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Theorising a Decolonising Asian Hermeneutic for Comparative Theology

some Perspectives from Global and Singaporean Eyes

In: International Journal of Asian Christianity
Author:
Paul Hedges Studies in Interreligious Relations Programme, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies Nanyang Technological University, Singapore ispmhedges@ntu.edu.sg

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Abstract

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.

Abstract

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.

1 Introduction

There cannot be an Asian comparative theology, any more than there can be, strictly speaking, a Western comparative theology. Richard King has spoken of the hyper-reality of our concepts of the “Orient” and “Occident”, whereby the concepts become reified beyond any underlying reality they speak to. 1 The borders of Asia and Europe are porous, and more imagined than actual, with interaction passing both ways, meaning that the East and West (Asia, Europe, Africa, and beyond) enthuse each other’s ways of thinking, knowing, and being. Nevertheless, we cannot blithely dismiss differences because they do exist as social realities, reinforced through colonial and neo-colonial regimes of hegemonic discourse. Further, as the Malaysian sociologist Syed Hussein Alatas argued, previously colonised peoples may retain a “captive mind” whereby they internalise and remain trapped within the colonial (here, read “Western”) norms and ways of knowing. 2 This paper argues that if comparative theology is to fulfil its potential, seeking to cross borders and return to a home tradition to renew it, then it is not enough for it to do so within dominant Western frames, whether this be a particular stream of Christianity, or certain Western-centric modes of knowing and understanding. To this end, this paper will seek to advance ways in which Asian perspectives challenge the regnant discourse of comparative theology. It will proceed in three stages: firstly, setting out some key aspects of the postcolonial critique of comparative theology; secondly, extending this, showing how conceptions of “religion” in the discipline are often based in problematic Western paradigms; and, finally, suggesting that a hermeneutical basis for comparative theology may be rethought through Asian lenses, and offering one example of this. Two caveats may be raised here. First, given the limitations of space within this paper, I offer more of a sketch towards theorising hermeneutics rather than a fully developed theory, however, I certainly seek to do more than make the oft-repeated call for Asian theory by indicating an example for this. Second, the author acknowledges his positionality as a Western-born and trained scholar who is seeking to theorise an Asian perspective, for although having lived in Asia for many years (and having a half-Asian family), I will still be perceived (legitimately) as a Western scholar. This will be reflected on further as we proceed.

2 On the Postcolonial Critique of Comparative Theology 3

In launching a postcolonial critique of comparative theology, my aim is not to dismiss it as inevitably tainted, 4 but to become alert to the discourse and expectations that are inherent in that context, and to seek to show how it may move beyond the worldview that birthed it. This is especially so, given some problematic Western-centric bias that can be found within it. To be clear on what it is we are discussing as comparative theology, my focus here is on a particular lineage identified under this rubric. 5 Sometimes distinguished as the New Comparative Theology (nct), and so demarcated from the Old Comparative Theology (oct) of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries with its missionary or Christian supremacist agendas, from around the 1980s such figures as Francis Clooney, Keith Ward, James Fredericks, and Robert Neville, undertook a venture of interreligious learning and comparison that sought to avoid partisanship, and to understand the Other on their own terms. 6 In addressing postcolonial critiques of the nct, which cannot be done fully here, 7  I frame the discussion around three issues: location, hermeneutics, and religion.

Location alerts us to the fact that comparative theology arises almost solely within a Western and Christian world. This relates to the author’s own positionality, and the question of whether a white, Western, male (straight, middle-class, etc.) may be able to decolonise the discipline, or legitimately discuss the postcolonial critique? I begin with this, but it may be unfair to criticise a practice because it developed in a particular place and at a particular time. Everything and everyone has a history, much of it is not of their own choosing. 8 Nevertheless, the Western-centric location is almost as much a feature of the nct as the oct. It is an almost entirely Christian (mainly Catholic) affair, while perhaps the most prominent non-Christian voice is Jefferey Long, 9 an American convert to Hinduism. This is not to dismiss Long’s work as orientalist, but it shows the strong Western-centric location of the discipline, with this special edition being a notable exception, although some non-Western works already exist. 10 However, just as it can be argued that even the oct helped to undercut the Western and Christian understanding of “religion” 11 (discussed further below), so, arguably, does the nct help open Christian and Western thought to alternative voices.

