Epistemology of Religious Belief: Wittgenstein, Grammar and the Contemporary World


FCT Project: PTDC/FER-FIL/32203/2017


Grant: € 208.623,07


Period: 1.9.2018-31.8.2021



This project explores a Wittgensteinian framework in epistemology by focusing on religious belief. In particular it concentrates on uses of the concepts of belief, certainty, conviction, doubt, holding for true, knowledge, opinion and proof as they are dealt with in the author’s later thought. Although Wittgenstein himself claimed not to be “a religious man” (yet having a religious point of view upon the world, which most of the times he identified with ethics), he offers us plenty of conceptual instruments for dealing with religious belief. We have selected some specific themes for understanding his grammatical approach as well as its sources and implications. Our starting point is the idea that philosophy of religion is a privileged field to observe the complex relations between Wittgenstein's early and later thought. From a Tractarian view of epistemology as philosophy of psychology to the remarks on hinge propositions in On Certainty, Wittgenstein’s views of epistemology changed and so did his approach to religious belief. If in the Tractatus Wittgenstein tried to formulate a mystical approach, which he connected with a peculiar form of transcendental solipsism, the mature view on religious belief that we find in the post-1929 writings reveals an author concerned with language as it is employed in our daily lives. In order to understand such change we will consider the idea of a “natural religion”, which exposes, with no theological apparatus, essential aspects belonging to human nature. This is exemplified in the robust criticism of J. G. Frazer’s intellectualist descriptions and interpretations of the rituals of primitive societies. We will also consider the question whether the notion of “form(s) of life” in the Philosophical Investigations, a key for understanding “culture”, is meant as a single one, proper to humanity, or rather as a diversity of “forms of life”. Since the rejection of historicity defended by Wittgenstein in matters of religion is strongly reminiscent of J. H. Newman’s Grammar of Assent, we will look at this text as a possible source for Wittgenstein’s conception of grammar. On Certainty is clearly very rich in implications for an epistemology of religious belief and Duncan Pritchard’s “quasi-fideism”, anchored to the work of the later Wittgenstein, has important implications for understanding the nature of religious disagreements, something that is vital in our contemporary world. Existential scepticism as a threat, from a Wittgensteinian standpoint, will also be explored taking Ernest Sosa’s virtue perspectivism as a reference. Since naturalizing approaches to religious belief carried out under the banner of “naturalism” raise the question of its meaning, we will finally assess how they relate to Wittgenstein’s viewpoint on cultural phenomena. One wider ambition of the project is to defend a Wittgensteinian approach to religion, epistemologically informed, that may open the way to interfaith dialogue. 



Nuno Venturinha, NOVA University of Lisbon (PI)

Sofia Miguens, University of Porto (Co-PI)

Modesto Gómez-Alonso, University of La Laguna

Alberto Arruda, University of Lisbon

Alexandra Dias Fortes, NOVA University of Lisbon

Duncan Pritchard, University of California, Irvine / University of Edinburgh

Vicente Sanfélix Vidarte, University of Valencia


Project Fellows

Ricardo N. Henriques (Predoctoral Researcher)

Robert Vinten (Postdoctoral Researcher)



Gorazd Andrejč, University of Groningen / University of Cambridge

José María Ariso, University of La Rioja

Guy Axtell, Radford University

Thomas D. Carroll, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shenzhen

Martin Kusch, University of Vienna

Alois Pichler, University of Bergen

Charles Travis, King's College London

Michael Williams, The Johns Hopkins University



A PhD seminar in Epistemology of Religion is offered by the project in Fall 2018.

Vicente Sanfélix Vidarte gives an intensive PhD seminar in Epistemology of Religion at the IFILNOVA from 14 to 16 November 2018.

Nuno Venturinha speaks on Philosophy, Religion and Society at the Annual Conference Series of the Gil Vicente Library, Lisbon, on 23 November 2018. 

Nuno Venturinha is one of the invited speakers at the international conference New Perspectives in European Philosophy of Religion hosted by the University of Maribor from 28 to 29 November 2018.

A call for a Postdoctoral Contract is launched by the project on 10 December 2018. 

Maria Filomena Molder gives the 1st ERB Project Lecture at the IFILNOVA on 10 December 2018. 

Nuno Venturinha is one of the invited speakers at the international workshop WAB’s and FIBA’s Wittgenstein Editions: An Inventory hosted by the University of Siena from 13 to 15 December 2018.

Wagner Teles de Oliveira gives the 2nd ERB Project Lecture at the IFILNOVA on 14 January 2019.

A call for a Research Fellowship is launched by the project on 22 January 2019.

Modesto Gómez-Alonso gives a seminar at the IFILNOVA devoted to the theme "Wittgenstein: ¿Es posible una deducción trascendental de las proposiciones-gozne?", with a commentary by Sofia Miguens, on 13 February 2019. 

Alois Pichler gives a Masterclass on Wittgenstein's Epistemology of Religion at the IFILNOVA on 22 February 2019.

Ricardo N. Henriques joins the project team as a predoctoral researcher on 1 March 2019.

The project hires Robert Vinten as a postdoctoral researcher on 1 April 2019.

