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

Book Review: Fields of Blood (Armstrong)

Fields of BloodFor many people living in the West, an assumption exists that religion is inherently violent. After all, they say, just look at the evidence: religion has caused wars, the Crusades, terrorism, religion has made people hate and kill others for nothing more than the ideas that were in their heads. According to this view, religions are not only necessarily violent, but they are responsible for much (if not all) of the violence in recorded human history. However, an explanation of the history of violence is not so simple, argues Karen Armstrong in her latest book Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014. 512 pages). According to Armstrong, though violence is an unfortunate reality of human history, evil and warfare are not necessarily religious in nature nor does violence always arise from religion. In the impressive and exhaustive tome that is Fields of Blood, Armstrong traces the relationship between religion and the history of violence, arguing that “We cannot afford oversimplified assumptions about the nature of religion or its role in world.” 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

Reading Across Traditions | Journal Article

Journal of Comparative TheologyI’m happy to announce the recent publication of my article “Reading Across Traditions: Comparing the Theological Anthropologies of Ramanuja and Augustine of Hippo” in the Journal of Comparative Theology 5, 1. As the editors of JCT write,

The third article, “Reading Across Traditions: Comparing the Theological Anthropologies of Ramanuja and Augustine of Hippo”, by Jacob Prahlow, creatively juxtaposes two theological anthropologies, which, despite separation of time, space, and religious tradition, when read together create a fruitful comparison.

This article may be read online here. Additionally, I’ve linked the journal on the “Publications” page above. I want to offer a big ‘Thank You’ to Dr. Jay Ford of Wake Forest University for his assistance in the preparation of this article.

Book Review: Religion in Human Evolution (Bellah)

Religion in Human EvolutionRobert Bellah’s Religion in Human Evolution stands as magnum opus of breathtaking proportions. Developed from the Merlin Donald’s work on cultural evolution, Karl Jasper’s insights on the axial age, and drawing upon a range of historical, anthropological, and biological sources, Bellah traces the evolution of religion within human culture from its origins in primordial play to the theoretical turns of the Axial Age. Central to this argument is that nothing is left behind during the evolution from episodic to theoretical culture through the mimetic and mythic. As a result of this massive study, Bellah argues that the evolution of human religion, which culminated in theoretical religious discourse in axial cultures and refigured preceding mimetic and mythic culture, continues to influence human religion and culture today. Bellah’s latest monograph stands as in-depth treatment of the evolution of human culture that is a must read for those involved in the study of the history and sociology of religions. Continue reading

Book Review: Theology After Vedanta (Clooney)

Theology After VedantaTheology after Vedanta: An Experiment in Comparative Theology offers an important step forward in comparative studies, laying a foundation for a fruitful (re)reading and (re)working of theological conceptions in our pluralistic context. Working from a reading of Advaita Vedanta texts, Francis Clooney provides an experience of “reading together” Vedanta and Catholic theology which directs readers toward an inclusivist reading of traditions external to their own and offers a practical and relevant method for contemporary comparative theology. This review notes the important contributions of Theology after Vedanta, concluding that this work is an important contribution to the methodology of comparative theology, the practice of textual comparison, and the reading of Advaita Vedanta. Continue reading