How to Do Comparative Theology

How to Do Comparative Theology

How to Do Comparative Theology

How to Do Comparative Theology


For a generation and more, the contribution of Christian theology to interreligious understanding has been a subject of debate. Some think of theological perspectives are of themselves inherently too narrow to support interreligious learning, and argue for an approach that is neutral or, on a more popular level, grounded simply open-minded direct experience. In response, comparative theology argues that theology, as faith seeking understanding, offers a vital perspective and a way of advancing interreligious dialogue, aided rather than hindered by commitments; theological perspectives can both complement and step beyond the study of religions by methods detached and merely neutral. Thus comparative theology has been successful in persuading many that interreligious learning from one faith perspective to another is both possible and worthwhile, and so the work of comparative theology has become more recognized and established globally. With this success there has come to the fore new challenges regarding method: How does one do comparative theological work in a way that is theologically grounded, genuinely open to learning from the other, sophisticated in pursuing comparisons, and fruitful on both the academic and practical levels?

How To Do Comparative Theology therefore contributes to the maturation of method in the field of comparative theological studies, learning across religious borders, by bringing together essays drawing on different Christian traditions of learning, Judaism and Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism, the wisdom of senior scholars, and also insights from a younger generation of scholars who have studied theology and religion in new ways, and are more attuned to the language of the "spiritual but not religious." The essays in this volume show great diversity in method, and also--over and again and from many angles--coherence in intent, a commitment to one learning from the other, and a confidence that one's home tradition benefits from fair and unhampered learning from other and very different spiritual and religious traditions. It therefore shows the diversity and coherence of comparative theology as an emerging discipline today.


Francis X. Clooney, S.J., and Klaus von Stosch

The fifteen essays collected in How to Do Comparative Theology are the fruits of an August 2014 conference in Paderborn, Germany, which itself was part of a larger conversation involving senior and junior scholars in the field over the five years before that. the conference brought together scholars in the field of comparative theology in the United States and Europe to share their work in this emerging field, and to reflect together on the nature and best methods current today by listening to how each of us actually does it.

Comparative theology is, after all, a challenging endeavor: From the perspective of the authors of this volume, it is theology, which may be briefly described as faith seeking understanding, grounded in community, cognizant of claims regarding truth, and open to the implications of study for spiritual advancement and practice; and it is comparative, familiar with and respectful of the best work in comparative studies of religion today, yet also committed to learning from both outside and within one’s own community in a way that remains theologically sensitive and conducive to mutual transformation in study. Regardless of how this balance is achieved, however, in convening the Paderborn conference we also realized that the question of “Why?” implicit in the “How?” remains a pressing one. Accordingly, it is important to profile more clearly the intellectual and practical benefits of the field for individuals, for the academy, and for religious communities themselves. Methods, purposes, and results are intertwined.

The 2014 conference was motivated also by our recognition that while exciting comparative theological work is being done in both North America and Europe, there have been only a few links connecting these groups of scholars. This gap is remedied, in part, by our current work . . .

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