Engaging Particularities
New Directions in Comparative Theology, Interreligious Dialogue,
Theology of Religions and Missiology


4-6 April 2003
Boston College



Summary of Proceedings
From April 4-6, 2003 a graduate student conference held at Boston College broke new ground in the growing field of comparative theology. Titled "Engaging Particularities: New Directions in Comparative Theology, Interreligious Dialogue, Theology of Religions, and Missiology," this conference was sponsored by the Society of Jesus in the United States and hosted by the Jesuit Community at Boston College. Throughout the weekend conference, graduate students at Jesuit universities from across North America (Boston College; Loyola University Chicago; Marquette University; Regis College. Toronto; St. Louis University; Weston Jesuit School of Theology) discussed a variety of topics concerning the current state of comparative theology and religious pluralism.

This conference was a clear example of the continuing Jesuit encounter with other religious traditions. Taking inspiration from the idea of engaging particularities, several prominent themes emerged during the conference. A central concern was how Christians can cultivate the proper attitude for engaging with the religious other. Some of the speakers offered methodologies for recognizing the authenticity of the religious other that enables one to both recognize the religious experience of the other as both graced yet substantially different from the traditional Christian experience. A related topic was the effort to construct models of how dialogue can fruitfully occur. The question of both critiquing the religious other and the possibility for the religious other to change one's own worldview were discussed in respect to this theme.

The presence and particular witness of the religious other also generated reflections on the meaning of Christianity itself. For example, the encounter of the missionary movement with other religions was used as the starting point for discussing the identity of the church as essentially missional rather than a church that engages in mission as one dimension of its activity. A discussion on the theme of holy war in Jewish and Christian texts lead to reflections on how to avoid objectifying the religious other. A comparative discussion of the divine embodiments of Christ and Krishna engendered discussions on how the claims of specific voices in traditions can vary. Presentations on both justifications for war in Sinhalese Buddhism and adult conversion in Judaism and Catholicism lead to a discussion of the specific cultural and ethnic contexts in which religions operate.

This combination of presenting methodologies for encountering and engaging with other religions and presentations of particular issues and points of contact between Christianity and other religions aptly mirrors the history of the Jesuit encounter with other religions. In their own history, Jesuits have both engaged with members of other religions in concrete, particular ways and have sought to work out theories and methods for better engaging with people of other faiths. In part, this conference was an institutional expression of the charge given at the Thirty-fourth General Congregation for Jesuits to reflect on religious pluralism and engage in religious dialogue as an on-going part of the mission of the Society of Jesus. This conference provided a valuable forum for graduate students to present and probe new ideas in an eminently collegial, friendly and supportive environment. Through this opportunity, students not only engaged in dialogue and discussion about comparative theology, but also made new connections with like-minded scholars. A new generation of emerging voices in comparative theology thus exchanged ideas and concept while nurturing each other and establishing the foundations for a new network of young scholars. Here the Jesuit mission of training and mentoring the next generation of theologians was clearly manifested. Students from all of the Jesuit colleges, universities and schools of theology in the United States and Canada were invited. Among the schools represented at the conference were Boston College, Weston Jesuit School of Theology, Loyola University Chicago, St. Louis University, Marquette University, and Regis College at the University of Toronto. There are tentative plans to host a similar conference next spring at Boston College.

Daniel Joslyn-Siemiatkoski
PhD Candidate (Theology)
Boston College

Shedule of Events
Friday 4 April 2003 - Barat House (Newton Campus)
6:00-9:00 PM
  • Dinner
  • Opening Remarks
  • Religious Experience and Otherness: an Intersubjective Moment of Grace
  • Chris Vandegeer (Regis College, Toronto); respondent: Beth Beshear
    Employing Bernard Lonergan's method, James Price attempts to provide a critical basis for understanding mystical experiences cross-culturally. Price suggests that we can not only understand but also relate diverse mystical experiences by transposing the basic doctrinal/metaphysical terms and relations used by the mystics into the basic terms and relations appropriate to the horizon of interiority. Such a transposition allows us to identify possible points of convergence between the traditions and to clarify differences. The question however remains: is the subject alone sufficient for transposing various languages and does the horizon of interiority within any subject offer the transcultural base required for such a transposition? The paper explores James Price's adaptation of Lonergan's interiority analysis for its potential for encouraging a genuine cross-cultural encounter that respects rather than distorts otherness.
    Saturday 5 April 2003 - St. Mary's Hall Conference Room (Chestnut Hill Campus)
    9:30-11:30 AM
  • Missional Labor: Ecclesiology and the World of Work
  • John Jones, IV (Marquette University); respondent: Derek Anderson

