Academic journal article Theological Studies

Theology Today: Comparative Theology as a Catholic Theological Approach

Academic journal article Theological Studies

Theology Today: Comparative Theology as a Catholic Theological Approach

Article excerpt

Theological reflection is guided by the context in which theology is done. We should not, therefore, be surprised that one of the most important challenges for contemporary theology has to do with religious plurality and the way Christianity responds to this reality. Pertinent questions for Catholic theologians are: How can we think and name God in view of the complex realities of religious diversity? How can theology be done in the midst of global cross-cultural and interreligious processes? How can we develop a coherent Catholic theology in the face of our babelish condition? If we want to explore the inexhaustible mystery of God and the many ways God works to bring salvation in diverse settings, theologians should take seriously both the inextricable phenomenon of religious diversity and the particularity of religious traditions. To that end we need new theological approaches that allow for deep learning across religious borders. (1) Like many scholars in the field, I am convinced that comparative theology, understood as the "the rereading of one's home theological tradition ... after serious engagement in the reading of another tradition," meets this need. (2) Nevertheless, it is a fact that the question whether comparative theology really deserves to be called Catholic presents itself with a certain urgency. (3)

Theology departments in Catholic universities worldwide are struggling with the question of how to respond to the phenomenon of pluralization. They are wondering "how to properly integrate the new awareness of religious diversity in their curriculum while still remaining faithful to the Roman Catholic tradition." (4) From this perspective, an ongoing academic discussion poses the question of how comparative theology can be Catholic. Some theologians are concerned that the comparative theology project cannot be reconciled with the particular nature of Catholic theology. (5) Will establishing a program in comparative theology not function as a Trojan horse, undermining the particularity of divinity schools and theological departments from within and transforming them into departments of religious studies? Not addressing this concern would make it very difficult for comparative theologians to be recognized and welcomed as Catholic theologians and could, therefore, lead to their marginalization in Catholic institutions and exclusion from ongoing theological conversations. (6) As long as it remains unclear as to whether comparative theology is worthy of being called Catholic, the academic future of this theological endeavor within Catholicism continues to be uncertain. What is more, not to engage in a theological "apology" for comparative theology may also smooth the way for those voices arguing for a reaffirmation and reinforcement of the distinctly "Catholic" profile of theology departments. Those who urge the necessity of a stronger commitment to orthodoxy usually also advocate the necessity of a clear distinction between theology and religious studies and reject the crossing of borders so typical of comparative theology. (7) In times of "crisis"--and many perceive the process of pluralization as a crisis--it seems much easier to enhance clarity of boundaries and avoid confusion about what deserves to be called Catholic theology.

In this article, I argue that comparative theology as a particular theological approach is a highly valuable and needed theological approach in light of our contemporary context of pluralization and deserves in principle to be called Catholic. (8) construct my argument in conversation with a document recently issued by the International Theological Commission (ITC), Theology Today: Perspectives, Principles and Criteria (March 8, 2012). This document intends a systematic-theological exploration of the specificity of Catholic theology. To that end, it looks at several important issues with regard to contemporary theology: its methodological criteria, its relation to other nontheological disciplines, such as the religious sciences, as well as what may be regarded as the foundational principles for Catholic theology. …

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