Dr Elizabeth Burns

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Dr Elizabeth Burns
Reader in Philosophy of Religion and Programme Director, Divinity by Distance Learning
University of London Worldwide
University of London Worldwide c/o Department of Theology and Religious Studies King's College London Virginia Woolf Building 22 Kingsway London WC2B 6LE
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Research Summary and Profile

Research interests:
Research keywords:
Philosophy of religion, Divine personhood, Problem of evil, Ontological argument, Panentheism, Iris Murdoch, Alvin Plantinga
Summary of research interests and expertise:
I have taught Philosophy of Religion for almost thirty years, and have published papers both in leading journals, including the International Journal for Philosophy of Religion and Religious Studies, and in edited collections. These include work on the philosophy of religion of Iris Murdoch and Alvin Plantinga, divine personhood, the ontological argument, panentheism, the problem of evil in continental philosophy, and feminist philosophy of religion. What is this thing called philosophy of religion? (Routledge) is an introduction to Analytic Philosophy of Religion which draws on texts by scholars from a variety of religious traditions, while Continental Philosophy of Religion in the Cambridge Elements series (Cambridge University Press) focuses on key elements in the work of twelve scholars. I have recently edited a special issue of the European Journal for Philosophy of Religion on philosophy, religion and hope, and my ongoing projects are concerned with the philosophy of Muhammad Iqbal, theodicy, and prayer.
Publication Details

Related publications/articles:

Date Details
03-Dec-2018 Continental Philosophy of Religion


This book in the Cambridge Elements series presents key features from the writings on religion of twelve philosophers working in or influenced by the continental tradition (Hegel, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Rosenzweig, Tillich, Derrida, Caputo, Levinas, Hadot, Jantzen, and Anderson). It argues for a hybrid methodology which enables transformational religious responses to the problems associated with human existence (the existential problems of meaning, suffering, and death) to be supported both by reasoned argument and by revelation, narrative philosophy, and experiential verification.

30-Aug-2018 Patching Plantinga’s Ontological Argument by Making the Murdoch Move


In Jerry L. Walls and Trent Dougherty (eds) Two Dozen (or so) Arguments for God: The Plantinga Project, proceedings of a conference in honour of Alvin Plantinga, Baylor University, Waco, Texas (6-8 November 2014), (Oxford: Oxford University Press), 123-136.

22-Jun-2018 Continental philosophy, evil and suffering


In Jerome Gellman (ed.) The History of Evil from the Mid- Twentieth Century to Today (1950-2018), Volume VI of Chad Meister and Charles Taliaferro (eds) The History of Evil (London: Routledge), 152-166.

09-Oct-2017 What is This Thing Called Philosophy of Religion?


Introduces the core topics studied on philosophy of religion undergraduate courses including: • the meaning of religious language, including 20th century developments • the nature of the Divine, including divine power, wisdom and action? • arguments for the existence of the Divine • challenges to belief in the Divine, including the problems of evil, divine hiddenness and religious diversity • believing without arguments • arguments for life after death, including reincarnation. In addition to the coverage of key themes within the subject area the book explores the topics from the perspectives of the five main world religions, introducing students to the work of scholars from a variety of religious traditions and interpretations of belief.

03-Mar-2017 Feminist Philosophy of Religion


In Donald M. Borchert (ed.) Philosophy: Religion. Macmillan Interdisciplinary Handbooks: Philosophy series. (Farmington Hills, MI: Macmillan Reference USA/Gale, a Cengage Company), 347-360; reprinted in 2017: Carol Hay (ed.) Philosophy: Feminism. Macmillan Interdisciplinary Handbooks: Philosophy series. (Farmington Hills, MI: Macmillan Reference USA/Gale, a Cengage Company), 363-375.

Publications available on SAS-space:

Date Details
The God Delusion: Dawkins on Religion


Is there a distinctively feminist philosophy of religion?


Feminist philosophers of religion such as Grace Jantzen and Pamela Sue Anderson have endeavoured, firstly, to identify masculine bias in the concepts of God found in the scriptures of the world’s religions and in the philosophical writings in which religious beliefs are assessed and proposed and, secondly, to transform the philosophy of religion, and thereby the lives of women, by recommending new or expanded epistemologies and using these to revision a concept of the divine which will inspire both women and men to work for the flourishing of the whole of humankind. It is argued, firstly, that the philosophies of Jantzen and Anderson are by no means as different from each other as they might, at first, appear. Secondly, it is suggested that their epistemologies are not distinctively feminist, and that the classical divine attributes of the Abrahamic faiths do not necessarily privilege the masculine. Perhaps the only way in which a philosophy of religion might be distinctively feminist is by emphasising the inclusion of women. This might mean being more open to concepts of the divine which are not, even in a metaphorical sense, masculine, and enhancing awareness of the ways in which abstract arguments about the divine could be relevant to the practical aspects of human life which have traditionally been the preserve of women. Insofar as these are increasingly also the responsibility of men, however, a feminist philosophy of religion might now be more appropriately characterised as an inclusivist philosophy of religion.

