“Do Religious Naturalists Really Believe in God?”

Exploring some fundamental issues at the intersection of theology and philosophy.

Sunday, September 13 and Monday, September 14, 2020

10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. EDT and 1:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. EDT each day
(with morning and afternoon breaks)

Using the Zoom platform

Open to the public, but advance registration is required.  

We are honored to dedicate this conference to the memories of two of the Kaplan Center’s esteemed Senior Fellows, Rabbi Dr. Neil Gillman (1933-2017), z”l, and Rabbi Dr. Peter Knobel (1943-2019), z”l, each of whom was an important religious thinker.


The Mordecai M. Kaplan Center for Jewish Peoplehood, Bet Am Shalom Synagogue, and Temple Israel Center are delighted to invite you to attend a conference titled “Do Religious Naturalists Really Believe In God? Exploring some fundamental issues at the intersection of theology and philosophy.”  The conference is intended to appeal both to professionals in the field and to interested non-professionals.

Dr. Jerome A. Stone has written that naturalism “involves the assertion that there seems to be no ontologically distinct and superior realm … to ground, explain, or give meaning to this world. On the positive side it affirms that attention should be focused on the events and processes of this world to provide what degree of explanation and meaning are possible to this life. … There are some happenings or processes in our experience which elicit responses which can appropriately be called religious.  These experiences and responses are similar enough to those nurtured by the paradigm cases of religion that they may be called religious without stretching the word beyond recognition.”

We will try to answer the following questions: What are the possible meanings of “faith,” “mystery,” and “transcendence” in the absence of belief in a supernatural God?  Are at least some varieties of religious naturalism a form of paganism and hence anathema to non-mystical Rabbinic Judaism?  What is the relationship of Pragmatism in philosophy, particularly in the thought and writings of William James and John Dewey, to religious naturalism?  Does accepting absolute epistemic constraints (limitations on our ability to know or discover “the truth”) necessarily preclude metaphysical speculation?

This two-day conference will bring together a wonderful group of scholars, listed below.  Here is the current program:

Sunday, September 13, at 10:00 a.m. EDT

Ari Ackerman – “Kaplan and Heschel on Religious Experience”
Arthur Green – “A Neo-Hasidic Theology: Taking Jewish Monism Out of the Closet”
Kari Tuling – “Divergence or Convergence? Reading David Hartman in the Context of Mordecai Kaplan”

Sunday, September 13, at 1:00 p.m. EDT

Mel Scult – “Kaplan Seeks his God”
Emily Filler – “The God of Liberal Democracy: Mordecai Kaplan’s Pragmatic Theopolitics”
Nadav S. Berman – “Some Remarks on Pantheism, Gnosticism, and the Challenges
of Religious Naturalism”
William Plevan – “Epistemology or Poetics?: Martin Buber and Neil Gillman on Myth”

Monday, September 14, at 10:00 a.m. EDT

Gordon Tucker – “Kaplan, Spinoza, and the Sources of Truth”
Sanford Goldberg – “The Varieties of Religious Naturalism”
Ellen Umansky – “Naturalism in Jewish Feminist Theology: Reimagining Awe and Transcendence”

Monday, September 14, at 1:00 p.m. EDT

Michael Hogue – “Henry Nelson Wieman and American Religious Naturalism”
Rachel Sabath Beit-Halachmi – “Religious Naturalism in the Reform Movement”
Bar Guzi – “The Non-reductive Naturalism of Hans Jonas”
Howard Wettstein – “Naturalism and God” 

Biographical information for our speakers is available here.

For more information about the conference, please contact Dan Cedarbaum, at dan@kaplancenter.org (preferred) or at 847-492-5200.

We hope to see you on September 13.