Monday, August 30, 2004

recurrent terms (2)

The following are some very superficial explanations of recurrent terms in my discussions of religious pluralism on this blog. My purpose is to provide readers with a bit of background in order better to understand my and others' arguments for and against various forms of religious pluralism. Note that not all scholars (or non-scholars) will agree with how I've laid these concepts out; as a pluralist, I accept such disagreement as a simple and unavoidable fact of human discourse.


From the Greek on(tos), or "being." Ontology is the study of the nature of being or existence (keeping in mind that quite a few philosophers distinguish the two).

The adjective ontological means "of or having to do with being/existence." Saint Anselm's "ontological proof" is an attempt to prove the existence of God. The noun ontology can refer to being itself as well as to the study of the nature of being, and can even function grammatically as a countable noun, as in the phrase "multiple ontologies" (cf. Stephen Kaplan's Different Paths, Different Summits).

I implore the real philobloggers to provide better, clearer definitions than the above. I'm aiming for concision, but the price is superficiality.


From the Greek soter (savior) and soterion (salvation). Most (or all) of the still-extant great religious traditions have some or other soteriology, i.e., some notion of salvation.

By the way, "-ology" suffixes (e.g., psychology, biology) come from the Greek logos, which translates roughly as "word" or even, as I heard at CUA, "ordered discourse." Theology, then, is ordered discourse about God. Interpreted much more broadly, theology would be ordered discourse about ultimate reality, theistic or not. This is something of a departure from a more literal notion of "theos," or God, but like it or not, the phrase "Buddhist theology" does crop up in many papers on Buddhism. One consequence of this is that it creates meta-issues in academic discussion: are Western academics inadvertently imparting a theistic spin to nontheistic traditions when they use a phrase like "Buddhist theology"? How about a word like "religion," which is freighted with Western connotations?


This term is derived from Karl Jaspers's notion of an Axial Age, or Axial Period (see here and here). How long this period lasted depends on the scholar you consult. Jaspers himself placed the Axial Age at around 800BCE to 200BCE. I've read other scholars who place it at 600BCE to 600CE to include Christ and Muhammad. The general idea is that most of the world's major philosophies and religious traditions came into flower during this period. Whether there was, properly speaking, an Axial Age is a matter of some debate, but I subscribe to it. It's a bit creepy, like the (now-debunked) Hundredth Monkey Hypothesis: it seems like all of humanity woke up around the same time and began asking the big existential questions, like "Who am I?" and "Why are we here?"

"Post-axial," a term often found in the writings of John Hick, refers to the great traditions that survived (and largely flourished) beyond the Axial Age in some form or other: the various strains of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, religious Confucianism, etc. While a religion like Scientology is, chronologically speaking, post-axial, it's doubtful that Hick et al. are referring to such religions when they discuss their pluralistic models.


From Latin and Greek praxis, or "practice" (see here for the Latin/Greek etymology; scroll down to the "praxis" entry in the right-hand column). A fancy-ass term for practice used by us religious studies geeks to make ourselves sound smarter than we are. A related term is "orthopraxis," or "right practice."

Praxis (here pronounced "praak-sees" by Klingons) is also the name of a Klingon moon that exploded from over-mining. It was apparently orbiting the Klingon homeworld of Qonos. The explosion forced the Klingons to drop hostilities with the United Federation of Planets and sue for peace, with Captain James T. Kirk as the Federation's reluctant "olive branch." Kirk and the crew of the USS Enterprise were, after some struggle, able to secure a more or less lasting peace with the Klingon Empire. I have no idea what this has to do with religious pluralism, but I bet there aren't many in-depth comparative studies of science fiction mythologies. Maybe I should put together a cross-comparative study of Vulcan and Jedi mysticism.

Recurrent terms (1) can be found here.


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