The Inter-Religious Frontier

A “Buddhist-Christian” Contribution

Kang-San Tan

The article explores the phenomenon of Christians who seek to maintain forms of multiple religious identity. It offers a dual-belonging theology from an Evangelical missiological perspective, with special reference to Christian and Buddhist traditions. The article seeks to offer some trajectories whereby softer forms of dual religious identity may not be incompatible with Evangelical faith. It uses theology of religion as a framework for understanding the phenomenon of multi-religious belonging. First, various types or expressions of multi-religious belonging are described in order to provide a more precise tool for analyzing various forms of religious belonging. Secondly, some of the apparent issues surrounding insider movements are framed in relation to the three typologies of pluralism, inclusivism and exclusivism, demonstrating how different paradigms in the theology of religions raise different sets of questions, add new perspectives and hopefully contribute toward theological clarity on some pastoral or mission issues. Finally, some brief considerations are offered for building a dual-belonging theology.

Kang-San Tan

Abstract

Multi-religious belonging is a phenomenon of individuals who identify themselves as followers of more than one religious tradition. People of faiths may find themselves in dual or multi-religious backgrounds due to inter-religious marriages of parents, exposures to multi-religious traditions or conversions to another faith. In Asia, there is a growing phenomenon of insider movements or devotees of Jesus from other religious traditions such as Islam and Hinduism. Previously, Christian theology has tended to treat non-Christian religions as tight and separate religious systems. Such a treatment is increasingly problematic as it does not reflect the multi-religious realities in Asia where influences and cross fertilization of religious beliefs are daily faith experiences. In particular, there is a need to take into account the experiences and struggles of Christian converts from Asian religions, namely, the converts’ own relationship with their previous faiths.The paper seeks to explore the notion of multi-religious belonging and evaluate whether it is theologically possible for a Christian to follow Christ while retaining some form of identification with one’s previous religion such as Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism or Chinese religions. Instead of a total rejection of past faiths, is it possible for a Christian, without falling into syncretism, to belong to more than one religious tradition?Firstly, the paper will evaluate three models of multi-religious belonging. Secondly, after discussing some methodological considerations, we will explore whether dual belonging is syncretistic. Finally, we hope to suggest a critical and missiological appreciation of dual belonging.