott’s view as a whole, considering whether his ideas about religion can stand up to careful scrutiny and whether they have value for present-day reflection on religion.

Timothy Fuller (Colorado College)

OAKESHOTT ON THE CHARACTER OF RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE: NEED THERE BE A CONFLICT BETWEEN SCIENCE AND RELIGION?

Michael Oakeshott reflected on the character of religious experience in various writings throughout his life. In Experience and its Modes (1933) he analyzed “science” as a distinctive “mode” or account of experience as a whole, identifying those assumptions necessary for science to achieve its coherent account of experience in contrast to other “modes of experience” whose quests for coherence depend on different assumptions. Religious experience he thought was integral to the “practical mode.” The latter experiences the world as interminable tension between “what is” and “what ought to be.” The question, Is there a conflict between science and religion? is actually, in Oakeshott’s approach, the question, Is there a conflict between the scientific mode of experience and the practical mode? Insofar as we tend to treat every question as a practical one, these questions seem to make sense. But Oakeshott’s analysis leads to the view that “scientific experience” and “religious experience” are categorically different accounts of experience abstracted from the whole of experience. They are voices of experience which may speak to each other, but they are not ordered hierarchically. Nor can either absorb the other without insoluble contradictions.

Byron Kaldis (The Hellenic Open University)

OAKESHOTT ON SCIENCE AS A MODE OF EXPERIENCE

This paper offers a critical exposition and reconstruction of Michael Oakeshott’s views on natural science. The principal aim is to enrich Oakeshott’s modal schema either by throwing light on it in terms of its internal consistency or by bringing to bear on it recent developments in philosophy in general or the philosophy of science in particular. The discussion brings forth the special place reserved for philosophy, the crucial tenet of the separateness of these modes seen as Leibnizian monads as well as the special status allowed to science. It considers the possibility of combining one moment of philosophical thinking, namely ethics, with science in the midst of such modal separateness. Section I offers a general introduction of how to approach Oakeshott’s views on science. Section II stresses philosophy and its relation to science, while Section III elaborates on what the modes of experience are meant to be and how science is placed amongst them. Section IV examines Oakeshott’s more particular views on science.

Corey Abel (USAFA)

OAKESHOTIAN MODES AT THE CROSSROADS OF THE EVOLUTION DEBATES

This paper examines Michael Oakeshott’s theory of modes of experience in light of today’s evolution debates, and argues that in much of our current debate science and religion irrelevantly attack each other or, less commonly but still irrelevantly, seek out support from the other. The paper takes this opportunity to analyze Oakeshott’s idea of religion, and finds links between his early “holistic” theory of the state, his individualistic account of religious sensibility, and his theory of political, moral, and religious authority. By doing so, it shows that a modern individualistic theory of the state need not be barrenly secular, while also suggesting that a religious sensibility need not be translated into an overmastering desire to use state power to pursue moral or spiritual ends in politics. Finally, the paper suggests that Oakeshott’s vision of a civil conversation, as both a metaphor for Western civilization and as a quasi-ethical ideal, shows us how we might balance the recognition of diverse modal truths, the pursuit of singular religious or philosophic truth, and a free political order.

Efraim Podoksik (Hebrew University)

Review of Elizabeth Corey’s Michael Oakeshott on Religion, Aesthetics, and Politics