The claim that God speaks, has spoken, and that humans can speak to God, lies at the foundation of the three Abrahamic faiths. From Scriptural interpretation, to prayer and worship, to the reciting of divine names and creeds, human language pervades every aspect of life and thought within Judaism, Islam and Christianity. Although at times unusual, religious speech is not an utterly private language game, incomparable to non-religious forms of speech or from other faith traditions. As such, the physiological and psychological underpinnings of human language form an important, but currently untapped, resource for new theological discovery in the nature of religious speech.
Especially since the linguistic turn in philosophy, language has received a great deal of attention by scholars from all three Abrahamic faiths. Yet, this research has been often done in isolation, adopted an overly defensive posture, or has too often retreated into the unfalsifiable realm of the supernatural, thereby conflating human talk of God with divine speech itself.
The impact of this project will be to reverse these trends by building an interdisciplinary and interfaith network that will explore two Big Questions: How does the evolutionary and psychological development of language shape Judaism, Christianity and Islam? And, how can theologians employ the contrast-based methodology of the linguistic sciences to make progress in understanding religious speech?
A 3-day workshop, year-long seminar series, and conference panel will result in a large grant application and the publication of a conceptual map to guide and inspire future research in a science-engaged comparative theology of language.