Key thinkers on religious knowledge systems

Key thinkers on religious knowledge systems


Adding authority to your TOK essay and presentation

The knowledge questions in your and TOK presentation should be supported not only by your own ideas and evidence, but also by those of other people. We have therefore put together a list of key thinkers for each way of knowing and area of knowledge who will add extra authority to your TOK essay and presentation, and help you to explore the KQs connected to your title. You can see the complete list of key thinkers here.

Beautiful minds

But we’re thinking of more than just the TOK assessment: these minds are the source of some of the most incredible ideas ever put forward, and have shaped the way we view the world and our place in it. So we think they are worth getting to know in their own right, because they will genuinely help you to figure out this mysterious thing called existence.

Making use of these thinkers

We have indicated which elements of the course they are particularly useful for (remember you should be trying to link the different parts of TOK, so don’t just focus on one WOK or AOK in isolation), and we have provided a Wikipedia link for each person. However, you should see this as the point where you begin, rather than end, your exploration of these paradigm-defining figures. We’ve also identified one person for each way of knowing and area of knowledge whom we consider an ESSENTIAL THINKER, due to way they challenge assumptions or provide a particularly important idea. Each of these thinkers are accompanied by a video in which they outline their theories, and which you can quote as a source for your essay or presentation.
TNK = the nature of knowledge
SP = sense perception
HS = the human sciences
IKS = indigenous knowledge systems
NS = the natural sciences
RKS = religious knowledge systems

Black Elk (1863 – 1950)

Black Elk was a Sioux medicine man and spiritual leader. He spoke of the unity of all men, and tried to emphasize the similarity of spiritual beliefs regardless of the different religious traditions from which they came.
Also helps us to explore Faith, SP, ethics, IKS

ESSENTIAL THINKER Darwin, Charles (1809 – 1882)

Darwin was a British geologist and naturalist, and possessor of one of the greatest minds in history. His theory of evolution is one of the most important bases of scientific knowledge, but he is also interesting for the strong faith he held early in his life, which he was forced to question due to his discoveries.

Also helps us to explore Faith, reason, NS

Dawkins, Richard (1941 – )

Dawkins is probably the most famous biologist in the world, best known for his book The Selfish Gene. He has staunch opinions on superstition and religion, which he believes are actively harmful to society. He argues that one’s approach to life should be based on the scientific method.
Also helps us to explore Faith, reason, NS

Einstein, Albert (1879 – 1955)

Probably the best known scientist of the last 300 years, Einstein’s name has become synonymous with genius and creativity. His personal advice to the US government in 1939 led them to become the only country during the war to possess nuclear weapons. He believed in the power of imagination in helping to acquire knowledge.
Also helps us to explore TNK, imagination, reason, NS

Gandhi, Mahatma (1869 – 1948)

Gandhi was a lawyer by training, but soon emerged as the key leader of Indian independence from British colonial rule and oppression. His central idea was non-violent civil disobedience, which he advocated alongside religious tolerance and pluralism.
Also helps us to explore Faith, reason, ethics

Grayling, AC (1949 – )

Grayling is a British philosopher and journalist who will help us to remain objective about applying the rules of ethics, especially when it comes to making judgements about criminal acts. He also has a lot to say on how we acquire knowledge.
Also helps us to explore Reason, ethics

Greene, Graham (1904 – 1991)

Apart from being one of the most interesting writers of the 20th century on the psychological motivations of human behaviour, Greene is interesting to us for what he says on the therapeutic value of writing. For this reason, he is an excellent thinker to consider when it comes to the TOK journal. He was also a noted Catholic, though had a difficult relationship with his faith.
Also helps us to explore Emotion, Faith, intuition, arts, HS

Harris, Sam (1967 – )

Harris is a philosopher, neuroscientists, and writer who is an advocate of skepticism, and who believes that morality needs a solid foundation. This, he proposes, should be based on truths that can only be empirically proven, established by a method akin to those found in natural sciences.
Also helps us to explore Faith, reason, ethics, HS, NS

