Double Religious Belonging: Aspects and Questions

By Cornille, Catherine | Buddhist-Christian Studies, Annual 2003 | Go to article overview

Double Religious Belonging: Aspects and Questions


Cornille, Catherine, Buddhist-Christian Studies


The idea of double or multiple religious belonging seems to have become an integral feature of the religious culture of our times, it is no longer surprising to hear people refer to themselves as partly or fully Christian and Buddhist, and the hybridizing of Jewish and Buddhist religious identities has even led to a new terminology (Jubu). While this phenomenon has been part of Asian religious cultures for centuries, it is relatively new to the West, where a combination of political and religious forces have shaped religious identities around comparatively rigid and exclusive boundaries. With the gradual dissolution of traditional geographical and spiritual monopolies by particular religions, the religious field has become wide open and religious belonging increasingly a matter of choice and degree. The phenomenon of multiple religious belonging may be found in any combination of any number of religions. There are the Jews for Jesus; Christians who have become deeply involved in Muslim (mostly Sufi) religious practices; and Hindus who also consider themselves partly Christian or--more often--vice versa. But by far the most common phenomenon in the West is that of Christians or Jews who also profess to be Buddhist, hence the importance of discussing this phenomenon in this meeting on Buddhist-Christian dialogue.

In this paper, I wish to outline the different contexts in which double or multiple religious belonging seems to manifest itself so as to reflect on the possibilities and limits of the very concept or category. While different religions may have various ways of defining or circumscribing the issue of religious identity and generally allow for different degrees of belonging, I will discuss the possibility of double religious belonging on the basis of a strong--and for most religions, ideal--understanding of religious belonging.

DOUBLE RELIGIOUS BELONGING AND NEW AGE

One of the contexts in which the phenomenon of double or multiple religious belonging may seem to present itself most readily is that of the late modern or postmodern form of religiosity called "New Age." Whereas New Age religion is essentially elusive, one of the most prominent scholars of New Age, Wouter Hanegraaf, defines it as a "popular Western culture criticism expressed in terms of a secularized esotericism" and refers to general characteristics such as this-worldliness, holism, evolutionism, psychologizing of religion and spiritualizing of psychology, and, of course, the belief in the advent of a New Age. (1) In addition to these characteristics, one of the most noted features of New Age religiosity is its openness toward all religious traditions and the freedom with which it combines beliefs and practices from mainly the Asian religions, the mystical strands of the monotheistic traditions, and various forms of Shamanism. This has led to the image of New Age as a form of religious bricolage or a religion of the supermarket. Often underlying New Age religiosity is the belief that all religions derive from or meet in the same ultimate religious experience, and that one may thus belong to all religions at the same time.

While New Age religion may therefore be regarded as a form of multiple religious belonging, it might be more appropriate to speak here of a complete absence of religious belonging. As scholars of religion such as Joachim Wach have pointed out, religious belonging is taken to involve a "total response of the total being (feeling, will and intellect) to Ultimate Reality." (2) It involves abandonment to a transcendent reality mediated through the concrete symbols and rituals of a particular religion. Surrender is thus not to the ultimate as such, but through--and in the end--to the teachings and practices embedded in a concrete religious tradition. Religious belonging in this strong sense of the term implies the acceptance, on faith, of a particular truth revealed and transmitted outside of the immediate experience of the individual and expressed in a particular body of teachings and practices. …

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