The demand for neutrality and impartiality in the modern study of religions has challenged the role of theology in defending religious truth. As post-modernity emerged, its philosophy sought to deconstruct modern philosophy and everything under its shell. The post-modern philosophy is sceptical against the notion of objectivity and favour for relativism. Despite the increasing awareness of religious diversity, study of religions in modern and postmodern context resumes into reducing religion as human subjective experience. This paper, therefore, seeks to discuss the dilemma concerning religious truth that marked the gap between the contemporary study of religions and theology. The author alluded to the views of contemporary theologians who struggled to reform the way theology has been taught during modernity and post-modernity under the various nomenclatures; comparative theology, world theology, and global theology. Nevertheless, does the new theology embrace the passion for religious truth? Using the interpretive and the qualitative research paradigm, the paper examines the question of religious truth by referring to a selected theme under
Keywords: Study of ReligionTheologyKalamReligious PluralityReligious Truth
It has been almost two centuries after Friedrich Max Müller’s (1823-1900) influential school of Religionswissenchaft marked a breakthrough in the study of religions. He introduced many enthralling terms that sustained in the discipline of religious study as taught today, such as neutrality, scientific, objectivity, and non-bias. Müller famous captions were “to study religion as it is” and that one has to study religions other than his own for “he who knows one knows none”. When the phenomenological school emerged in the early nineteenth century, it added another influential concept to the study of religions which is epoch or epoché, ‘bracketing’, or suspension of judgment.
To date, there are a number of established nomenclatures which represents many forms of religious study based on their distinct methods and approaches. Francis X. Clooney listed them with a brief explanation: comparative religion, theology, theology of religions, interreligious dialogue, dialogical/interreligious theology, and comparative theology (Clooney, 2010). Prominent pluralists offered more defined nomenclatures: world theology (Smith, 1989), global theology (Ambler, 1990) and global ethic (Parliament of the World’s Religions, 1993). There are also unique nomenclatures formulated within an identified framework or premises such as meta-religion (Al-Faruqi, 1986a) and transcendent unity of religions (Schoun, 1984).
In contradiction to all the above-mentioned modern study of religions is theology, a traditional and normative discipline peculiar to the Abrahamic religions. It was in theology that one’s religious truth is defended and others’ religious truth is challenged. Jacques Waardenburg however accused theology as polemical (Waardenburg, 1999) and Ismail Raji al-Faruqi charged it as polemic and apologetic (Al-Faruqi, 1986b). In fact, it is claimed that the rivalry between theology and study of religions can still be felt in some academic settings as in the case of the German-speaking academy (Berthrong & Clooney, 2012).
A number of modern Christian theologians are concerned with the methodological struggle between theology and the study of religions. They promoted comparative theology as a reconciliatory discipline between the two disciplines. Hence, comparative theology is committed to intercultural study of religions and normative judgment will be embarked only after an extended and deep reflection on the texts and practices of the religion under comparison has been attempted (Clooney, 2010).
This may not be the case in most of the Islamic studies faculties or departments. As the former establishes the gap between the two disciplines, the latter seems unaffected by the gap. Muslim theologians were therefore challenged to emulate al-Ghazali’s bold move in developing an epistemological and critical methodology in the study of religions (Khorchide & Topkara, 2013). This is not entirely a new challenge. As a matter of fact, almost three decades ago, Ismail Raji al-Faruqi adapted the Ghazallian revolutionary scholarship when he formulated the meta-religion principles and adopted them in his analysis of Christianity (Al-Faruqi, 1967). Nevertheless, despite the bravery and the subtlety of his method, meta-religion fails to capture sufficient interest even among the Muslims academia.
