Comparative Theology and the Problem of Religious Rivalry

ISBN : 9780199772865

Hugh Nicholson
344 Pages
174 x 240 mm
Pub date
Aug 2011
AAR Reflection and Theory in the Study of Religion
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In theological discourse, argues Hugh Nicholson, the political goes "all the way down." One never reaches a bedrock level of politically neutral religious facts, because all theological discourse - even the most sublime, edifying, and "spiritual"-is shot through with polemical elements. Liberal theologies, from the Christian fulfillment theology of the nineteenth century to the pluralist theology of the twentieth, have assumed that religious writings attain spiritual truth and sublimity despite any polemical elements they might contain. Through his analysis and comparison of the Christian mystical theologian Meister Eckhart and his Hindu counterpart IaSkara, Nicholson arrives at a very different conclusion. Polemical elements may in fact constitute the creative source of the expressive power of religious discourses. Wayne Proudfoot has argued that mystical discourses embody a set of rules that repel any determinate understanding of the ineffable object or experience they purport to describe. In Comparative Theology and the Problem of Religious Rivalry, Nicholson suggests that this principle of negation is connected, perhaps through a process of abstraction and sublimation, with the need to distinguish oneself from one's intra- and/or inter-religious adversaries. Nicholson proposes a new model of comparative theology that recognizes and confronts one of the most urgent cultural and political issues of our time: namely, the "return of the political" in the form of anti-secular and fundamentalist movements around the world. This model acknowledges the ineradicable nature of an oppositional dimension of religious discourse, while honoring and even advancing the liberal project of curtailing intolerance and prejudice in the sphere of religion.


Part I: Theology and the Political
1. The Reunification of Theology and Comparison in the New Comparative Theology
2. The Modern Quest to Depoliticize Theology
3. From Apologetics to Comparison: Towards a Dialectical Model of Comparative Theology
Part II: Mysticism East and West Revisited
4. Mysticism East and West as Christian Apologetic
5. God and the God beyond God in Eckhart and IaSkara
6. From Acosmism to Dialectic: IaSkara and Eckhart on the Ontological Status of the Phenomenal World
7. Liberative Knowledge as "Living without a Why"

About the author: 

Hugh Nicholson is Assistant Professor of Theology at Loyola University Chicago. He has published on a wide range of topics in the study of theology and religion, including method in comparative theology, the relation between theology and the study of religion, and selected topics in classical Indian philosophy.

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