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Σάββατο, 1 Δεκεμβρίου 2012

Fragile Identities Book Review

Review: Fragile Identies: Towards a Theology of Interreligious Hospitality, by Marianne Moyaert
Axel Takács, Harvard Divinity School
In Fragile Identities, Marianne Moayaert addresses a persistent problem that exists within the encounter of religious traditions: the tension between openness and religious identity. While the subject of her book explicitly deals with interreligious dialogue, i.e., the real encounter between men and women of various religious traditions, the theology of interreligious hospitality that she offers is implicitly a hermeneutics that can be applied to the textual encounter found within comparative theology. The vulnerability to another religious tradition is in constant tension with one’s faith commitment, and thus Moyaert offers one potential method to relieve such tautness. However, while her theology is a promising hermeneutics for both interreligious and comparative theology (admitting that she does not have the latter field in her purview), her focus on soteriology in much of the first half of her book as the main topic within the framework of dialogue, whether between men and women or between texts, is a weakness of her approach, albeit a minor one she quickly rectifies as she enters the core of her argument in the latter half of her book.
She opens with a standard summary of the various theologies of religion. In chapter one, she explains the various strands of exclusivism, inclusivism, and pluralism. As such, the subject of the chapter is Christian soteriology and its relation to other religious traditions.   For her exclusivist voice, she looks to Protestant Evangelical Christianity, and in particular the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization. Her inclusivist voice is Vatican II, and in particular Jacque Dupuis’s Trinitarian Christology. As such, she offers a thoroughly Catholic soteriology that Dupuis calls “inclusive pluralism.” For her pluralist voice, she naturally turns to John Hick. The chapter in itself is an excellent summary for anyone unfamiliar with the theology of religions, as well as a helpful “refresher course” for those already familiar with the various models, especially since the two subsequent chapters are directly related to the theology of religions.
In chapter two, “The Theology of Religions and the Tension between Openness and Closedness,” Moyaert reminds readers of the ramification of “choosing” a theology of religion: each is a soteriology that either promotes or hinders a certain relationship to those of other faiths. With this in mind, she systematically addresses the relationship each soteriological model has with the encounter of the religious other in interreligious dialogue.  Exclusivists, due to their strong religious identity and commitment, are the furthest removed from any sort of successful interreligious exchange, though they may be the most interesting dialogue partners at any given table.  However, Moyaert quickly adds that while “exclusivism goes along with strong religious commitment, it concerns, in our view, a very one-sided view of commitment and identity.” To equate exclusivism with strong religious identity and commitment is certainly based on a particular definition of what it means to be a committed Christian, as many inclusivists, and certainly comparative theologians, would argue that it is out of their Christian identity that they engage other religious traditions, whether textually or through real dialogue. Once again using Dupuis’s soteriology as her example, Moyaert follows with the relationship inclusivism has with interreligious dialogue.  In exclusivism, commitment and openness oppose each other, while in inclusivism, they imply each other. A major underpinning of the openness found in inclusivism, especially Dupuis’s inclusive pluralism, is the difference between Christ being the constitutive savior and the “exclusive” savior. In her own words, “[The belief that divine revelation has reached its fullness in Christ] has to do with the intensity of the relationship between God and Christ and does not in any way mean that the incarnation exhausts the divine mystery of salvation.”[1] God’s mystery is greater than Christ, and as such God reveals Himself in and through other religions as well. However, it must be remembered that no matter what truth is found in other religions, it is always in and through the Trinity, that is, the Holy Spirit and the Logos. All roads lead to Christ, to the Kingdom of God, whether the adherent of another religious tradition realizes it or not (the latter being the case much more often than not). This of course poses a problem in interreligious dialogue. Surely, inclusivism is much more open to dialogue than exclusivism, but what sort of dialogue can exist when such an asymmetrical relationship between the Christian and the other is implied? It is with this question that Moyaert continues by explaining the pluralist critique of inclusivism, followed by the relationship the pluralist model itself has with interreligious dialogue.
After reading the lofty praises the pluralists give themselves as being members of the “best model” for interreligious dialogue, Moyaert successfully offers a three-fold critique of such an assertion in chapter three. Firstly, opposed to the notion that pluralism is “supraconfessional,” she demonstrates that pluralists themselves actually speak and write confessionally. Their message of salvation is the pluralist model, and only those who adhere to it are allowed at the dialogue table. As such, pluralists can even be considered as “exclusivists” themselves. Secondly, she points out how the pluralist hypothesis ignores religious differences; the only differences allowed must be related somehow to the common ground, and thus not really a difference in the first place. It is ironic that the “best model” for interreligious dialogue is one that makes dialogue mute, what Moyaert calls “hermeneutical closedness.” Thirdly, Moyaert criticizes the pluralist hypothesis for not taking religious commitment seriously due to its theory of “expressivism.” Expressivism requires believers “to have an attitude of ‘detachment’ toward these concrete, expressive religious elements.”[2] That is, “the ‘external’ becomes contingent with respect to the personal attitude of faith, and this gives rise to the idea that faith consists in a detached attitude toward the ‘external.’”[3] In opposition to this, Moyaert offers her own theory of “impression,” which maintains that the “external” is just as important as the “internal,” each being tightly intertwined with one another (God “impessing” Himself onto symbols and rituals, rather than humans “expressing” their search for God through humanly constructed symbols and rituals). Her main critique of the pluralist model of expressivism is that it revolves around the active, free self looking for a way “up” to God rather than a God, personal or otherwise, actively seeking a way “down” to being. As such, expressivism sees the externals of religion as superfluous when compared to The Real. Moyaert offers an intriguing reply to expressivism:

