Monday, May 15, 2006

I feel it comin'

I feel it. It's comin'.

A post on interreligious dialogue will be squeezed out of my mind's anus in the near future. I've been reading The View from Mars Hill, written last year by my favorite prof at Catholic U., Dr. Charles Jones. I'm about a fourth of the way through it, and several things have already struck me:

1. The book covers a lot of the same topics I covered as an MA student at Catholic University, including subjects in Dr. Jones's grad-level Issues in Interreligious Encounter course. It's a bit like sitting through those fascinating discussions all over again.

2. The book is also a whirlwind review of every intro-level biblical studies course I've ever done. More memories.

3. One major shock: the book deals with various theologies of religion, but makes zero mention of Raimondo Panikkar. I'm going to have to email Dr. Jones and find out why. Panikkar is a huge figure in interreligious studies. A lot of scholars approach his work with great caution, though, because his position is hard to pin down. Paul Knitter tries that trick-- pinning Panikkar down-- in another book I purchased a couple months ago: Introducing Theologies of Religions. Knitter is, like John Hick, a flaming pluralist (though somewhat constrained by his Catholicism). He's also a very readable writer; his book and Jones's book deal with greatly overlapping topics, though Knitter's book gets into the nitty-gritty of theological typologies more than Jones's does (the latter's book weighs in at barely 200 pages, and focuses far more on history than on theoretical issues).

4. I'm once again reminded of what a clear writer my teacher is. You might not end up agreeing with him, but you'll know exactly where he stands. Dr. Vallicella once wrote a post complaining about what he considered Panikkar's sloppiness. Panikkar does philosophy, but he's also something of a poet and not always given to logical clarity. Given the nondualistic nature of Panikkar's position (if "position" is the correct term), this is only natural.

Dr. Jones, by contrast, isn't about poetry: he can craft beautiful turns of phrase, but he's an academic, and that's the vibe you get when you read him. I appreciate that in a scholar. That's also one of the reasons why I'm partial to John Hick and not so partial to obfuscatory postmodernist writers like Jacques Derrida or Michel Foucault-- people who say in 500 words what takes only five to express.

The View from Mars Hill is a book intended primarily for Christians, but I think it'd be worth a read even for those who aren't Christian as a window into Christian self-understanding. Awareness of a religion's self-understanding is a necessary component of dialogue.

More on this later.

(Whoops-- I forgot to add that Dr. Jones plays a mean guitar. In stodgy religious studies circles, this sort of skill is important.)


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