Nov-2012 Ontological arguments from experience: Daniel A. Dombrowski, Iris Murdoch, and the nature of divine reality


Dombrowski and Murdoch offer versions of the ontological argument which aim to avoid two types of objection - those concerned with the nature of the divine, and those concerned with the move from an abstract concept to a mind-independent reality. For both, the nature of the concept of God/Good entails its instantiation, and both supply a supporting argument from experience. It is only Murdoch who successfully negotiates the transition from an abstract concept to the instantiation of that concept, however, and this is achieved by means of an ontological argument from moral experience which, in a reversal of the Kantian doctrine, depends ultimately on a form of the cosmological argument.

Apr-2014 Where the conflict really lies: Plantinga, the challenge of evil, and religious naturalism


In this paper I argue that, although Alvin Plantinga’s Felix Culpa theodicy appears on only two pages of 'Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion and Naturalism' (2011), it is of pivotal importance for the book as a whole. Plantinga argues that there is superficial conflict but deep concord between science and monotheism, and that there is superficial concord but deep conflict between science and naturalism. I contend that the weakness of the Felix Culpa theodicy lends support to the view that there is more than superficial conflict between science and monotheism, and offer an alternative response to the challenge of evil which suggests that there might be, after all, concord between science and (religious) naturalism.

Sep-2014 Classical and revisionary theism on the divine as personal: a rapprochement?


To claim that the divine is a person or personal is, according to Richard Swinburne, ‘the most elementary claim of theism’ (1993, 101). I argue that, whether the classical theist’s concept of the divine as a person or personal is construed as an analogy or a metaphor, or a combination of the two, analysis necessitates qualification of that concept such that any differences between the classical theist’s concept of the divine as a person or personal and revisionary interpretations of that concept are merely superficial. Thus, either the classical theist has more in common with revisionary theism than he/she might care to admit, or classical theism is a multi-faceted position which encompasses interpretations which some might regard as revisionist. This article also explores and employs the use of a gender-neutral pronoun in talk about God.

Jul-2015 Images of reality: Iris Murdoch's five ways from art to religion


Art plays a significant role in Iris Murdoch’s moral philosophy, a major part of which may be interpreted as a proposal for the revision of religious belief. In this paper, I identify within Murdoch’s philosophical writings five distinct but related ways in which great art can assist moral/religious belief and practice: art can reveal to us “the world as we were never able so clearly to see it before”; this revelatory capacity provides us with evidence for the existence of the Good, a metaphor for a transcendent reality of which God was also a symbol; art is a “hall of reflection” in which “everything under the sun can be examined and considered”; art provides us with an analogue for the way in which we should try to perceive our world; and art enables us to transcend our selfish concerns. I consider three possible objections: that Murdoch’s theory is not applicable to all forms of art; that the meaning of works of art is often ambiguous; and that there is disagreement about what constitutes a great work of art. I argue that none of these objections are decisive, and that all forms of art have at least the potential to furnish us with important tools for developing the insight required to live a moral/religious life.

Jan-2017 'What does philosophy of religion offer to the modern university?'


Nov-2018 How to prove the existence of God: an argument for conjoined panentheism


This article offers an argument for a form of panentheism in which the divine is conceived as both ‘God the World’ and ‘God the Good’. ‘God the World’ captures the notion that the totality of everything which exists is ‘in’ God, while acknowledging that, given evil and suffering, not everything is ‘of’ God. ‘God the Good’ encompasses the idea that God is also the universal concept of Goodness, akin to Plato’s Form of the Good as developed by Iris Murdoch, which is inextricably conjoined with God the World because it is the nature of the world which determines the nature of perfect Goodness. This form of ‘conjoined’ panentheism yields a concept of divine personhood which includes both divine agency and human/divine engagement. God the Good is an agent of change by providing human persons with a standard of Goodness against which to measure the goodness of their own actions, while God the World provides the physical embodiment through which God acts. Human engagement with the divine may take a number of forms and may lead to moral action, the means by which the divine acts upon the world and changes it for the better.

Publications available on SAS-space

Additional Publications

Research Projects & Supervisions

Available for doctoral supervision: Yes

Relevant Events

Other editing/publishing activities:

Date Details
2019 Philosophy, Religion and Hope

Guest editor of special issue of the European Journal for Philosophy of Religion, June 2019

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