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

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

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