Turning to hermeneutics, this raises the way that Western theory has undergirded comparative theology. The lineage of philosophical hermeneutics, from Schleiermacher and Dilthey through Heidegger to Gadamer and Ricoeur, has been key. 12 As implicitly stated above, there is no “Western” tradition of philosophy that is not influenced and indebted to a global flow and exchange of ideas, though this has been hidden in various ways. 13 Moreover, a Gadamerian “opening of horizons” to transcend one’s own parochial worldview means this lineage leads us to learn from various traditions. 14 Nevertheless, the theory and hermeneutical principles of comparative theology bear a very Western-centric flavour. 15 We will raise this again in our final section.

Finally, it has been alleged that the way that comparative theology typically envisages religion rests in what is often termed the World Religions Paradigm (wrp), the deeply problematic representation of “religion” as textual, elite, cognitive, and defined by discrete and isolated traditions, 16 though this is not true of all manifestations of comparative theology. The wrp has often envisaged religion in ways that do not resonate with the Asian experience, discounting identity, embodiment, lived practice, and non-textual sources. 17 I will not say more about this here, as the problem of “religion” is addressed in the next section.

As noted, this is far from a thorough postcolonial assessment of the nct, but it raises some key issues that we will come back to. Here, we can note that an aim to develop an Asian comparative theology needs to consider location, and all locations have a history and context. That comparative theology comes from somewhere, does not make it, I would contest, a priori orientalist. But, the proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the eating, or in more theological language: by their fruits you will know them (itself an Asian, specifically Middle Eastern, hermeneutical principle). As such, my aim is to show where comparative theology may move towards decolonising its practices through revising (also revisiting) its principles.

3 Decolonising the Concept “Religion” within Southeast Asia

Religions exist. They do. There is no getting away from it, even here in Asia. This may seem an odd way to start an analysis of how we may go about decolonising the concept “religion” in an Asian context. Decades of scholarship have argued, inter alia, that religion is a facet of the Western scholarly imagination; religion is a product of a particular Western-Protestant-modern-European socio-cultural matrix; the religions of Asia have been manufactured by Western scholars and colonial masters for their own purposes of control and classification; it is an “empty signifier”, and purely a figment of discourse and smoke and mirrors, a phantasm of the mind. 18 Well, yes, in part these arguments have some weight. But, nevertheless, at least three responses must be made.

Firstly, whether or not “religions” existed in the past, or are purely a Western, Protestant ideological construction, the concept has spread successfully and rapidly. For instance, almost every country has freedom of religion and belief legislation enshrined in its legal framework and constitution, and bodies representing “religions” exist globally. However, this does not mean that “religion” is done the same way everywhere, nor that Asian religiosity is the same as Western religiosity. I will come back to this.

Secondly, as I and others have argued elsewhere, the arguments for religion solely being a modern Western scholarly imaginative act are fundamentally flawed. 19 While, the particular way we envisage religion in mainstream discourse reflects a problematic Western and Protestant bias in the wrp, those traditions we label “religions” have “existed” and interacted in many ways. For instance, the Islamic notions of ahl-al-kitab (“the people of the book”) and islam (submission to the will of God) envisaged a world in which many of those traditions we see today as “religions” (e.g. Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Sabianism, Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, and Hinduism) were related. Likewise, in China, debates between Daoists, Buddhists, and Confucianists, which saw so-called Nestorian Christians linked into the same matrix, envisaged a certain common ground. It is simply historically inaccurate to say that those things we today call religions were only linked and connected by Western scholars and colonial powers.

