Reverse-Engineering Belonging: A Foucauldian Archaeology of Multiple Religious Identity

Article excerpt

While comparative theologians struggle to define proscriptively the possibilities for multiple religious belonging and religious pluralism, the adherents of many traditions are already living these seemingly contradictory categories. (1) Although it would be possible to adopt a paternalistic attitude toward these practices and presume that the religious faithful simply do not know what they are doing, it ought also to be possible to read theology off the lived experience of religious practitioners. In systematic attempts to harmonize the apparent contradictions of multiple belonging, appeals are often made to non-Western logic, which does not hold noncontradiction to be foundational to reason. In the case of Christian thought, this seems unsatisfactory, if not a rhetorical impossibility.

I will explore the possibility of "reverse-engineering" the mechanism of multiple religious belonging. Rather than looking first to doctrine to determine whether there is room for multiple religious belonging, I will examine theological claims from those who are already claiming to be multiply religious. I will examine two particular cases. These cases should not be understood as archetypical or normative; rather, they are two well-documented cases of individuals living religiously multiple lives and leaving expressed records of doing--or having done--so.

First, I will look to the Buddhist-Christianity expressed by Paul Knitter, specifically through the book Without Buddha, 1 Could Not Be a Christian. This particular volume exhibits Knitter's reflective self-understanding of what his Buddhist practice has meant for his Christian faith, rather than being an instance of the problem of priority mentioned above. Knitter has maintained throughout that his is a Christianity modified by--but not syncretistically joined to--Buddhism. His explanations focus on the practical aspects of this lived duality without either foregrounding or ignoring their theological implications.

Next, I will look to the Muslim-Christian dual belonging of Ann Holmes Redding, who provides an interesting example, as her dual belonging was officially rejected by her Christian community's hierarchy. Now a former Episcopalian priest, Redding claimed a dual identity with Islam in 2006. Slightly more than a year of controversy followed, with her eventual removal from the pulpit in mid-2007. Redding has not treated this issue at book length herself, but the volume she co-wrote with Jamal Rahman and Kathleen Schmitt Elias--Out of Darkness into Light: Spiritual Guidance in the Quran with Reflections from Jewish and Christian Sources (2)--contains numerous reflections on qur'anic texts from the position of being both Muslim and Christian. In addition to her contributions to that volume, this essay will focus on newspaper and periodical reports from the time of her removal from the rolls of authorized Episcopalian ministry.

Methodologically, these examinations will be closer to the concept of "archaeology" as defined by Michel Foucault than to theological analysis of doctrinal claims to exclusivity. The primary aim here is to establish the actual practice and practicability of multiple--or at least dual--religious belonging. In short, the two central questions examined will be how multiple religious belonging is practiced in varying traditions and how this practiced multiple belonging can relate to doctrinal and institutional claims on the practitioner's religious loyalties. In invoking Foucault, I seek to acknowledge and validate the way in which multiple religious belonging represents a rupture in both traditions claimed by the practitioner. The Foucauldian method will allow a sense of history via sequential ruptures over and against a sense of history as continuous progress to be read from the lives of these two multiply religious authors.

I wish to point out at the onset that these two authors share a common basis as Western Christians seeking and finding religious fulfillment in non-Western religious traditions. …