CFP: Naturalizing Religion in the Scottish Enlightenment

Sub-topics: The Scottish Enlightenment and

  • the science of human nature; natural beliefs; morality; the self
  • Context and history of the study of religion
  • Natural religion and naturalized religion
  • Natural histories of religion

A conference co-sponsored by the Institute for the Study of Scottish Philosophy, the Center Pieter Gillis and the Center for Ethics of the University of Antwerp
University of Antwerp, 8-10 September 2021

Invited Speakers
Lauren Kopajtic (Fordham University)
Paul Russell (Lund University/University of British Columbia)

A distinctive mark of 18th century Scottish philosophy is a delineation between religion as founded in reason, and religion as a natural phenomenon. This conference’s aim is to focus on the second approach in order to better understand how Scottish Enlightenment thinkers sought to explain religion and its origins by appealing to psychological and sociological mechanisms. Additionally, this conference seeks to discuss the relation between the two ways to study religion (that is, from inquiry into the abstract relation of things on the one hand, and from matter of fact and human nature on the other). Is one approach better than the other? Can religion be reduced to psychological or social mechanisms? Papers on the general study of human nature, the human mind, morality, and changing conceptions of the self in the Scottish Enlightenment are also welcome.

Please send abstracts of maximum 500 words to
Deadline: 17 May, 2021

Conference price (lunches, breaks and conference dinner included):
Registration before/after 10 January 2021:
Regular: €120/€150
ISSP members: €110/€130
Graduate students, retirees and unwaged: €100/€120

Conference address: Prinsstraat 13, 2000 Antwerp
Conference Dinner: Thursday September 9th, 2021

 Although membership is not required, you may join the ISSP here (through EUP's website). ISSP membership includes a digital subscription to the Journal of Scottish Philosophy.



Previous Events:

June/August 2020: Religion and Enlightenment in Eighteenth-Century Scotland [June event at Princeton Theological Seminary cancelled and conference conducted over Zoom in August]

Program Organizers:

Richard B. Sher (New Jersey Institute of Technology), James Foster (University of Sioux Falls)

Plenary Speakers:
  • Sam Fleischacker, University of Illinois, Chicago
  • Martha McGill, University of Warwick

A decade after its memorable 2010 conference on “The Science of Mind and Body in the Scottish Enlightenment,” ECSSS returns to Princeton Theological Seminary for a conference focused on religion and Enlightenment. We invite proposals for 20-minute papers (or 90-minute panels or round tables) on any aspect of this topic, including approaches that are philosophical, historical, theological, literary, scientific or medical, social or political. Papers on other aspects of eighteenth-century Scottish thought and culture are also welcome, as are papers on connections (especially religious and philosophical) between Scotland and North America. 

March 2019: Sociability and Solidarity in Scottish Philosophy

University of Lausanne, Lausanne Switzerland

Program Organizers:

Christian Maurer (University of Lausanne), Giovanni Gellera (University of Lausanne), James Foster (University of Sioux Falls)

Plenary Speakers:
  • Alexander Broadie, University of Glasgow
  • Daniel Carey, NUI Galway
  • Gordon Graham, Princeton Theological Seminary
  • Jacqueline Taylor, University of San Francisco

Societies are kept together by different kinds of glue. Self-interested factors such as the fear of leaving society, and the awareness of various benefits of living with others may play their roles. Yet there are also other factors, such as forms of natural sociability, benevolence and sympathy, solidarity with other members of society, and tolerance with respect to different opinions and values. Sometimes religion is considered helpful for keeping societies together, sometimes it is presented as the very cause of division. The nature, potential and limits of tolerance, sociability, solidarity and the role of religion were discussed by many philosophers in the Scottish tradition, and in particular in the Scottish Enlightenment. The first conference of the new Institute for the Study of Scottish Philosophy (ISSP), to be held in Lausanne (Switzerland) on 8-10 March 2019, will explore these issues.

March 2018: The Scottish Tradition: Explaining its Rise, Understanding its Legacy.

Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton NJ

Program Organizers

James A. Harris (University of St Andrews) and Remy Debes (University of Memphis)

Plenary Speakers
  • Rebecca Copenhaver (Lewis and Clark)
  • Jennifer Keefe (University of Wisconsin, Parkside)
  • Silvia Sebastiani (Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, and École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales)

Opinions differ as to the period of time over which a Scottish philosophical tradition can be identified. Some find signs of it as early as Duns Scotus (1266?-1308) and as late as John Macmurray (1891-1976). Others regard the period of the Scottish Enlightenment as key, locating the tradition’s origins in Francis Hutcheson (1694-1746), its culmination in Sir William Hamilton (1788-1856), and seeing its demise with the rise of the Scottish Idealists led by Edward Caird (1835-1908). Whichever period we focus on, however, its rise and its significance provide further occasions for debate and disagreement. Is the Scottish tradition distinctive in terms of topics and/or philosophical doctrines? Or can it be subsumed without significant loss within the broader category of British moral philosophy? Does it have special strengths in its choice of philosophical method, or is it merely a version of empiricism? Is Hume a key player or an outsider? Is Reid’s ‘common sense’ at the core of it all, or merely one phase in its history? Are the Scottish Idealists to be included or excluded from the tradition? Is there continuing value in identifying a ‘Scottish philosophical tradition’, or is it an ex post facto invention born of nostalgia?

May 2017: Hume’s Dialogues: a Symposium

David Hume’s Dialogues concerning Natural Religion were not published until after his death, probably because of the controversy they were expected to cause. Since their publication there have been deep and wide ranging changes in philosophy, but the Dialogues have retained their ability to generate intense philosophical debate. They remain, arguably, the single most important work ever to be published in the philosophy of religion. The third and final event in the CSSP’s 2016-17 program will be a symposium on the Dialogues.

March 2017: Science in the Scottish Enlightenment

The philosophy of the Scottish Enlightenment was marked by a distinctive ambition – to extend the observational methods of science to the study of the human as well as the physical world. The pursuit of this ambition led to many innovative studies of mind and metaphysics, as well as morality, aesthetics and politics. It also led to an investigation of the methods themselves, and the conception of ‘science’ that underlay them. This conference aims to explore many of these important topics, both philosophically and historically.


Future Events

  • 2022 – Tokyo, Japan: In collaboration with the International Christian University and the ISSP Asian Network.
  • 2023 – St Andrews, Scotland: In collaboration with the University of St Andrews.