Nuno Venturinha speaks on Autobiographical Writing, Self-knowledge, and the Religious Point of View at the NYC Wittgenstein Workshop organized by the New School for Social Research in New York on 3 May 2019. 

The 1st ERB Project Workshop, with the participation, among others, of the project members Modesto Gómez-Alonso, Sofia Miguens, Duncan Pritchard and Nuno Venturinha, takes place at the IFILNOVA on 28 and 29 June 2019.

Alexandra Dias Fortes and Ricardo N. Henriques contribute papers to the 42th International Wittgenstein Symposium of the Austrian Ludwig Wittgenstein Society held in Kirchberg am Wechsel from 4 to 10 August 2019. 

Sofia Miguens and Nuno Venturinha are invited respondents at the conference Culture and Value after Wittgenstein hosted by the Queen's College at the University of Oxford from 30 August to 1 September 2019.

A Summer Course on Wittgenstein's Remarks on Frazer's The Golden Bough is offered by the project within the NOVA Summer School from 2 to 6 September 2019. 

Modesto Gómez-Alonso and Nuno Venturinha are invited speakers at the international conference Wittgenstein y nuestras certezas hosted by the Autonomous University of Madrid on 21 October 2019.

Nuno Venturinha is one of the invited speakers at the international seminar La normatividad estética, moral y jurídica en Kant: reflexiones contemporáneas hosted by the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), Madrid, on 23 October 2019.

Rob Vinten speaks on Wittgenstein, Buddhism, and Guilt at the Lisbon Mind & Reasoning RIP Seminar on 6 November 2019.

José María Ariso gives a Masterclass on Wittgenstein's Epistemology of Religion at the IFILNOVA on 26 and 28 February 2020.

Robert Vinten gives Three Seminars on Hinge Epistemology and Religious Belief at the University of Porto on 29 April, 6 and 13 May 2020. 

Summer Course on Wittgenstein's On Certainty is offered by the project within the NOVA Summer School from 31 August to 4 September 2020.   



Dias Fortes, Alexandra, "A Method Has Now Been Found": Wittgenstein vs. FrazerContributions of the Austrian Ludwig Wittgenstein Society 27 (2019): 46-47.

Gómez-Alonso, Modesto., Wittgenstein y la justificación de las proposiciones gozneEstudios de Filosofía 60 (2019): 159-182. (Final version)

Gómez-Alonso, Modesto (with Pérez Chico, David), Epistemología de goznes y escepticismo: Observaciones críticas a la tesis de la racionalidad extendidaDisputatio  8, no. 11 (2019): 293-325. [Final Version]

Henriques, Ricardo N., The Impossible Religious Robot: A Wittgensteinian Approach to Religious Sensibility in Non-HumansContributions of the Austrian Ludwig Wittgenstein Society 27 (2019): 102-104.

Henriques, Ricardo N., Thomas D. Carroll: Wittgenstein within the Philosophy of Religion, Wittgenstein-Studien 11 (2019): 291-294.

Miguens, Sofia, Cora Diamond: Reading Wittgenstein with Anscombe, Going On to EthicsWittgenstein-Studien 11 (2019): 299-304.

Sanfélix Vidarte, Vicente (with Tejedor, Chon), Experience and Religious Belief: Wittgenstein's Epistemology of Religion. In Nuno Venturinha (ed.), Special Section: Wittgenstein and Applied Epistemology, Wittgenstein-Studien 10 (2019): 279-293. (Preprint version)

Sanfélix Vidarte, Vicente (with Martorell Campos, Francisco), Pirronismo lógico: La metafilosofía del joven Wittgentein. In David Pérez Chico (ed.), Wittgenstein y el escepticismo: Certeza, paradoja y locura. Zaragoza: Prensas de la Universidad de Zaragoza, 2019, 235-260. (Preprint version

Venturinha, Nuno, Wittgenstein e o Realismo Religioso de BeethovenRevista Portuguesa de Filosofia 74, no. 4 (2018): 1203–1212. (Preprint version)

Venturinha, Nuno, Wittgenstein’s Religious Epistemology and Interfaith Dialogue. In Gorazd Andrejč & Daniel Weiss (eds.), Interpreting Interreligious Relations with Wittgenstein: Philosophy, Theology and Religious Studies. Leiden: Brill, 2019, 97-113.

Venturinha, Nuno, Varieties of Assent: A Historical PerspectiveInternational Journal of Philosophy and Social Values 2, no. 1 (2019): 41-55. (Final version)

Venturinha, Nuno, Wittgenstein's Whewell's Court Lectures: Cambridge 1938-1941, From the Notes by Yorick Smythies, British Journal for the History of Philosophy 28, no. 2 (2020): 423-425.

Venturinha, Nuno, Wittgenstein and the Method of von Wright's Varieties of Goodness, Philosophical Investigations, online first, 8 July 2020.

Vinten, Robert, Guy Axtell: Problems of Religious Luck. Assessing the Limits of Reasonable Religious DisagreementWittgenstein-Studien 11 (2019): 319-330.

Vinten, Robert, Wittgenstein and the Social Sciences: Action, Ideology and Justice. London: Anthem Press, 2020. 


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