    At the 2001 meeting of the Catholic Theological Society of America in Milwaukee, Stephen Bevans issued a challenge to systematic theologians to "consider the contribution of a 'missional imagination.'" Drawing upon the work of Darrell Guder, Craig van Gelder, Wilbert Shenk and others both part of and apart from the "Gospel and Our Culture Network", I shall briefly summarize the key thrusts of a "missional" ecclesiology. I shall seek to bring it into conversation with a pneumatological theology of work, drawing primarily on the work of Miroslav Volf. I shall also incorporate contributions of other scholars, Protestant and Catholic. In a rapidly changing world, a pneumatological theology of work allows theology to reclaim the notion of vocation. By speaking of the Spirit as active in the world of work, we can describe work as purposeful and cooperative without romanticizing it. And we can develop a renewed critical eye. In bringing these two ideas together, I hope to be able to articulate a clear sense of ecclesial purpose in the world of work. In a way, through the laity, the church already exists in a tremendous mission field called the world of work. By looking at work as a mode of ministry to and service of the world, we can understand vocation in a new way. We can understand mission in a new way. We can realize our presence to the "other" we had never noticed as "other" before.
  • 'Holy War,' Cruelty, and Ethical Interchangeability
  • Michael Trice (Loyola U - Chicago); respondent: Dan Joslyn-Siemiatkoski
    Following in the intellectual footsteps of Friedrich Nietzsche, scholars in recent years the likes of René Girard, Michel Foucault, and Emmanuel Levinas have addressed the forces that promote violence within the Judeo-Christian tradition. However, very little work has been done in philosophy or theology on the phenomenological dimensions of 'cruelty' as a new category of normative investigation and discourse. The paper purports, first, that a phenomenology of 'cruelty' is an implicit part of any contemporary 'holy war' mentality and as such merits further investigation. Deuteronomy 7:1-2 and 20:1-20 aid in a discussion of the contemporary structure of 'holy war' as terror and terrorism. Of particular interest are three personas necessary to a contemporary perspective of 'holy war.' The personas are: The 'ethnic-deity,' the mystique of the 'holy warrior', and the 'infidel/enemy.' Second, the following terminology will be employed in order to interpret a phenomenology of 'cruelty': Objectification (of the 'deity,' the 'holy warrior,' and the 'infidel'), recognition (as an ironic struggle for victory), and excess (which leads to an interpretation of 'cruelty'). Finally, the concluding section of this paper will briefly assess how the concept of 'ethical interchangeability' could function as a normative criterion in response to the rationale for terror and terrorism.
    11:30 AM-1:00 PM
  • Lunch

  • 1:00-2:00 PM
  • A Buddhist Just War Doctrine?
  • Adrianne Nagy (Boston College); respondent: Sean Sennott

