Doing Theology Interreligiously: Union and the Legacy of Paul Tillich
Knitter, Paul F., Cross Currents
I think I can summarize in one sentence the message and meaning of today's events: We here at Union are called to take up the job that Paul Tillich left on his desk--a job he could only envision during the last years of his life.
The Legacy of Tillich
Tillich's prophetic vision and hope
As is well known, during his last years, Tillich, as it were, redefined his role as a theologian (much as Union has recently redefined the Tillich Chair), and he realized he would need another lifetime to carry out that role. He was profoundly shaken and inspired by his explorations into other religious traditions (what was then referred to as "the history of religions"), especially in his visit to Japan and in the seminars he taught with Mircea Eliade at the University of Chicago. As Eliade himself describes it:
What he was accomplishing in our unforgettable evenings [of the seminar] was the renewal of his own systematic theology. ... We witnessed in our seminars how Tillich was fighting his way to a new understanding of systematic theology ... [This was] a new phase in Paul Tillich's thought. ... He would write a new Systematic Theology oriented toward and in dialogue with, the whole history of religions. (1)
Of course, he never did write that new Systematic Theology.
Already back in the 1950s and 60s, Tillich was aware that religious diversity, as some theologians put it today, is not just "a matter of fact" (de facto) but "a matter of principle" (de jure)--not just the way things happen to be but the way that they need to be. In theological terms: religious pluralism is God's will. If the manyness and the diversity of religions is the way things are supposed to be, then people who choose to live religiously have to do so in awareness of and in co-existence with people who are religious in different ways than they are. Or, again in contemporary theological language, to be religious today means to be religious interreligiously. Though he did not use such words, that is what Paul Tillich, in the twilight of his life, saw more clearly than most of his theological peers.
If as Christians we are called to be religious interreligiously, that means we also have to do theology interreligiously. That is precisely what Tillich realized when he mused about a whole new rewriting of his Systematic Theology. I would like to unpack his realization for our contemporary context and explore with you what it means for us today--or how we can carry on his legacy here at Union.
I will do this in three steps: First, I will explore how "Being religious interreligiously" is expressed in the praxis of Christian life--that is, in the way Christians try to live out their lives in the world. Then, we will examine how "Doing theology interreligiously" expresses the reflection that flows out of and is demanded by that praxis. Finally, I would like to share some hopes and dreams about what this might mean, practically, for Union's life and curriculum.
Being religious interreligiously: praxis
The praxis of being religious interreligiously is lived out in a threefold urgency that is becoming ever more clear and pressing: the need to build civil society interreligiously, the need to make peace and establish justice interreligiously, and the need to care for the earth interreligiously.
Building civil society interreligiously
Especially during the years of this present Administration in Washington, we Americans have realized the importance, if not the necessity, of building a functioning, active, courageous civil society. All too frequently, we have recognized with surprise and often anger that the government--in economic matters, in environmental issues, in social policy touching issues of race and gender, in military decisions--does not represent the will of the people. The people therefore have to take action, from below, and …
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Publication information: Article title: Doing Theology Interreligiously: Union and the Legacy of Paul Tillich. Contributors: Knitter, Paul F. - Author. Magazine title: Cross Currents. Volume: 61. Issue: 1 Publication date: March 2011. Page number: 117+. © Not available. COPYRIGHT 2011 Gale Group.