Comparative Theology and the Problem of Religious Rivalry
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Comparative Theology and the Problem of Religious Rivalry

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A model of interreligious theology that seeks to reconcile the ideal of religious tolerance with an acknowledgement of the extent to which religious communities construct identity on the basis of religious differences., In theological discourse, argues Hugh Nicholson, the political goes "all the way down." One never reaches a bedrock level of politically neutral religious facts, because all theological discourse - even the most sublime, edifying, and "spiritual"-is shot through with polemical elements. Liberal theologies, from the Christian fulfillment theology of the nineteenth century to the pluralist theology of the twentieth, have assumed that religious writings attain spiritual truth and sublimity despite any polemical elements they might contain. Through his analysis and comparison of the Christian mystical theologian Meister Eckhart and his Hindu counterpart IaSkara, Nicholson arrives at a very different conclusion. Polemical elements may in fact constitute the creative source of the expressive power of religious discourses. Wayne Proudfoot has argued that mystical discourses embody a set of rules that repel any determinate understanding of the ineffable object or experience they purport to describe. In Comparative Theology and the Problem of Religious Rivalry, Nicholson suggests that this principle of negation is connected, perhaps through a process of abstraction and sublimation, with the need to distinguish oneself from one's intra- and/or inter-religious adversaries. Nicholson proposes a new model of comparative theology that recognizes and confronts one of the most urgent cultural and political issues of our time: namely, the "return of the political" in the form of anti-secular and fundamentalist movements around the world. This model acknowledges the ineradicable nature of an oppositional dimension of religious discourse, while honoring and even advancing the liberal project of curtailing intolerance and prejudice in the sphere of religion., Introduction ; Part I: Theology and the Political ; 1. The Reunification of Theology and Comparison in the New Comparative Theology ; 2. The Modern Quest to Depoliticize Theology ; 3. From Apologetics to Comparison: Towards a Dialectical Model of Comparative Theology ; Part II: Mysticism East and West Revisited ; 4. Mysticism East and West as Christian Apologetic ; 5. God and the God beyond God in Eckhart and IaSkara ; 6. From Acosmism to Dialectic: IaSkara and Eckhart on the Ontological Status of the Phenomenal World ; 7. Liberative Knowledge as "Living without a Why" ; Conclusion, This book is going to disrupt (I expect) and redirect (I hope) the contemporary, often contorted, discussion on how scholars and/or believers are to deal with religious diversity. In a carefully crafted, broadly informed argument, Nicholson sounds his warning that whether one is a scholar of religious studies or a comparative theologian, to neglect the political element in all religious identities is to imperil not only oneself but the religious other. Nicholson's theoretical case is made all the more convincing when he applies it to a creative and exciting analysis of Rudolf Otto's classic Mysticism East and West. This book will be much talked about. (I'm sure). Paul F. Knitter, Paul Tillich Professor of Theology, World Religions, and Culture, Union Theological Seminary, New York, Hugh Nicholson is Assistant Professor of Theology at Loyola University Chicago. He has published on a wide range of topics in the study of theology and religion, including method in comparative theology, the relation between theology and the study of religion, and selected topics in classical Indian philosophy.

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