Journal of Ecumenical Studies - Volume 51, Number 4 (Fall 2016)

What Is Theology without Walls?
Jerry L. Martin

This essay introduces reflections by leading theologians with diverse perspectives on a “research program” in constructive theology that draws on revelations, epiphanies, and enlightenments from multiple religious traditions. If the aim of theology is to understand ultimate reality as fully as possible and if evidence about, and insight into, that reality is not limited to a single tradition, what is needed then is a theology without confessional boundaries, a “theology without walls.”

“True to and True For”: The Problem and Promise of Religious Truth for a Theology without Walls
John J. Thatamanil

This essay seeks to investigate the peculiar challenges that a theology without walls faces on the question of truth. Specifically, the article struggles with two central questions:  (1) Can a theology without walls generate first-order religious truth—knowledge of, not just about, ultimate reality, second-order religious truth? (2) Can a theology without walls navigate the special interpretive challenge posed by religious symbols, namely, that they attempt to be true in two senses simultaneously: true to ultimate reality and true for persons and communities. I will argue, in what follows, that a theology without walls can make important contributions to both questions, even though it faces distinctive challenges along the way. The article argues that, yes, first-order truth is indeed possible for a theology without walls and that at least for some such truth will come by way of multiple religious participation.

Tale of a Theologian without Walls
Robert Cummings Neville

This article provides a detailed autobiographical account of two oddly coupled things. On the one hand, the author has been firmly committed to theology without walls since early childhood, including high school publications in a church newsletter and coming down to a three-volume philosophical theology based on world religions, vulnerable to all perspectives. On the other hand, the author has been actively and deeply religious, including ordination in the United Methodist Church and being the dean of the United Methodist School of Theology at Boston University. Being religious in a particular way is compatible with pursuing theology without walls.

Of Two Minds about a Theology without Walls
S. Mark Heim

This essay explores the coherence and plausibility of a "transreligious theology," asking whether there is, in fact, a distinctive methodology, a novel set of conclusions, or an operative community that could correspond to this project. It seems such a project can be distinguished from comparative theology in incremental respects. It seems questionable that there are major undiscovered options in the religious landscape. There does appear to be a viable audience and even a spiritual community that could find affinity with the project—the religiously unaffiliated but spiritually engaged. In sum, while ambivalent about the future of a theology without walls as a new movement, the author is intrigued by the conversation it fosters.

Without Walls = Multiple Belonging?
Paul Knitter

This essay seeks to identify the differences between theology without walls and comparative religion, comparative theology, and interreligious dialogue. All of these undertakings call for interreligious engagements, but because theology without walls aims not just at what is similar but also at what is true and life-giving, it differs clearly from comparative religion but resembles comparative theology and interreligious dialogue. But, because theology without walls does not have a “home base” in one religious tradition, it differs from both comparative theology and interreligious dialogue. Finally, because the theologian without borders must have multiple home bases, theology without walls bears the greatest resemblance to what is today called Double Belonging.

Which Ultimate(s) Would Theology without Walls Be About?
Jeanine Diller

Is there a possible shared intentional object or objects across the religions about which you could construct a theology without walls? I suggest five possible answers to this question, from the perspectives of ultimological exclusivists, inclusivists, first-order pluralists, second-order pluralists, and error theorists. I conclude that a theology without walls will need an argument against ultimological exclusivism and error theorism and that it might take different shapes depending on which of the other three perspectives we adopt.

Theology without Walls: Toward a Hermeneutics without Boundaries?
Kurt Anders Richardson

Theology has begun to work fruitfully under the cultural conditions of religious pluralization, detraditionalization, and individualization. Respect for conscience is original to the earliest notions of faith as such, and contemporary religious experience continues to develop itself according to this principle. The sense of faith as something that must be exercised with “authenticity” along with the progressive dissolution of precisely defined religious boundaries is producing a number of expressions of trans-religious theology. This essay explores some of the core features of this development.

“We Talking about Us”: Wilfred Cantwell Smith’s Relevance to Theology without Walls
Kenneth Cracknell

“Theology without walls” will need its own theoretical basis. One eminently relevant potential contributor to formulating this will be Wilfred Cantwell Smith (1916–2000), who was vitally involved in providing basic concepts for the burgeoning interfaith dialogue programs of the 1970’s and 1980’s. This essay highlights many of these: the singularity and universality of faith, faith as the foundational category for all human life, “religion in the singular,” and the conceivability of a “world theology.” As we pass from a stage of tentative and intermittent exploratory interfaith dialogue to a time when all of us are gladly involved in “colloquy” (Smith’s term), there is much in Smith’s writings to guide us as we share together in the search for “ultimate value” and “ultimate truth.”