Over and against the expressivist theory of religion, which considers the “external” as the clothing of the “internal,” we will argue for a view of religion that assumes the simultaneity and intertwining of both dimensions. This theory of religion points to the fact that concrete religious elements themselves are constitutive for the meaning of experience of the Real.[4]

Moyaert spends the remainder of chapter three eloquently explaining this model in contradistinction to the pluralist model of expressivism.
Chapter four is entitled “The Cultural-Linguistic Theory, Postliberalism, and Religious Incommensurability.” As the title suggests, Moyaert offers an explanation of George Lindbeck’s cultural-linguistic theory within postliberal theology. In her view, Lindbeck’s theory dovetails well with her position of taking the externals of religions, i.e., the particulars, seriously. The cultural-linguistic theory is thus helpful in giving a sound foundation for “particularism” that takes religious commitment and religious “language” (each religion speaking a different language) as something that cannot be ignored at the dialogue table. Nevertheless, Moyaert admits that Lindbeck’s theory goes so far as to completely preclude the possibility of dialogue from ever taking place, as the languages between religions are so great that any sort of dialogue would simply lead to a relativization of Christian truth. For Lindbeck, the question of soteriology, for example, is irrelevant to other religious traditions, as the way Christianity speaks about salvation (the language) is untranslatable into other religious languages. In the end, Moyaert does an excellent job of sifting through the various strains of thought as found in the cultural-linguistic theory, offering the positive and negative contributions it has bequeathed to interreligious dialogue. The more balanced approach to interreligious dialogue appropriates many ideas from the cultural-linguistic theory, and is called particularism:

Whereas postliberalism seems to seal the end of dialogue, particularism emerged as a kind of critical awareness of difference within interreligious dialogue. Particularism seems to be a softer version of what Lindbeck proposes. Or better yet, it seems to appropriate Lindbeck’s cultural-linguistic theory as a way to appreciate difference, but it does not think through the consequences of Lindbeck’s theory regarding the (im-)possibility of interreligious dialogue.[5]

In chapter five, “The End of Dialogue? A Theological Critique of Postliberalism,” Moyaert continues to clarify certain positions of postliberal theology, and concludes with a critique of the negative anthropology of the cultural-linguistic theory. To that end, she offers a counterproposal that brings to light the positive nature of experience based on a theology that takes God’s revelation and creation as an expression of God’s glory and love in the world, something that Lindbeck dismissed.
Chapters six and seven present the crux of Moyaert’s position, and the reader is certainly well prepared for understanding it after a close reading of the previous chapters. Moyaert offers a succinct summary of her position:

The heart of our argument consists in a dialogical reorientation and adaptation of the cultural-linguistic model. Two mutually cohering analogies are central in this reorientation: the analogy between language and religion and the analogy between translation and hermeneutics. Unlike the cultural-linguistic theory of religion, which holds that religions are untranslatable, we will argue that “translation” is a good model for understanding the possibilities and difficulties of hermeneutics in general and of interreligious hermeneutics in particular.[6]

