Locating: ii The Formation of Religious Concepts

  • Patrick Sherry
Part of the Library of Philosophy and Religion book series (LPR)


In the last chapter we considered the different kinds of facts which form the background of men‘s religious responses. Now I want to link this background to religious language by saying something about how religious concepts are formed. My procedure will be to consider concept formation generally, to criticise certain theories about it which are found among both theologians and philosophers, and then to consider some of the special problems of religious concepts. But it might be as well to say first a little more about why the subject is both so difficult and so important, and to differentiate between the various kinds of religious concept. In Chapter 3 I suggested a rough and ready division of types of religious language, and I think that this will still serve our purposes in the present context:
  1. (1)

    Specifically religious concepts, e.g. ‘God’, ‘Brahman’, ‘heaven’, ‘holiness’, ‘sacrament’, ‘devil’ and ‘pilgrimage’. Professional theologians also use concepts like ‘transubstantiation’ or ‘hypostatic union’ which may well be unknown to the ordinary religious believer. But many of these concepts belong to my second category:

  2. (2)

    Metaphysical concepts, e.g. ‘omniscient’, ‘infinite’, ‘transcendent’ and ‘spirit’.

  3. (3)

    Analogical concepts, e.g. ‘father’, ‘life’, ‘cause’, ‘make’ or ‘love’. Many terms which we think of as specifically religious, e.g. ‘redeemer’, ‘revelation’, ‘grace’, ‘salvation’ and ‘Providence’, might be classified as analogical because they originally had a non-religious sense, even if they have now largely lost this.

  4. (3)

    Ordinary concepts, e.g. ‘death’, ‘peace’, ‘just’, ‘crucify’ or ‘forgive’.



Concept Formation Religious Experience Theoretical Term Religious Doctrine Religious Language 
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Copyright information

© Patrick Sherry 1977

Authors and Affiliations

  • Patrick Sherry
    • 1
  1. 1.University of LancasterUK

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