Religious Assertion

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According to a standard theory of religious language, the affirmation of indicative religious sentence such as ‘God created the universe’ is an assertion with the propositional content that God created the universe that conventionally expresses the speaker’s belief in that content. Opposition to this ‘face value’ approach – which ranges from Maimonides and Dionysius to Berkeley and Wittgenstein – has tended to offer radical alternatives, for instance, that indicative religious utterances are not assertions but express a different speech act, or that religious utterances do not communicate beliefs in what is said. This paper brings together the traditional debate about the interpretation of religious affirmations with contemporary constitutive norm theories of assertion in the philosophy of language. The paper defends a novel ‘moderate’ theory of religious affirmation that rejects both the face value and opposition approaches. It is argued, against the face value theory, that religious affirmations are normatively distinct from assertions; religious discourse is in this respect distinct from other areas of discourse. It is also argued, against the radical opposition, that a theory of religious affirmation should not undermine either the face value representational content or belief-reporting role of indicative religious utterances. The moderate theory shows how it is possible to do justice to the distinctiveness of religious discourse while staying in accordance with the evidence of how speakers use religious language.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationOxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Print)9780198806967
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Assertion
  • Religious language
  • Religious belief
  • Speech acts
  • Norms


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