Christian Visions of Vedānta: The Spiritual Exercises of Bede Griffiths and Henri Le Saux
Ankur Barua

Various Roman Catholic figures during the last hundred years have engaged with vedāntic themes relating to self-enquiry. Two Benedictine pioneers of these spiritual exercises, Bede Griffiths and Henri Le Saux (Swami Abhishiktananda), elaborated and practiced these themes through which they sought to articulate visions of the divine presence within humanity. This essay discusses one central aspect of their “experiments with truth,” namely, their experiential and conceptual struggles to point toward the “trinitarian mystery” with the terminology of Advaita Vedānta.

Confucian Ren and Jesus’ Agape as a Basic Virtue toward a More Ecumenical World
William Chang and John Mansford Prior

The equivalence of the Confucian ren and agape in Jesus’ commandment of love is clearly expressed in the fundamental values of humanity, love, the moral virtues, and goodness. These values motivate human beings to live in a more sisterly and brotherly communion. Ren in the Analects signifies to do good, not to disturb or hurt others. Jesus’ agape includes not only the humanist dimension but also a religious and transcendental dimension. However, the similarity between Confucian ren and Jesus’ agape can bridge a sociocultural gap in multicultural societies such as those found in Asia. The following comparative research shows us that Confucian ren and Jesus’ agape are so basic to human virtue that Confucius’s followers and Christians can work together to build a more ecumenical world.

The Confucian Scholar and the Brahmin Sannyasi: Matteo Ricci’s and Roberto de Nobili’s Adaptation to the Social Customs of the Other Traditions and the Legacies for Today
Amy Yu Fu

This essay reflects on the adaptation in seventeenth-century China and India in relation to the practice of Jesuit missionaries Matteo Ricci and Roberto de Nobili, especially their adaptation to indigenous social customs. By comparing their praxis, it concludes that their experiments are insightful for today’s comparative theologians in that they embody the commitment to one’s own tradition and creative openness to other traditions. Their stress on friendship as a religious virtue is also evident. A parallel study of the two missionaries illuminates and enriches how we understand them and their adaptation methodology. The first part is an overview of Ricci’s and de Nobili’s missionary activities. The second turns to Ricci’s adaptation in China: the change of clothes, writing as a way of evangelization, and the controversial concubinage issue. The third part reflects upon de Nobili’s praxis in India, specifically the opposition to and defense of his conversion method, which highlights problems in interreligious learning. An evaluation of the adaptation and concerns for future praxis in comparative theology conclude the essay.

Interfaith Dialogue and British Muslim Prisoners
Tariq Mahmood

This essay shares some of the aspects of my research on “An Islamic Approach to Rehabilitation of Muslim Prisoners: An Empirical Case Study.” Interfaith dialogue can help to explore therapeutic/rehabilitative aspects of faith; it can also be used to engage with the Narrative of Radical Extremism in order to produce a mature understanding of faith among Muslim youth. However, there are many misconceptions, concerns, and questions about interfaith dialogue within the Muslim community—particularly with Muslim prisoners—that need to be carefully understood, explored, and answered through a dialogical approach, not through debate. This essay can be understood as a first step toward such a strategy.

Postcolonial Turn in Christian Theology of Religions: Some Critical Appraisals
Hans Abdiel Harmakaputra

This essay seeks to analyze the postcolonial method in the contemporary discourse of theology of religions. Kwok Pui-lan and Jenny Daggers will be of importance as the compass of this study, because their works are among the first contributions in postcolonial theology that linked to the field of theology of religions—especially that of Daggers, which is more comprehensive than Kwok’s essay. Kwok delivered a critique toward theology of religions as theological enterprise and proposed a postcolonial theology of difference as the alternative for the former. Daggers, who wrote almost a decade after Kwok, suggested a different direction and attempted a more comprehensive construction of the postcolonial theology of religions. Besides delineating Kwok’s and Daggers’s postcolonial thought, this essay will focus on critical analysis and evaluation of each theologian in order to underline their contributions to the current field of theology of religions. Lastly, it briefly sketches some directions for the construction of the postcolonial theology of religions based on both theologians’ contributions and the author’s experience as an Indonesian Christian.