How to Do Comparative Theology

By Francis X. Clooney; Klaus Von Stosch | Go to book overview

6 On Some Suspicions Regarding
Comparative Theology

Glenn R. Willis

If theological comparisons do not connect themselves to the concerns of actual religious communities, it is not clear how comparison can be theological at all, given that theologies must implicate the writer in some community of practice. This essay addresses several quiet but sustained suspicions about theological comparison as a religiously relevant project. There seems little reason to deny that comparisons are often subject to an “ingrained resistance,”1 particularly among theologians.2 In what follows, I first deepen several fundamental critiques of comparison, emphasizing that theologies must offer more than virtuoso interreligious vision, before suggesting some ways in which comparison can sometimes become more constructive for religious communities themselves. The essay ends by arguing that comparative theology should be an apologetic theology.

In North America, the theologian is sanctioned as a professional not by any religious body, but by the university3—a situation that produces some ambiguities of theological purpose. The theologian explicitly serves communities of higher education, where theological commitments are not often central, while implicitly claiming to be relevant in some vague way to religious communities themselves. Comparative theology is implicated in a more general con temporary confusion about the real audiences of professional theology.

One way to resolve this confusion has been to adopt an implicitly pluralist theological perspective from which one’s religious scholarship can be presented as support for the equality, and the peace, of global cultures. From this perspective, virtually any interreligious scholarship is worthy, not because it is constructive of religious communities, but because it allows for an imagined ethical globalism.

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