Philosophy of Religion and Theology: Decoding Difference


Often we have come across people who, in a willy-nilly fashion, make a horrendous mistake of equalizing the term “philosophy of religion” interchangeably with “theology”. Unknowingly, they commit an erroneous equalization which is replete with incorrigible mistakes. What is the way out of such calamity? Let us first trace the meaning of the word “religion”; it could possibly mean something, that is the single most significant thing in the lives of people which is conjoining the human-race with the almighty in a harmonious bond. It stems from the saying of William James, when he contends that: “anything less than god, is not rational and anything more than god is not possible”.

Martineau went a step further in explaining the compact meaning for religion, which is: “Believing in an ever-living god, that is the divine mind, rules the entire universe and maintains the moral relation with the mankind.”. Religion stems from the root word “religare” which means to bind, so, religion in this sense, binds human beings with god (atma and paramatma relation) and human to fellow human beings. Let us see how this elaboration exhorts the appraisal of information that we will unearth below.


It is the case when religion is philosophized, it becomes philosophy of religion- but what is in philosophy? The answer to this question comes from two of the famous names in this domain, i.e. John Dewey’s critical reasoning paradigm and Rene Descartes’s rationalism school of thought. According to Prof. Chad Meister’s book “An introduction to philosophy of religion” where he writes that: “Philosophically reflecting over the religious ideas and this includes the critical examination of all the ideas, proofs of claims, words and content which have been used in the discussion in the religious tradition. This is not the study of a particular religious doctrine but it is interested to study the metaphysical reality behind the doctrinal values, it significantly touches the fundamental questions of what is reality (metaphysics) and how to know things (epistemology). It is not based on the notions of believing the system which they try to investigate, a peculiar trend which is seemingly visible in the theology, rather, on the other hand, they unleash a fair and critical study of the nature and origination of the religion- they do not take anything on face value or simply hold anything to be a word of truth simply because it was revealed by the almighty himself. They do not undertake a presupposition of believing in the truth of god and his words, rather they employ reasoning and critical examination tools of logic to systematize and know the truth. They try to understand the very substance and truth of religion as Prof. Chad Meister famously contends.

To philosophically know, understand and examine the religion is the solemn task of philosophy of religion. They do not fear dogmatic values, believe in orthodox teachings which sets their prejudiced tone, but rather, they believe in free-thinking and use reason as the fundamental basis for their expositions. They do not take a leap in the dark with the help of god but rather lite the candle of logicism and rationalism to guide their way through the path of critically analyzing the nature and scope of religion- they try to understand the religious problem, test the religious knowledge, deity’s notion and its existence as philosophy of religion is mainly interested in the deeper pursuit of answering the type of questions which religion poses, such as the problem of evil. 


Theology believes in the presupposition of the existence of god/gods. It is based on the root word “theo” which means god itself. Theologians use rationality and employ the tools of logic only with an intention to further decorate and enhance their religious belief and make their faith more clear and evident. Theologians respect religious practices. They acknowledge such religious principles and they believe in such traditional customs. Theologians never employ reason with an intention to criticize or abnegate the religion, rather they try to find Remedial solution For the criticism and the negatives that are subsequently highlighted by other people in these religious principles. Theologians fall back on the authority within which they function- they also presuppose the very institution of religion, which they seek to understand and examine. However, their examination never led to the criticism of these so-called traditional practices. 

Theology is divided in two categories that are as follows: The first is Revealed-theology wherein it is believed that the God has himself revealed or has communicated such as in the case of Bible, Quran Vedic knowledge. It is the fact that God has himself expounded over the philosophical treatise. And on the other hand, we have Nature Philosophical theology: It believes that human beings realize God, either by the means of interpretation, reflection, or observation. This is further divided into two more categories that are as follows: Rational theology that is based on logical reasoning And then if you base the argument on Dogmatic, values, emotions, and feelings, then you are siding with the Mystical theology. Whereas the philosophy of religion is not subscribing to such options of religious hegemony, It is an endeavor to put to Critical examination, all the religious claims made. Theology, on the contrary, is the systematic functioning and understanding of the religious sanctums and practices which has belief and faith at the heart of it.


Theology attempts to study the religion, institution of religious tradition from within and it holds these systems to be true already- in the initiation of their study of such institutions. For example: the concept of holy trinity in Christianity, wherein we have the holy spirit, father (god) and son (Jesus) becomes the area of study of theology. According to Galloway, it is the study of structures and institutions related to the religion- their delve in the deeper faculties- in the intricate details of religion only to make their belief more explicit and clear. This idea of having the presumption in the persistence and existence of the god and divine mind and then further building upon the study is what differentiates theology from philosophy of religion. 


Philosophy of Religion views religion with an open, secular viewpoint whereas Theology views and understands religion with a presupposition in their belief- in the faith- trust in god and the existence of holy spirit. We can fairly infer from the above mentioned perspectives that both of these manifestations are diametrically opposite from each other and they are significantly different from each other in their measure and means vis-a-vis religion.  


  1. Introducing Philosophy of Religion, Chad Meister, Routledge Publication, 2009. (
  2. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy-

3. Wikipedia reference:

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B.A Philosophy (Hons.) from Hansraj College, University of Delhi


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