Beyond our life of Pi: Encountering multiple religious belonging and comparative theology with Francis Xavier Clooney, S.J.

Enver Rahmanov, State of Formation, Mar.29

I remember reading Life of Pi by Yann Martel several years ago and how my heart would resonate with each experience of the sacred by the story’s brave protagonist, a Tamil boy from Pondicherry, through his adventurous openness to spirituality beyond the borders of one religion. This story that became the Oscar-winning movie is more than the fantasy adventure. It is a beautiful interpretation of our reality, of human imagination, and of hope, deliverance and salvation. Today, multiple religious belonging is not just a concept and an interreligious dialogue may no longer remain an event that we approach as a token of recognition for the other’s religion.  We do not need scholars to notice a rapidly increased human migration across the borders that have brought us closer to experience the religious other. Yet prominent scholars and wise religious leaders, who dedicate their lives to a deeper understanding of faith beyond one’s tradition, can help us with insight into our neighbor’s religion through their comparative and contextual understanding. Recently, I participated in the XIth Engaging Particularities conference at Boston College and met several young emerging scholars from the United States, Germany, Austria, South Africa and Rwanda, dedicated to what some of us may call theology for and of interreligious dialogue.  The presence of professors Francis Clooney, S.J., and Catherine Cornille, two leading voices in the contemporary field of comparative theology, was truly a gift for many of us who have been influenced by their revolutionary work.  I have to admit that reading Clooney’s Comparative Theology: Deep Learning Across Religious Borders[1] in our class on Christian-Muslim dialogue with Sr. Marianne Farina at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley has opened to me a new and exciting world of opportunities to know the other, including their devotional practices. It has also helped me understand my own identity, as someone who is taking a great but rewarding risk of trying to “live on the border of the holy”, to borrow Rev. William Countryman’s phrase, by entering what Catherine Cornille calls “many mansions” of multiple religious belonging.

I invite every student of theology and religion to read Clooney’s book Comparative Theology, which I am quoting below, so we can better engage with the complexity and beauty of various religious identities. He moves away from previous methods of comparativism, such as Replacement, Fulfillment and Mutuality models. Clooney does not claim his solid definition of Comparative Theology nor does he require one to have a PhD in order to pursue it, but argues that it is a discipline that has ethical implications and, therefore, takes “wise practitioners who know by experience the power and limits of words.” He emphasizes that it requires our individual choices, honest study, broad curiosity in religion and yet narrow focus in such comparative undertaking, humility and courage “to find a way to be unthreatened by what is new, unsettled and unsettling, without being enamored by novelty or disrespectful toward tradition.”

Read the complete article here.