The Divine Quest, East and West (Part III)

This post concludes a brief series of reflections on Jay Ford’s The Divine Quest, East and West.

The Divine Quest East and West (Ford)The Divine Quest: East and West provides an engaging, insightful, and balanced approach to considering the Ultimate in three (or four) major religious traditions. From the perspective of one most familiar with Christianity, I especially appreciated the way in which this book uses that tradition as something of a starting point for engagement with two traditions I am less familiar with, those of “Hinduism” and Buddhism. Throughout, I have been impressed by Ford’s consideration of context, conceptual development, and attention to methodological concerns involving reflexivity and the use of appropriate definitions and categories. The commitment to nuanced language and constant reminders of contextual contingency and the purposefully limited claims of this work have been both thought-provoking and helpful guides for my own work. While it would have been interesting to devote a bit more time to Judaism and/or Islam, I believe The Divine Quest will serve as a useful guide for exploring conceptions of ultimacy and the process of tracing the development of various religious imaginations. Continue reading

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The Divine Quest, East and West (Part II)

This post continues a series of reflections on Jay Ford’s The Divine Quest, East and West.

As part of The Divine Quest, East and West’s turn toward the East in Acts 4 and 5, this reflection deals with the Classical and Colonial periods of Hindu theology. In reviewing the schools of classical Hindu theology, Ford usefully highlights the central theme found in each major school: the attempt to reconcile the one with the many, demonstrating the importance that conceptions of the ultimate Brahman played in the development of the Hindu traditions (125). Effectively, only two major options existed: the Brahman was either impersonal and absolute or personal and theistic (128). The perspectives of Shankara (hierarchical monism) and Ramanuja (quasi-dualistic theism) mirror our earlier interaction with Taylor, again underscoring the similar ways in which even vastly different traditions conceive of the ultimate. I do not wish to argue that the Hindu traditions (or all other major religious perspectives) remains trapped within the dichotomy of monism and dualism, only to note that classical Hinduism appears to revisit some of the same concerns with which the monotheistic traditions have wrestled. Continue reading

Reflections on The Divine Quest, East and West (Part I)

The Divine Quest East and West (Ford)A few weeks back I noted Jay Ford’s The Divine Quest, East and West (SUNY, 2016). Over the nest few posts, I want to offer a couple of reflections on this work, which I hasten to note I generally appreciate and find helpful for facilitating inter-religious dialogue and understanding.

In Acts 2 and 3 of The Divine Quest, East and West, Ford outlines conceptions of the ultimate found in Mahayana and Chinese Buddhisms, arguing that emptiness and Buddha-nature, respectively, serve as the Ultimate reality for these strands of Buddhist thought. In this reflection, I wish to engage the topic of textual authority and revelation within the forms of Buddhism discussed in these sections. Continue reading

A Shout-Out to Shout-Outs

One of the (very cool) benefits of working with top scholars is that you sometimes run across your name in print. Friends and peers have recently pointed out a couple such shout-outs, and I, in turn, wish to encourage you to check out these books, knowing first hand the excellence of their contents.

Splendid Wickeness MentionFirst is David Bentley Hart’s latest volume, a series of collected essays titled A Splendid Wickedness and Other Essays available from Eerdmans. I had the pleasure of serving as Dr. Hart’s research assistant during the 2014-2015 academic year and helped him assemble the essays included in this volume. As Phil Long notes in his recent review of Hart’s work, these essays cover a wide variety of topics, but very often relate back to important issues of theology and/or philosophy. Continue reading

Conceptions of the Ultimate in Early Christianity

This post is part of our ongoing series concerning “Conceptions of the Ultimate”, the manner in which various world religions understand the Divine. Today’s reflection engages Paula Fredriksen’s discussion of ultimate reality in early Christianity, found in Robert Cummings Neville’s Ultimate Realities.

Catacombs Image of ChristIn this reflection, I want to touch on two facets of her essay: the limited scope of sacrifice within early Christology and the function of holiness as soteriology and eschatology in understanding early Christian conceptions of the ultimate. Fredriksen rightly notes two major influences upon early Christian conceptions of the ultimate: Second Temple Jewish conceptions of the Ultimate and the blood sacrifice themes within the writings of the Apostle Paul. These she helpfully expounds upon, drawing out both the centrality of Christ in Christian attempts to understand the ultimate and also the central role of sacrifice as catalyst for early Christian thought concerning God and community. However, as insightful as her treatment of this theme is, I wonder if it does adequate justice to the full range of ideas within early Christianity concerning the ultimate. That is, how useful is Fredriksen’s (admittedly) narrow foray into conceptions of ultimate reality in early Christianity? Purposefully ignoring New Testament passages that were later favored by the early Church in Christological explanations seems an odd way to go about understanding the early church; and were Fredriksen specifically writing on the development of the ultimate in ancient Christianity, her argument concerning the centrality of blood sacrifice may stand (though this too would likely be problematized by the source materials she ignores). Most vexing, and most problematic for her overarching argument, is Fredriksen’s rejection of Philippians 2:5-11 as a suitable source. Most scholars affirm that this passage reveals a pre-Pauline Christological formula, making it one of the earliest possible Christian statements concerning both Christology and Christological conceptions of the ultimate. It is thus highly surprising that she crafts the scope and contents of her essay without this highly important passage. This leads back to our earlier question: how useful (and accurate) is the portrait of the ultimate in early Christianity when the scope of Fredriksen’s sources has been so narrowly drawn? Continue reading