    Tessa Bartholomeusz relies on textual sources and personal interviews to make the case for a Sinhalese Buddhist “just-war” tradition that challenges the assumption that Buddhism is inherently pacifist. While she shows convincingly that there are elements in the Sinhalese Buddhist textual tradition supporting defensive acts of violence, and that “authentic” Buddhists can advocate violence in the name of defending the Dharma, I am not convinced that this evidence is best characterized as “just war” thinking. If, by “just war,” Bartholomeusz merely means to suggest a system whereby acts of violence are legitimated over against a tradition of pacifistic religious teachings, then the phrase is perhaps successful as a conceptual “tag.” But a deeper examination of the concept of the just war tradition as it is articulated in the context of Western Christianity reveals some fundamental assumptions about human nature and the nature of the religious community that call into question the concept’s applicability to Sinhalese Buddhism.
    2:30-4:30 PM
  • Beautiful Other: The Promise of Schleiermacher's Aesthetic Understanding of Religion
  • Jon Paul Sydnor (Boston College); respondent: Brian Flanagan
    How we conceptualize religion itself will affect, or perhaps determine, the nature of inter-religious relations. If faith statements from different communities are understood as mutually exclusive claims about the nature of reality, then an impasse can occur in dialogue. More promise might be found in conceptualizing religion as analogous to art, and the inter-religious dialogue as analogous to the art critical dialogue. Friedrich Schleiermacher offered exactly this conception in his Speeches on Religion. This seminar will explore the potential of his aesthetic understanding of religion to our current condition of religious plurality.
    The methodology proposed here demands the most open and vulnerable engagement of particularities, as open and vulnerable as the music critic's relationship to music. For the critic of art, it is close attention to the art itself which justifies the claims she makes with regard to the subject matter. She must engage particularities; in the same way, I propose, any religion critic must also engage particularities. This may not change how comparison is done, if it is being done well. But this proposal might change how comparison is understood while it is being done.
    For application, I will comment briefly on how a religion critic might discuss Schleiermacher's later On the Christian Faith and Ramanuja's Vedarthasangraha.
  • Hindu and Christian Understandings of Divine Embodiment
  • Karen Teel (Boston College); respondent: Kerry San Chirico
    Hinduism and Christianity both proclaim the doctrine of a humanly embodied savior. This paper compares and contrasts the Christian teaching about Christ's human embodiment as portrayed in several documents of the Council of Chalcedon with Ramanuja and Vedanta Desika's interpretations of Krishna's embodiment in selected commentaries on the Bhagavad-Gita. Based on this analysis, suggestions are made about how these two understandings of divine embodiment might affect attitudes towards the "ordinary" human body for believers in each faith tradition.
    4:30-5:30 PM
  • Eucharist

  • Sunday 6 April 2003 - St. Mary's Hall Conference Room (Chestnut Hill Campus)
    9:30-11:30 AM

  • Conversion and Identity-Formation: A Comparative Perspective
  • Katherine Richman (Boston College); respondent: Teresa Korphage

    A crucial aim of the RCIA process is to lead the catechumen to a new identity as a Catholic Christian. This paper looks at Catholic identity formation in light of the process of conversion to Judaism. Normatively, the Jew is born into his or her religious identity; therefore the challenge for Judaism has been to develop religious laws and rituals that regulate the “adoption” of proselytes. Jewish converts necessarily retain a somewhat liminal status in the community, but are never to be reminded of this by others. Conversions for the sake of marriage, as well as intermarriages, are prohibited by Jewish law. Post-Emancipation realities have necessitated fresh interpretations of the conversion and marriage laws, although neither these interpretations nor the conversions allowed under them are consistently accepted as valid.
    Consideration of the Jewish conversion process gives us several points to ponder as we help catechumens to become Catholics. One is that we should avoid spotlighting unnecessarily the convert status of the catechumen and new Catholic, perhaps re-thinking some current RCIA practices. Another is the importance of educating catechumens in concrete faith practices, so that the convert is able to function as an active member of the parish and the Catholic community. A third is the necessity of actively involving Catholic spouses and families in the RCIA process. Lastly, and fundamentally, we must keep in mind that adult conversion is not normative in the Church in the U.S., as it was when the fourth-century catechumenate flourished, and ask whether further adaptations should be made to the ancient practice in order to help the new convert avoid liminality and integrate fully into the parish and the Church.
  • A Wittgensteinian Approach to Interreligious Dialogue
  • Scott Steinkerchner (Boston College); respondent: Steven Cone
    Felix Wilfred, one of the foremost Indian Catholic theologians, criticizes the dominant Western Christian theologies of religion and interreligious dialogue as inadequate, alienating and open to misunderstanding when received in an Indian culture because they let Western Christianity define the boundaries of religious discussion, defining terms such as "religion" and "salvation" and then finding a place for "other religions" within this pre-established framework. By using the language philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein, especially from his last book "On Certainty," I will evaluate Wilfred's critique and propose a different model for effective dialogue across disjointed religio-cultural boundaries. Rather than having a dialogue centered on discussion regarding what is in fact true about the world, this approach would allow the persons in dialogue to attain a better perspective and critique their own positions as they come to understand the world-view of the other. An interreligious dialogue done in this manner allows each side to learn from the other without needing to "convert."
    11:30 AM-1:00 PM
  • Wrap-up Session




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