Religious Truth and Intellectual Veracity
Peter Jonkers maintains that the notion of truth cannot be dismissed as it dominates the academic debate among the philosophers of religion, as well as the public (Jonkers, 2012). Modern philosophy of religion, however, plays a significant role in seizing the question of religious truth away from theology. Jonker criticizes that modern theism in the philosophy of religion is too obsessed with the foundational and epistemological question instead of religious truth. In the end, modern theism abandoned many questions that pertain to religious truth on the view that they are not susceptible to the scientific proof. In his defence of religious truth, Donald Wiebe stressed that an ultimate divine truth is against the ordinary truth perceived by human intelligence and senses. Religious truth provides the ultimate significance for one’s meaningful existence. Hence, the only way to find it is primarily in religious doctrines and beliefs in the forms of metaphysical statement (Wiebe, 1981). Ironically, philosophy or religion, speaks of propositional truth and not metaphysical truth. Wiebe speaks of religious truth as gained in intuition that concerns the divine realm and transcends the natural realm. Wiebe reclaims theology to find its way back in the modern intellectual undertaking. However, he further maintains that religious truth appears in symbolic statements that point to or induce the experience of the truth, hence, it is the personal truth (Wiebe, 1981). The issue is, if religious truth is personal then there is possibility that it is relative. In addition, this is in conflict with the objective and universal character attributed to religious belief (Sweet, 1998). Nevertheless, the notion of religious truth as personal and relative may exist in harmony with the postmodern philosophy of relativism. Jonker illustrates this by relating religion to the postmodern consumerism culture and religious supermarket. In such conditions, he imagines that religious belief is perceived as commodities displayed in the religious supermarkets to seduce the customers. There is no need to consult the customers in helping them to make the ‘right’ choice since choices are subjective affairs and there is no objective standard to the customers’ liking (Jonkers, Quarido, & Besseling, 2009).
Hendrik M.Vroom blamed that in addition to the philosophy of religion, the introduction of comparative religion has made the question of truth becoming a more complex issue for it denies the possibility of arriving at a conception of religious truth in terms of one’s own cultural and religious tradition (Vroom, 1989). Earlier, Wiebe condemned the founding fathers of the study of religions for tolerating religious truth, hence, inventing descriptivism in the study. As such, in his opinion, it is a form of methodological dogma (Wiebe, 1981). Jonkers, however, tried to reconcile this methodological uncertainty by exerting his view that religious truth has to be regarded as a tradition of wisdom owned by all religions and secular worldview. Such wisdom in his opinion is a trans-cultural and universally human character (Jonkers et al., 2009). He seems to echo the perennials’ call for recognition of perennial wisdom submitted by the prominent esoteric scholars such as Frithjof Schuon, William C. Chittick, and Seyyed Hossein Nasr. Nevertheless, his proclamation of the shared tradition of wisdom though fascinating is outside the scope of this work.
The debate on the meaning of ‘truth’ may also possibly lead us into the loop of modern versus postmodern truth’s ontological debate. The postmodern philosophy affects the modern notion of truth in the sense that its ontological meaning and certainty is contested. Prominent scholars of postmodern philosophy such as Jean Francçois Lyotard is known for his famous postmodern critic to modern philosophy as ‘the end of grand narratives or metanarratives’ (Lyotard, 1989). The postmodern philosophy denies the possibility of objective knowledge and the possibility of truth. Lyotard accused modern sciences as a metanarrative and he challenged such a transcendent status. Ernest Gellner submitted that postmodernism is relativismus uber Alles which means ‘relativism above everything’ and that truth is elusive, polymorphous, inward, and subjective (Gellner, 1992). Given that the two philosophies as thesis and antithesis, the challenge for a subtle methodology in the study of religions is predictable, particularly as we are dealing with its most sensitive issue which is the notion of truth. Would the modern and postmodern debate affect the notion of truth or the means towards achieving the truth? Having said that postmodern philosophy celebrates relativism, is there any room for religious truth in the postmodern intellectual discourse?
The Quest for an Appropriate Methodology in the Study of Religions
Francis X. Clooney’s proposal for keeping theology, comparative religion, and interreligious learning together has captured our interest given his vigorous attempts in reconciling theology and comparative religion. He introduced comparative theology, a discipline he regards as mandatory to the present theologians as they are expected to be inter-religiously literate and able to understand diversity with the eyes of faith (Clooney, 2010). Hence, comparative theology is introduced as a discipline rooted in theological concerns with actual study of another tradition. It requires a combination of one’s intellectual and spiritual response to diversity. Its prerequisite is to omit the traditional and exclusive understanding of diversity. Clooney highlighted the importance of combining one’s intuitive and rational insight, reflective, and contemplative endeavour seeing the other in the light of one’s own, and our own in light of the other (Clooney, 2010). There may be some complexities with regard to the acceptance of this discipline as Ulrich Winkler recognized the differences between the context in the United States of America and Europe, in particular Germany (Winkler, 2012). The former treats religion as a public item but officially separates it from the state unlike Europe and the German-speaking countries. In the latter case, despite the separation, there are concordats between the state and the Vatican and other forms of church leadership. For example, the government funded the education of the clergy in public university and also equips theological faculties. As a matter of fact, the church has the right to decide on the appointment of professors at theological faculties (Winkler, 2012). In the latter context, the establishment of comparative theology in the academia is possible though it is still limited to the Protestant and Catholic theologies. However, it is claimed that some efforts are taken to include other religious theologies.
