Chapter 9 The God of the Intellect and the God of Lived Religion(s): Reflections on Maimonides, Wittgenstein and Burrell

In: Interpreting Interreligious Relations with Wittgenstein: Philosophy, Theology and Religious Studies
Daniel H. Weiss
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In this paper, I argue that Wittgenstein’s criticism of certain dangers in philosophy can help us to distinguish between two different approaches to the question of interreligious communication. I focus on communication among the traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Within each of these three traditions, one can discern a sub-tradition that finds certain aspects of the ‘everyday religious or scriptural language’ of its own received tradition to be problematic. Often shaped by criteria influenced by Aristotelian or Neoplatonic modes of thought, or a combination of both, this sub-tradition seeks to produce an intellectually purified reinterpretation of religious language and concepts. Because such thinkers in the sub-traditions within Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have been shaped by similar philosophical criteria, their accounts can be put into fruitful conversation with one another. David Burrell has promoted interreligious communication on this type of foundation in interesting and illuminating ways, which includes an interpretation of Maimonides. After examining Burrell’s approach, I will argue, through analysis of the thought of Maimonides and drawing on Wittgenstein’s critique of philosophy, that interreligious communication on this basis runs a strong risk of turning the endeavor into a project largely restricted only to the intellectual elite within in each tradition.

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