Thirdly, agency as a theme, directly linking to our decolonising concern, questions the narrative of some forms of critical religion scholarship that all religions were created by the West. The constant refrain is of a one-way power dynamic: hapless indigenous Asians, Africans, Americans, etc. were at the mercy, and unable in any way to resist, the imposition of Western concepts which have reshaped their worlds, such that if any Hindu or Buddhist these days may identify with those religions they are simply showing their continued ignorance and the need for white saviour figures to come and remove the blindness that still afflicts them: fear not for the white man still knows best, the critical religion scholar declares with vigour. 20 For instance, it was long argued that Hinduism was entirely constructed by Western agency, but current scholarship shows the superstructure of ideas and concepts that we have come to know as Hinduism today has existed since at least the medieval period, even before the Moghuls arrived. 21 Indeed, much of what may seem distorted in representations of Hinduism were not solely Western creations, but related to particular indigenous informants (literate elites) peddling their sectarian viewpoint as the “true” tradition, the creation or imposition of an indigenous elite perspective. 22

These issues complicate some simplistic representations of the decolonial project whereby we simply skim away what the West has done and then we find indigenous conceptions. Three points, in particular, can be highlighted. First, “religion” is not simply a Western imposition on Asia, but part of an interaction of Asian traditions with Western conceptions as indicated above. 23 As Talal Asad has noted, rather than simply assigning Western “guilt” and Asian “innocence” we need to understand the discourses which have created our current representations. 24 Second, suggesting we can get rid of Western influence to return to a pure and unsullied Asian “religion” is replete with orientalist tropes of an ancient, monolithic, and unchanging tradition. Third, a concern with justice or the subaltern traditions would certainly make us suspicious of any attempt simply to retain, or revert to, the “original texts” or any other imagined source which may simply represent elite traditions. 25

With these points made, we may still ask what is different about religion in Asia. One aspect is the way that religious borders have been imagined very differently here. For instance, in the Chinese cultural world, strict belonging to only one “religion” was never normative, rather it was assumed (at both popular and elite levels) that one could employ and interact with the varied religions in the Shared Religious Landscape (srl) in what has been termed an act of Strategic Religious Participation (srp). 26 These terms refer to the way that people engage in religious festivals, rites, or with specialists in ways that work for them (Strategic Religious Participation), within a context that assumes a shared metaphysics and commonality of religious ecology (Shared Religious Landscape) such that engagement in seemingly “distinct” traditions is not “illicit” crossing what may seem to be “confessional” borders. In this model, people do not typically “belong” to one religion but will “strategically” make use of, for instance, Buddhist funeral rites, Daoist exorcists, folk/shamanic priests, and Confucian social mores.

Let me note what this might mean in Southeast Asia, 27 particularly in Indonesia and Singapore. Religion, while often fixed and codified along wrp lines in census data and in official conceptions, often operates very differently on the ground. To note, firstly, two examples of religion’s institutionalisation: in Indonesia, one must, as a citizen, belong to one of six recognised traditions (Buddhism, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Protestantism, Roman Catholicism); while in Singapore the census lets you likewise choose only one religion, primarily one of the ten “major religions” (Baha’i, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Sikhism, Taoism, Zoroastrianism). 28 However, a more syncretic practice exists on the ground: Christians and Muslims have long had shared shrines; combined Daoist, Chinese folk religion, and Muslim folk shrines exist; and, many Chinese and Indians will readily worship or offer reverence at whichever place of worship they pass. 29 This religiosity, arguably, resonates with the Strategic Religious Participation in a Shared Religious Landscape model that typifies traditional Chinese religious ecology. Again, that in Indonesia, Protestantism and Catholicism are recognised as two distinct religions, while in Singapore both form part of Christianity, alerts us to the shifting and porous borders of whatever “religion” may be. Thinking religion in Southeast Asia will, therefore, always be contextual. There is certainly not a single Southeast Asian, nor Indonesian, Singaporean, Thai, Filipino, etc. perspective on whatever religion may be. The author’s own positionality in currently writing from a Singaporean perspective, but one alert to wider global flows, comes in part from this context. But to relate it directly to comparative theology, the typical motif of crossing and returning, whereby one has a home tradition which one leaves (temporarily) to understand another religion and then returns to in order to benefit the community, is problematised in a Strategic Religious Participation in a Shared Religious Landscape model. What is the home tradition? What does crossing mean when no “natural” border is perceived to exist? To which community does this relate?