Hawking, Stephen (1942 – )

Hawking is a Cambridge cosmologist and theoretical physicist. His book A Brief History of Time has sold more copies than any other science book ever written. One key question associated with his ideas is whether they provide us with the complete picture when considering the origins of the universe.
Also helps us to explore NS

Hazleton, Lesley (1945 – )

Hazleton trained as a psychologist before becoming a reporter in the Middle East. She has written extensively on the nature and history of Islam, and the difference in terms of its reality, and how it is perceived.
Also helps us to explore Faith, reason

Henderson, Bobby (1980 – )

Henderson is the founder of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, which he started up to parody the decision by the Kansas State Education Board to allow the teaching of creationism in science lessons alongside the theories of Darwin. He has much to say on causation and correlation – and pirates.
Also helps us to explore Faith, reason, HS

Hitchens, Christopher (1949 – 2011)

Hitchens was a British-American, left wing, privately educated, militantly atheist, pro-interventionist (for war in Iraq), writer, drinker, and smoker, whose life proved that people can be many things at the same time, and should never be pigeon-holed. His (critical) views on religion are probably the most interesting to us as TOK learners, for example, his assertion that belief in an omnipotent God leads to the totalitarian subjugation of the individual.
Also helps us to explore Faith, reason, ethics

Iqbal, Muhammad (1877 – 1938)

Iqbal was born in modern day Pakistan, and combined the arts with politics. Known as the ‘Poet of the East’, he was one of the figures who inspired the Pakistan movement, helping to lead to the establishment of the state in 1947.
Also helps us to explore Faith, arts, ethics, HS

Kierkegaard, Søren (1813 – 1855)

Kierkegaard was a Danish philosopher, poet, theologian, and social thinker. He is interesting to us as one of the first Existentialist thinkers, and for the way in which he combined philosophy with religious faith. He once said: “Prayer does not change God, but it changes him who prays.”
Also helps us to explore TNK, emotion, faith, reason, ethics

Maher, Bill (1956 – )

Maher is an American stand-up comedian and host of the award-winning current affairs show, Real Time with Bill Maher. Maher’s controversial thoughts on religion, and his opinions of faith as a way of knowing, are perfect for debate.
Also helps us to explore Faith, reason, HS

Russell, Bertrand (1872 – 1970)

Russell is one of the towering figures of 20th century thought, and wrote on subjects as diverse as mathematics and the morality of nuclear weapons. His thoughts scatter the TOK course, beginning with the nature of knowledge, and the definition of truth.
Also helps us to explore TNK, reason, ethics, mathematics, NS

Shermer, Michael (1954 – )

Founder of Skeptic magazine, Shermer spends his life debunking myths, exposing frauds, and highlighting fallacies. His key assertion is that before you draw on a supernatural cause for something, you first have to explore all the potential natural causes.
Also helps us to explore Reason, HS, NS

Singer, Isaac Bashevis (1902 – 1991)

Singer was a Polish-American writer and Jewish thinker. He was strident in his view on language, only ever writing in Yiddish, and believed that it wasn’t possible to ‘know’ God.
Also helps us to explore Faith, language, arts, HS

Sivananda, Swami (1887 – 1963)

Sivananda was an Indian Hindu spiritual teacher and yoga expert. He gained a world-side following, and popularized the pasttime of yoga, although for him, yoga was a means to achieve union with God.
Also helps us to explore Faith, SP

Weil, Simone (1909 – 1943)

Weil was a French philosopher, political and religious thinker. She was noted for her compassion towards others, and is also remarkable for her thoughts and opinions on Christianity and other religions.
Also helps us to explore Emotion, faith, imagination, intuition, ethics

Woolf, Virginia (1882 – 1941)

Woolf was a British writer and intellectual. She was one of the key modernist thinkers of the the 20th century, and also held strong opinions about religion.
Also helps us to explore Language, arts, ethics, HS

Cite this page as: Dunn, Michael. Key thinkers on religious knowledge systems (3rd December 2013). Last accessed: 19th March 2018


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