Universiteit Leiden

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Dissertation

Spinoza's Theory of Religion: The Importance of Religion in Spinoza's Thought and Its Implications for State and Society

On 23 October 2019, Yoram Stein defended his thesis 'Spinoza's Theory of Religion: The Importance of Religion in Spinoza's Thought and Its Implications for State and Society'. The doctoral research was supervised by Prof. P.B. Cliteur and Prof. A.A.M. Kinneging.

Author
Yoram Stein
Date
23 October 2019
Links
Leiden Repository

This study builds on the work of Juffermans who has shown that religion takes on three ‘different meanings’ in Spinoza’s works, namely 1. superstition; 2. faith; and 3. philosophical religion. In this way Spinoza has provided us with a nuanced normative theory that can help us to evaluate religions. Different from the Straussian view which considers this theory to be rife with contradictions, this study researches how the three perspectives on religion could exist side by side.Spinoza’s theory of religion, so it is argued, following Fraenkel, belongs to a tradition of philosophical religions. In this tradition the Divine is understood as the perfect exemplar of reasonableness, and historical religions are understood as pedagogical-didactical tools to lead the common people to a life of reason.

Spinoza was not only a critic of religion and the Bible, he also endorsed them for individuals as well as for societies. Spinoza’s religious ideas were understood by Spinoza’s circle of friends as an example of ‘reasonable Christianity’. Spinoza was not in favor of the separation of Church and State. He was a proponent of a state-guided ‘public church’, guarding over the faith of the general population and fighting the superstitious beliefs that can divide society.

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