Saturday, January 07, 2006

the wisdom of my teacher

Dr. Charles B. Jones of Catholic University (DC) was easily my favorite prof during my long trek toward the MA. Gifted with incisive wit and a highly analytical mind, Dr. Jones took to his lectures with gusto and presented his ideas clearly and systematically. I took three courses with him: Confucianism & Taoism, Issues in Interreligious Encounter, and East Asian Buddhism.

Last year, Dr. Jones published his own contribution to the ever-growing literature dealing with Christian approaches to the problem of religious diversity: The View from Mars Hill: Christianity in the Landscape of World Religions, available through, among other places. I placed an order for a copy yesterday.

Here's an excerpt from his book's introduction, something that readers of my previous post on religion might want to chew on:

Conflict is real, and it is painful. As we look at the modern world-- where Protestants and Catholics battle in Northern Ireland, a thirty-year war between Sinhalese Buddhists and Tamil Hindus is only just beginning to abate in Sri Lanka, and Western analysts talk about "Islam's bloody borders"-- it seems to people of goodwill everywhere that much could be solved if those who are in conflict would just sit down and talk. "Getting along," it seems, should be a simple matter of discipline and will: Give up all intention of violence, and it will go away. It should be easy, and the benefits are obvious.

So why does it not happen?

To ask this question about religious conflicts is to assume that religions in all times and places function as they do at present in the United States, where the government largely leaves religious groups to their own devices and where no religion has sufficient power or authority to exercise coercion over any other. Religions can get together and dialogue because of specific social and historical conditions that make dialogue possible. Such conditions are present in contemporary U.S. society, but this is a recent and hard-won development.

Furthermore, to ask this question assumes that religions primarily set out beliefs among which individuals can pick and choose and about which groups can differ. The reality is that religions are much more than this. They perform other functions than simply providing a way of looking at the world that is personally satisfying for individuals. Their rituals provide ways for communities to come together and build an identity; they serve as symbols for a group's aspirations; in some places they serve as the basis for the ways in which civil society is structured and functions. Factors such as these make religions' beliefs and practices far less negotiable than many Americans can realize.

I'm looking forward to reading the whole thing. If you're so inclined, place an order for Dr. Jones's book. As academics all wryly note, it's not as though they expect to get rich off what they write. Every order counts.


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