This paper advances some ways in which Asian perspectives challenge the regnant discourse of comparative theology. It sets out some key aspects of the postcolonial critique of comparative theology, and shows how conceptions of “religion” in the discipline are often based in problematic Western paradigms. However, it also challenges any reified distinction of “Orient” and “Occident”. It is argued that if Asian comparative theology is to fulfil its potential it must not operate within existing dominant Western frames. The author suggests that a hermeneutical basis for comparative theology may be rethought through Asian lenses, and draws on the philosophy of Nāgārjuna to provide an example of this.
This chapter attempts not so much an early history of comparative theology, focusing mainly on the mid-nineteenth to the early twentieth century, but more of a contextualization of it. Key issues will be addressed that suggest the contemporary practice may benefit from an exploration of this history. It will address connections between the burgeoning science of religion and both comparative religion and comparative theology. Particular attention will be given to two scholars, one from the nineteenth century and the other from the twentieth century, Rowland Williams and Burnett Hillman Streeter, respectively. Alongside briefer cameos of other figures from what is often termed the Old Comparative Theology, I will draw out some wider dynamics. Given the limits of space, this chapter focuses on British scholars working in the UK and writing in English, though not to the complete neglect of other contexts, and in ways that hopefully elucidate wider concerns past and present.