Earlier in history in 1967, from within the Muslim intellectual circles, there was an initiative from Ismail Raji al-Faruqi, on reforming the method in the study of religions. He called it the meta-religion principle, a universal rational principle that goes beyond the different forms of religion. Unlike Clooney who sought to reconcile between theology and comparative religion, al-Faruqi tried to do away with a full-fledged theology for he regarded it polemical. Instead, al-Faruqi combined the phenomenological method and the meta-religion principle. In regard to its method, al-Faruqi demanded a temporal suspension of judgment or epoch in the course of learning religions and he has finally resorted to the universal rational principle to help in the judgment process on the religion being studied. He dedicated the method in his study of Christianity that led to the publication of
The question of religious truth in the study of religions is the real hurdle in the reconciliatory project between theology and comparative religion. Perhaps, such a reconciliatory measure may not be the best solution. Theology being a traditional religious discipline is essentially dependent on metaphysics and logic. On the other hand, comparative religion a widely known discipline as one of the brainchild of modern sciences, is excluding metaphysics. Theology acts as the armour of faith and religious truth is its accountability. On the contrary, comparative religion abandoned religious metaphysics for it is only interested in the rational and empirical truth as experienced by man. Comparative religion bothers theology in the sense that the former conforms to religions’ plural truth-claim in the name of empathy and engagement. Theology bothers comparative religion in the sense that it is judgmental towards the idea of religious truths. Both disciplines are antithetical to each other. Having exerted these contradictions and the unfeasibility of reconciliatory method, it is perhaps advisable to recognize the disciplines as they are. Theology, being the traditional discipline of faith prevalent in the Abrahamic religions, deserves recognition for the role it has played in defending and verifying religious truth. In this regard,
Kalam: Restoring a Shared Intellectual Tradition among the Abrahamic Religions
Nidhal Guessom made an interesting demand for the revival of
Guessom called for contemporary Muslim theologians to engage in dialogue with scientists, philosophers, and thinkers on issues ranging from the concept of creation (of time and space, of the world/universe/multiverse, of life, of humans); the question of evolution (of life, of humans, of intelligence, of consciousness, of morality), and God’s role in it; the place of humans in the universe; divine action in the world; the question of miracles; extra-terrestrial life and intelligence; artiﬁcial intelligence. He figured out potential issues that intersect between science and theology, prevalent at the contemporary western discourse mainly discussed by the Christians theologians. Those issues are:
Creation of the World/Universe/Multiverse
The Place of Man in the Universe
Creation/Evolution of Life and Humans
Divine Action in the World
The Question of Miracles
Having listed the issues, it is necessary that we demonstrate the applicability of the issues in interreligious discourses and deal with the question of truth in religion. To further illustrate, taking the questions of free will and predestination and the justice of God, Muslims theologians of the competing theological schools; the Jabarites (the dominant position of the Hanabilites), the Qadarites (the dominant position of the Mu’tazilites), and the Asharites posed conflicting views on the action of man. The Jabarites held that man is absolutely compelled in all his actions, that he has no power over his acts. In contrast, the Qadarites held that man decides and creates his acts (both good and evil) and that he deserves reward and punishment for what he did in the world to come. In this regard, God is guarded from association with anything evil or wrong or with any act of unbelief or wickedness because if He created the wrong, He would be wrong and if He created righteousness (justice), He would be just (Sweetman, 1945). On the other hand, the Asharites tried to mediate the views between the Jabarites and the Mu’tazilites. The Asharites emphasized that man has freedom to act according to his will but it is God who creates (realizes) his action. The Asharites’ view is deemed as orthodox, perceived to assert freedom of action to men, and equivalent to claiming man as a second creator (Sweetman, 1945). The Asharites coined the theory of
The debate over predestination among the Christian theologians was also as zealous as the Muslim theologians. Origen, Tertullian, and Augustine were in support of predestination. There was a slight difference in the way they interpreted predestination compared to the Muslims. According to these theologians, God knows what He predestines and He always predestines good. It is the absence of the good virtue that constitutes sin (Sweetman, 1945). The Pelagius School, however, took a different direction. Pelagius held to the justice of God and that all He does is good, the knowledge of good and evil was obtained by reason not predetermined by God. Pelagius was followed by the school of Antioch and the Nestorian. John of Damascus (675/5-749 CE) plainly affirmed that even though God knows all things beforehand, He does not predetermine all things (Sweetman, 1945). He implanted virtue in man for He is the source of all good. But, man has and uses his power to realize the virtue or to withdraw from it. In reality, wickedness is the result of the absence of virtue. On the surface, the two positions are against each other. A deeper analysis on both positions alluded to the fact that both positions were defending God from being charged as the evil maker for if he does, He is not a just God.
