Sensible Religion? A Reflection by Dan Cohn-Sherbok

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Over the years, Ashgate has  been proud to publish important titles by celebrated authors and editors in the field of Theology. Professor Dan Cohn-Sherbok, editor of Sensible Religion alongside the Very Revd. Christopher Lewis, here reflects on what is required from Religion in order for it to hold personal significance. 

Several months ago I attended a retirement party for my co-editor, Christopher Lewis at Christ Church, Oxford. Christopher had been the Dean of the College, and a dinner was held in his honour. The former Regius Professor of Ecclesiastical History was on our table. After dessert I told him about the book Christopher and I just published with Ashgate. ‘It’s called “Sensible Religion”‘, I said.

He leaned back in his chair and chortled. ‘That’s certainly an oxymoron.’

‘An oxymoron..?’

‘Religion isn’t sensible,’ he said. ‘It transcends ordinary experience. It’s about the supernatural. The stories in the Bible aren’t sensible. Moses parting the Red Sea; Jonah being swallowed by a whale; Jesus ascending into heaven. The 3rd century Church Father Tertullian said he believed in the resurrection because it is impossible.’

That was the end of an otherwise agreeable evening. But the Regius Professor was on the wrong track. What is needed today is not magic or fantasy or the irrational. Religion needs to make sense if it is to be relevant. It must appeal to the mind as well as the heart if it is to have significance in people’s lives.

Our book, which contains contributions from leading religious thinkers from across the world’s major traditions, explores the ways in which religion can enrich the lives of believers. The book is based on the conviction that rational, sensible and sensitive religious belief can be a major force for good in the modern world.

Professor Dan Cohn-Sherbok is Professor Emeritus of Judaism at the University of Wales. His co-editor Christopher Lewis is Dean of Christ Church at the University of Oxford. Sensible Religion was published by Ashgate in September 2014.

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