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The word 'religion' and 'religious' are used in several ways in Dooyeweerd. This page attempts to distinguish those meanings.

Overall, by 'religious' he did not mean relating to any particular religion or creed, explaining [1984,I,p.57]:

"To the question, what is understood here by religion? I reply: the innate impulse of human selfhood to direct itself toward the true or toward a pretended absolute Origin of all temporal diversity of meaning, which it finds focused concentrically in itself."

The problems in philosophy, Dooyeweerd argued, stem from failure to acknowledge its 'religious' root: theoretical thought is driven by presuppositions that are of a religious nature.

Evidence for the validity of this view comes from the increasing tendency to see humanism and atheism as religions, or at least religious stances. (It even became institutionalised in the UK the other day (April 2008) when humanism was included in the GCSE school curriculum of religious studies.)

Religion as Pistic Aspect

Sometimes 'religious' is used synonymously with 'pistic' or 'faith', especially in those who comment on Dooyeweerd or take his work further. In this sense, 'religious' refers to the pistic aspect of commitment, faith and vision of who and what we are.

The commitment part is especially important: religion is an ultimate commitment of the person, and it also gives us our ultimate vision of who we are. Idolatry, false religion, may be seen as ultimate commitment to a non-Divine.

Religion as 'Super-Modal Sphere'

On [NC II:148], Dooyeweerd spoke about "... the central religious sphere. ... the religious centre of human existence. ... the super-modal sphere of religion, nor with the aspect of faith." From this it is clear that, at least some places of his writing 'religion' is NOT synonymous with the pistic aspect. In this sense, religion is 'super-modal, being above and across all aspects rather than being an aspect itself.

Rather, it seems to be used, as Evan Runner used it when he said "All life is religion." That is, all that we do and are, all our being and all aspects of our being, are to God, from God, with God. There should be not part of our lives that is 'secular' in the sense of being of no interest to God.

But it also has the following meaning ...

Religion as Fundamental Presupposition

Religious are the presuppositions we make, that underlie our world views, ground motives, etc. Presuppositions are not merely logical nor lingual; they are beyond these; they are religious commitments, and they affect all we think, know, do and are.

This sense of the term seems to link to both those above. First, our presuppositions involves a pistic aspect of deep commitment to a way of seeing the world (e.g. in the Nature-Freedom ground motive, we find it very difficult to escape thinking that determinism and freedom are opposites). Second, since it affects all our life, it links to a super-modal all-of-life meaning of religion.


A theme that greatly exercised Dooyeweerd was that of absolutization. This the treating something within the cosmos as absolute. This is the root of both reductionism and idolatry. Reductionism absolutizes an aspect or part of an aspect - such as materialism absolutizes the physical, rationalism absolutizes the analytic, economism absolutizes the economic (or rather that part concerned with production or finance), and so on. Idolatry is the absolutization of something on the entity-side, a thing or event.

Absolutization leads to harm. Nothing in the cosmos can bear the weight of being absolute; only the Divine is absolute. If we absolutize anything we treat it as the source of Meaning for us, and we break its coherence both with the rest of the cosmos and also its Source of Meaning, so that ultimately it loses it meaning. Treating it as all powerful, it ultimately loses its power.

This is part of The Dooyeweerd Pages, which explain, explore and discuss Dooyeweerd's interesting philosophy. Questions or comments are very welcome.

Compiled by Andrew Basden. You may use this material subject to conditions.

Number of visitors to these pages: Counter. Written on the Amiga with Protext.

Created: 4 March 2003. Last updated: 14 November 2003 absolutization. 23 August 2004 spell correction. 21 November 2005 unets. 23 May 2008 Dooyeweerd's quote + humanism as religious studies.