Introducing the Network… Anastasia Scrutton

26 04 2013

[Anastasia is a member of the network steering committee, a philosopher at the University of Leeds and author of Thinking through Feeling: God, Emotion and Passibility.]

 

I worked in analytic philosophy of religion during my MA and PhD, but have branched out into the intersection between philosophy of religion and religious studies in my postdoctoral research through an ongoing project on ‘Christian interpretations of depression’. That was partly as a result of having some itchy misgivings about the distance between the propositions/beliefs being analysed in philosophy of religion, and what religious people actually believe. It also arose out of a desire to contribute to discussions and policies about mental illness and religion using the valuable tools of conceptual analysis philosophy of religion has taught me. In particular, the catalyst for my current project was hearing people tell me that they had mentioned experiencing depression to a church minister, and had been told that this was the result of a past sin – it seemed to me that these kinds of beliefs demanded some kind of philosophical analysis and response.

My current project looks at different Christian interpretations of depression – not only that depression is a result of sin, but also that it is bound up with demonic possession or, on the contrary, is actually a sign of the person’s holiness and a gift granted by God (as in the case of some of the mystics). I am also very interested in narratives – usually found in spiritual autobiographies – that adopt a more naturalistic explanation for depression (or where naturalistic and spiritual explanations overlap), but that nevertheless think it can become an opportunity for personal transformation.

One of the challenges for me is working out to what extent my work includes an empirical study of Christian interpretations of mental illness (say, through semi-structured interviews) and to what extent it is purely a conceptual analysis of somewhat abstract and caricatured views (more typical of philosophy of religion). While it would be great to bring together the best of both, it can be difficult conceptually to analyse a belief with any clarity if one is also trying to be true to the fact that that belief is (for the people who hold it) rarely as ‘pure’ or contextually abstracted or consistently held as one would like. In Weberian terms, it is about navigating the study of average and ideal types – and this, I think, gets to the heart of some difficult questions about how we can do philosophy of religion (and perhaps particularly analytic philosophy of religion) with due attention to lived religion. I’m excited to be part of this network and looking forward to discussing these and other important and fascinating questions in the interface between philosophy and religious practice.

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