Wittgenstein: Religion and Nonsense

Course details

From £77.50

Sat 12 Jan 2019 - Sun 13 Jan 2019
3.00pm Sat - 2.00pm Sun

Wittgenstein: Religion and Nonsense


Wittgenstein’s ideas about religion have been much more influential than is sometimes thought. The first two lectures will consider this influence, concentrating on Wittgenstein’s remarks on James Frazer’s The Golden Bough and Wittgenstein’s proposal that we overcome the temptation to view certain religious practices as simply confused or nonsensical. We shall look at this through the lens of D.Z.Phillips’ ‘contemplative conception of philosophy’, the purpose of which is to disclose ‘possibilities of sense’ within religious forms of life. In lectures three and four we shall consider the connections between Wittgenstein’s views on ethics and his treatment of value in the Tractatus, and so to his early conception of sense and nonsense in language. It will be suggested that Wittgenstein’s treatment of absolute value in his ‘Lecture on Ethics’, taken together with his comparison of mathematical conjectures with riddles, provides a fruitful way of understanding a range of religious uses of language. It will be claimed that Wittgensteinian sense can be made of the thought that religious language is necessarily nonsensical, but none the worse for that; indeed, if it were not nonsensical, it could not have the significance that religious believers attribute to it, and to the faith it expresses.

Programme details


2.45pm         Course Registration

3.00pm         Wittgenstein, anthropology and the study of religion

                    MIKEL BURLEY

4.30pm         Tea / coffee

5.00pm         Possibilities of sense: D. Z. Phillips’ Wittgenstein-Inspired Contemplative Philosophy of Religion

                    MIKEL BURLEY

6.30pm         Break / bar open

7.00pm         Dinner

8.15pm-        Wittgenstein’s Lecture on Ethics

9.30pm         STEPHEN MULHALL       


8.15am         Breakfast (residents only)

9.30am         Grammatical Thomism: Wittgenstein, Aquinas and nonsense

                    STEPHEN MULHALL

10.45am       Coffee / tea

11.15am        Q & A

                    Questions directed by MARIANNE TALBOT

12.30pm       Break / bar open

1.00pm         Lunch

2.00pm         Course disperses

Recommended reading


Burley, Mikel, ‘Approaches to Philosophy of Religion: Contemplating the World or Trying to Find Our Way Home?’, Religious Studies 51, no. 2 (2015), 221–39.

Clack, Brian R., ‘Wittgenstein and Anthropology’, in A Companion to Wittgenstein, ed.

Hans-Johann Glock and John Hyman (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2017), 627–38.

Wittgenstein,L:  ‘Lecture on Ethics’: in J.C. Klagge and A. Nordmann (eds), Wittgenstein: Philosophical Occasions (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1993).

Diamond, C: ‘Ethics, Imagination and the Method of the Tractatus’: in A. Crary and R. Read (eds), The New Wittgenstein (London: Routledge, 2000)

[Reading the introduction to the Crary and Read collection would provide useful background for Diamond’s article]

Wittgenstein, Lecture on Ethicshttp://www.geocities.jp/mickindex/wittgenstein/witt_lec_et_en.html


Stephen's video introducing Wittgenstein and religion: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OS00cr0jFFA 



Accommodation for this weekend is at Rewley House for Saturday night only.

Depending on availability it may also be possible to extend your stay, please enquire at the time of booking for availability and prices.

All bedrooms are modern, comfortably furnished and each room has tea and coffee making facilities, Freeview television, and Free WiFi and private bath or shower rooms.


Tuition (includes tea/coffee): £77.50
Baguette Sunday: £4.90
Dinner Saturday evening: £20.00
Single B&B Saturday Night: £79.20
Single Room Only Saturday Night : £68.00
Sunday Lunch: £14.00
Twin/Double Room (2 sharing) B&B Saturday night: £112.40
Twin/Double Room Only (2 sharing) Saturday Night: £90.00


If you are in receipt of a state benefit you may be eligible for a reduction of 50% of tuition fees.

If you do not qualify for the concessionary fee but are experiencing financial hardship, you may still be eligible for financial assistance.

Concessionary fees for short courses



Dr Mikel Burley


Mikel (‘Mik’) Burley is Associate Professor of Religion and Philosophy at the University of Leeds. Working across both philosophy and religious studies, his publications include Rebirth and the Stream of Life: A Philosophical Study of Reincarnation, Karma and Ethics (2016) and Contemplating Religious Forms of Life: Wittgenstein and D. Z. Phillips (2012). He is currently editing a volume entitled Wittgenstein, Religion and Ethics: New Perspectives from Philosophy and Theology.


Professor Stephen Mulhall


Stephen Mulhall is a Professor of Philosophy and a Tutorial Fellow of New College, Oxford. His interests include Wittgenstein; Nietzsche, Heidegger and Sartre; the relation between philosophy and the arts; and the relation between philosophy and theology. His most recent books are: The Great Riddle: Wittgenstein and Nonsense, Theology and Philosophy (Oxford University Press, 2015) and On Film: 3rd Edition (Routledge, 2016).


Ms Marianne Talbot

Director of Studies


Marianne Talbot took her first degree at London University, then her B.Phil at Oxford (Corpus Christi College). She has taught for the colleges of Oxford University for 30 years (1987 – 1990 at Pembroke College, 1991 – 2000 at Brasenose College). She has been Director of Studies in Philosophy at OUDCE since 2001. She is the author of Bioethics: An Introduction, and Critical Reasoning: A Romp Through the Foothills of Logic. Marianne’s podcasts have been hugely popular. Two of them have been global number one on iTunesU. One of these (The Nature of Arguments) has been downloaded 7 million times.