Book Reviews -- By: Anonymous
CAJ 10:1 (Spring 2012) p. 115
Encyclopedia of Philosophers on Religion. Bernard J. Verkamp. McFarland & Co., 2008. 229 pp. $55.00 (hardback). ISBN: 978–0-7864–3286–8.
The Encyclopedia of Philosophers on Religion attempts, by the author’s own words, to “provide a bird’s-eye view of the major points” presented by many different philosophers who have written about religion. Thus the book does not attempt to present a detailed explanation of religious views nor trace a religious concept through history. The book is structured in an encyclopedic format, having one article for each of 152 different philosophers. Note that the book is an encyclopedia of philosophers on religion, not a book explaining philosophy of religion. Thus the articles in the encyclopedia are organized alphabetically by philosopher, not by philosophical topic.
For each philosopher, Verkamp provides two explanations: one summary of the biographical life and background of the philosopher, and one summary of the teaching that the person made. Thus by showing the historical experiences that contributed to the author’s life, Verkamp hopes to help the reader understand the reasons that shaped the philosopher’s viewpoints. For each philosopher, Verkamp provides two or three paragraphs of biographical information and approximately
CAJ 10:1 (Spring 2012) p. 116
two long paragraphs about the philosophical teachings on religion.
The strength of Verkamp’s work is that he documents more philosophers than can be found in any other single work devoted exclusively to religious philosophy. The encyclopedia includes articles on all the major religious philosophers (Augustine, Berkely, Descartes, Heidegger, Hume, Kant, etc.), but also includes philosophers who do not typically appear in introductions or anthologies of religious philosophy (Abe, Bataille, Condorcet, Fackenheim, etc). Verkamp also includes writers such as Bacon and Emerson who are not always thought of as major philosophers of religion, but nevertheless have had a notable impact on the subject. One could legitimately question why Verkamp would include writers such as Emerson and Bacon but leave out Darwin, but this is a judgment call on the part of the author. So the major contribution that Verkamp has made in this encyclopedia is having a single work that documents such a large number of philosophers.
The book has several weaknesses, the most notable being that Verkamp does not go into enough depth to leave the reader with a good explanation of the philosophers’ teachings. The reader cannot truly walk away with a good grasp of a major writer such as Aquinas, Kant, or Leibniz after only a two-paragraph summary of their viewpoints....
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