As for the Jewish theologians’ position on predestination, it is claimed that the dominant position in Judaism is the belief in free will for they defended the unity of God and His justice. It was also claimed that this position was due to the influence of the Mu’tazilites and the Asharites (Wolfson, 1967). Maimonides argued for human free will and condemned predestination as pagan beliefs. Human free will justifies for human responsibility, reward, and punishment. His expositions on the problem of free will and predestination are gathered in his two works, namely,
Having presented the diverse views from the Abrahamic religions on the question of free will and predestination, it is interesting to infer that the Abrahamic theologians were more inclined to uphold the Divine Sovereignty/Omnipotence/Justice in the way relevant to their religions. Despite the conflicting details they held, it was in
One of the ways out from such a methodological dilemma is to restore
Modern study of religions in their various titles, methods, and approaches are forms of intellectual attempt to examine and to make sense of the religious plurality phenomenon. Nevertheless, with an exception to theology, most of them are not interested in examining the truth-claim put forward by religions despite it being the most salient feature in all religions. For example, religious pluralism simply negated religious truth-claim and regarded it as a form of exclusivism, hence, intolerance to religious diversity (Ibrahim, 2016a). A closer examination of modern study of religions reveals that there is hardly provision for validation of religious truth. If such is the case, would there be any possibility to defend religious truth in the study of religions? Given that neutrality is the fundamental trait of the modern study of religions; would intellectual veracity be relevant at all? Does human awareness of plurality affect the way religious truth is perceived and studied? Does objective religious truth exist in any way? The answers to these intricate questions may involve a prolong debate but they will at least assist in providing insights with regard to the notion of truth in the study of religions.
Purpose of the Study
This paper, seeks to examine the question of religious truth and intellectual veracity being the source of gap between theology and the study of religions. In doing so, it revisits
A research titled The Relevance of
The gap between the study of religions and theology lies on the issue whether to be normative or not. The former held that the religious truth is beyond cognition. It strives to be neutral and it depends on a reduced version of methodological tools for knowledge inquiry. On the other hand, theology maintains the dialectical method contesting against or in defence of one’s religious doctrines and creeds, by means of rational argumentation. The modern study of religions in its many forms are developed on the basis of modern philosophy is also vulnerable to the challenges of postmodern philosophy in particular the philosophy of relativism. Its failure to acknowledge religious truth and the insistence on neutrality and openness run the risk of subjectivism which indeed, a matching partner of relativism. There were Christian theologians who took the challenge to reconcile theology and comparative religion which led to the introduction of comparative theology as a credible discipline in the face of plurality and relativism. This, however, requires intervention from the state and formal institutions which may not be the case in many secular states in the world. Even philosophical subtlety and a tangible proof like the one attempted by al-Faruqi is not able to bridge the methodological gap or reconcile theology and comparative religion. Perhaps, the better alternative is to leave and appreciate the discipline as it is. This paper calls for a return to theology and also to revive
This paper is an outcome of a research titled The Relevance of
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Ibrahim, H. (2018). The Crisis Of Intellectual Veracity In The Study Of Religions. In M. Imran Qureshi (Ed.), Technology & Society: A Multidisciplinary Pathway for Sustainable Development, vol 40. European Proceedings of Social and Behavioural Sciences (pp. 739-749). Future Academy. https://doi.org/10.15405/epsbs.2018.05.61