Ultimate Reality in Chinese Religion

This post is part of an ongoing series reflecting on “Conceptions of the Ultimate”, the manner in which world religions understand the divine. Today’s reflection engages the perspective of Livia Kohn on ultimate reality in Chinese religion.
Kong Fuzi (Confucius)

Kong Fuzi (Confucius)

While finding Kohn’s treatment of the complexities and uniqueness of Chinese religions insightful, I was again struck by the important role of texts in the development and practice of the religions this course has considered. This reflection seeks to note the central role that texts and textual appeals seem to play in Chinese religions, as alluded to throughout Kohn’s essay. The essay begins by noting that ultimate reality is often considered in philosophical, practical, and mythical ways (10), and that through these lenses religious claims about the resolution of the human predicament are made (11). In the Christian tradition at least, philosophical, mythical, and (though to a somewhat lesser extent) practical doctrines and exhortations are almost always recorded and appealed to within the context of a text (at least the ones that are influential in the long-run). This paradigm seems to hold true for Chinese religions as well, with Daoist texts and Confucian sages functioning as the best sources for thinking about Ultimate Reality in the Chinese context (12-13). Kohn also directs us toward considering the problem of language in conceiving of Chinese religions. Not only are there no terms that correlate to the idea of “ultimate reality” (11), but the language that can be used to point towards that idea is confronted by the paradox of Chinese thought, where “If it’s the Dao, you cannot see it; if you can see it, it’s not that Dao” (12). For practioners of Chinese religion, the experience of ridding oneself of passions, emotions, and individual consciousness and seeking to align one’s conscience with the order of the cosmos appears to serve as the path for realization the “Ultimates,” the pluriform ways in which the “unreal, invisible, and intangible” ultimate may be experienced (31). Continue reading

The Evolution of God

This post is part of an ongoing series examining Conceptions of the Ultimate, the manner in which world religions understand the divine. Today’s article reflects on a portion of Robert Wright’s The Evolution of God, raising several questions concerning the viability of his presentation of Christianity.

The Evolution of God (Wright)In the third part of The Evolution of God, Wright traces the development of early Christianity and its contribution to growing love and toleration within the Abrahamic traditions, arguing that the Apostle Paul, and not Jesus of Nazareth, produced the thinking and methods of inclusive incorporation into Christian communities that laid the foundations for the tradition’s latter success. However, in order for Wright’s summary of Christianity to fit into his overarching thesis concerning the evolution of God, he makes several claims concerning the historical Jesus, claims that I wish to briefly problematize in this reflection. Each of these considerations touches on an important question regarding Wright’s presentation, namely, does his view adequately address the criterion of historical dissimilarity regarding Jesus? Continue reading

Images and Darsan

This post is part of our ongoing series of reflections concerning “Conceptions of the Ultimate”, the ways in which various world religions conceive of and interpret the Ultimate Being of the cosmos.

Darsan in HinduismDarsan means “seeing the divine”, and Diana L. Eck’s book bearing the same name, she discusses the Hindu practice of seeing and understanding the divine image in various Hindu contexts. In this reflection, I focus on the nature of the divine image in the Hindu tradition, especially as this concept relates to Christian conceptions of divine nature and representation. Darsan offers numerous insights into the parallels between Hindu and Christian theologies, providing another useful source for thinking about the relationship between Hindu and Christian theologies. Continue reading

Religion and World Construction

This post is part of our ongoing series of reflections concerning “Conceptions of the Ultimate”, the ways in which various world religions conceive of and interpret the Ultimate Being of the cosmos. Today’s post consists of reflections upon the first chapter of Peter Berger’s The Sacred Canopy, entitled “Religion and World Construction.

98f7bcb0155736150cb93a9365e08In this chapter of The Sacred Canopy, Berger argues that human existence externalizes meaning, thereby creating continuously reconstituted social worlds by which other human beings are socialized and ordered. Berger further argues that religion has long been one of the most successful means of world-building, as religions imply meaning and order onto the totality of human existence. Here we examine an important facets of Berger’s argument, the importance of socialization among human beings within world-building and consider the implications of purposefully non-social forms of human activity for this thesis. Continue reading

Reflections on Beginning Anew (Semester)

Happy New Year hd wallpaper 2015For as far back as I can remember, the New Year has been something forth looking forward too. In the lull that follows the festivities and joy of Christmas (seeing old friends, eating too much good food, sharing gifts with family), having something to look forward to helps quite the spirit. “New” is invigorating – the past is behind us, our errors may be forgotten, and the future stands bright before us. This isn’t to suggest that everything new is necessarily good; history and experience indicate otherwise, and we would be wise to heed those lessons. Instead, the New Year and its accompanying newness offer us an opportunity to better our world, those around us, and ourselves. There is something cathartic about ringing in the New Year that propels us into the winter (at least for a while).  Continue reading