The hermeneutics she presents in chapter six is most relevant to the field of comparative theology in particular.  She begins with a (re-)interpretation of the story of Babel, an interpretation that looks at the positive outcome of linguistic and cultural dispersion. Babel in this case is a blessing for intercultural and interreligious communication, and in fact it is only after the dispersion that real communication, as well as salvation history, begins. The unity of Babel was not the unity God had intended. Rather, “God has in mind a unity for his creation that leaves room for diversity, and a diversity that does not lose sight of connetedness.”[7] It is with this that Moyaert begins her discussion of linguistic hospitality, explaining how the analogy of translation is a helpful one when it comes to interreligious communication.  While every translator will admit that meaning is always lost in translation—“traduttore, traditore,” as the Italian expression goes (translator, traitor)—she believes Lindbeck put too much focus on the loss of meaning and failed to realize how translation gives new life to one’s own religious tradition. Comparative theologians will immediately concur with this belief, especially as they seek “refreshing theological insights” through their comparisons. Moyaert writes that the theological “gain” from translation outweighs any inevitable loss, and to this end she turns to French philosopher Paul Riœur’s linguistic theory. Ricœur considered language to be like “a verbal body through which the human being opens himself up to the world ‘outside’ the body.”[8] Thus, “language is not a place of closure and retreat; rather, it constitutes the always finite anthropological commitment to the world. A person’s mother tongue does not lock him or her in an exclusive ethnic belonging but potentially opens them to the whole of humanity.”[9] Though a successful translation that results in no loss may be futile and impossible, translation nevertheless has continued and will continue for as long as multiple languages exist. That said, Ricœur believes that theory has to listen to practice, and just as dismissing the practice of translation because it is never perfect is absurd, so is dismissing interreligious dialogue because of the risks it entails. Just as the translator serves two masters, the foreign and the familiar, so do those who participate in interreligious dialogue (and even more urgently, those who engage in comparative theology while residing in the isthmus between two traditions).  Moyaert designates this space as “fragile,” the namesake of her book. Moyaert, whether intentionally or not, compares Ricœur’s theory of linguistic translation to dialogue in such a way that calls to mind the fruitful results of engaging in comparative theology:

For Ricœur, translation runs counter to the ethnocentric sacralization of one’s own language and by doing so it also rescues language from a lack of oxygen. To translate means to nourish the familiar with the unknown, and hence to keep the familiar alive. This is the gain of translation. In contrast to Lindbeck, Ricoeur thinks of translation in terms of enrichment. Translation makes it possible to rediscover forgotten dimensions of one’s own language. For it is always possible that translation reveals a meaning which was concealed in the original language. Thus translation has the potentiality of opening people to new horizons of meaning.[10]

Moyaert spends the rest of chapter six elaborating, in breadth and in depth, the connection between Riœur’s translation theory and interreligious dialogue. She discusses the fragile identity of the dialoguers in such a way that richly benefits comparative theologians as well, and in fact argues for the sharing of one’s identity as a necessity for dialogue in the same way that many comparative theologians begin their works with a discussion of “who they are” and “from whence they come,” something she calls “Here is where I stand.” Her theology of interreligious hospitality and hermeneutical openness is thus supremely helpful for comparative theologians, though she may not have had this field in mind (and in fact, any mention of comparative theology in this review has been completely my addition, as Moyaert does not address this field in her book).
In the final chapter (seven), Moyaert theologically analyses the fragility and restlessness found in interreligious dialogue. She argues that interreligious hospitality and hermeneutical openness, taken together, constitute theological virtues. “Hermeneutical openness is not a matter of the intellect alone: the whole person has to be involved in it. If theology is serious about interreligious dialogue, the encounter with the religious other needs to be delimited ritually. For interreligious theology lives by the grace of the ritual sites of hope, connectedness, and trust.”[11] The argument she puts forth is theologically sound, and her view, for obvious reasons, dovetails quite helpfully with the field of comparative theology.
Overall, it is refreshing to see a scholar take interreligious theology as seriously as Moyaert does. She explicitly delineates herself from the so-called detached and objective view of religions and their exoteric practices. In order to do real interreligious theology, one must enter into it with not just the rational intellect, but with the heart as well, and a trust in God. Her theology of interreligious hospitality offers comparative theologians a compelling hermeneutics.  Acknowledging that her focus was on interreligious dialogue, it was still rather surprising that in her discussion of her own hermeneutics, based on Ricœur’s theory, she did not bring up the hermeneutical practices of comparative theology, as what she writes has direct parallels in the writings of recent comparative theologians. Nevertheless, she does go beyond what has been already written by offering a more clarified and specific hermeneutic of interreligious theology, something that will be of paramount use to comparative theologians.
Her protracted focus on soteriology in the beginning of her book was at times rather distracting. At a certain point, it almost seemed like the focus on soteriology in the theology of religions implied that soteriology was the only suitable topic in interreligious dialogue; this of course is not the case. Her implication that everyone chooses a soteriological model when engaging (or not engaging) in dialogue is also debatable. The models, especially Dupuis’s, are very complex at times, and it is doubtful that many dialoguers who learn from other traditions call to mind the complex Trinitarian theology of Dupuis in asking themselves from whence such a learning came (God, the Logos, the Spirit, general revelation, specific revelation, etc.).
Finally, her discussion of the “internals” and “externals” of religions has direct parallels to traditionalism/perennialism, a religious philosophy based on Islamic philosophy that is not that respected in the Western academy for some reason. Nevertheless, her discussion completely ignored the thought of the traditionalists, and whether the academy appreciates their insights or not, they had already elaborated Moyaert’s points on the internals and externals of religions and deserved mention at minimum.
Despite these minor setbacks, Moyaert’s book is a must-read for anyone seeking a helpful hermeneutics for doing comparative theology, especially a hermeneutics that takes the Sacred and other religious traditions seriously.
 http://www.comparativetheology.org/

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