4 Towards a Decolonising Asian Hermeneutic for Comparative Theology

However, I argue here that it is not simply enough for us to rethink our notion of religion for comparative theology to be decolonised. If Asian comparative theologians do “business-as-usual” in terms of Western theory but just add some contextual terms, we remain in Alatas’ “captive mind”. Hence an Asian hermeneutic theory is a first principle to decolonise comparative theology. (It may be objected that in continuing to employ the term “hermeneutic” I play into Western epistemology, but it stands here as a marker for thinking about interpretation which is a wider human activity.) The need for this theoretical basis may also be explicated in the following way by Walter Mignolo:

So, it is the colonial subaltern that carries on its shoulders the global colonial difference, the racialized colonial wound. They are what Frantz Fanon identified as “les damnés de la terre” (“the wretched of the earth”). What is the colonial difference and the colonial wound? To put it simply, it is the authority and legitimacy of Euro-centred epistemology, from the left to the right, assuming or explicitly declaring the inferiority of non-Christian, colored skin, of those not born speaking modern European languages or who were born speaking a surrogate version of a European language, like in British India, Spanish America, the French Caribbean, etc. 30

It cannot simply be adequate that a decolonised Asian comparative theology fits within the nct’s paradigms but with indigenous terms, looking in the same way but with different eyes, or shaping the same old practices but with new data. However, this is not to say that everything about the nct must be rejected. I would contend that a truly decolonial comparative theology would welcome, in a mature reflection, the resources from both the nct and indigenous traditions, while as I have indicated above the nct may provide the potential “opening of horizons” to bring in Asian perspectives, at the very least implicitly, that would destabilise a Western-centrism. However, the need and necessity to break from old ways must be foremost. A related important perspective, drawing from the African postcolonial and feminist biblical scholar Musa Dube as interpreted by the Asian American theologian Boyung Lee, is that there is a danger of Western theory remaining a central pole around which other traditions are mediated. It can make a situation in which various traditions seek to be the prime interlocutor with Western theory, but as Lee argues:

This dynamic often results in unhealthy relationships between the marginalized as they compete with each other to be a more important partner of the dominant group. This mode of engagement thus helps the dominant group to keep the status quo, while putting other groups at odds with one another. 31

As such, in drawing upon mainly Asian theory, or particular strands of it, I do not want to prioritise these in the interaction with comparative theology, rather I would argue that a hermeneutical principle from a decolonising lens would essentially seek to break free from seeing Western hermeneutics as normative. 32

As noted, I want to do more than repeat oft-heard calls for decolonising theory, but also to move towards that. As such, I will engage with the thought of the highly influential Mahāyāna Buddhist philosopher Nāgārjuna. I will not engage here with arguments as to whether Nāgārjuna existed, whether he was one or several people, or whether particular texts can be attributed to him. Here, I will assume that texts and arguments seen as his within the Chinese Buddhist tradition can be taken as his, and indeed strong arguments for their authenticity have been made. 33 Rather, from Nāgārjuna I want to, as others have argued is possible, 34 embark upon decolonial theorising. This explicates an idea I have advanced previously. 35

It is often held that Nāgārjuna did not regard himself as propounding a philosophical position, instead what he was doing was negating all philosophy. His argument, therefore, is not so much to exert a position as to free the mind from clinging to concepts or ideas. In this it could be seen as an aid to mediation. Central to Nāgārjuna’s thought is what is often termed Emptiness or śūnyatā, which is often said to be about “fullness” as much as “emptiness” but this is another problematic statement. 36 Indeed “fullness” may even be a worse translation as it suggests a something, or an ontological “is-ness” or being which we could grasp. Nāgārjuna stressed that we could never grasp the wholeness of things through words. For Nāgārjuna, “truth” is not reached, at least at any intellectual level. This is expressed, in the Chinese context, in his famous Fourfold Negation of Opposites:

Nothing comes into being, nor does anything disappear.

Nothing is eternal, nor has anything an end.

Nothing is identical, or differentiated,

Nothing moves hither, nor moves anything thither. 37

In other terms, Nāgārjuna argues that there is neither origination nor cessation (beginning nor end of any actual thing as an independent entity in its own right), permanence nor impermanence (for phenomena always depend on others so it is not right to assert essentialism or nihilism), unity or diversity (as interrelated beings we are united but not identical to all others), or coming or going (for asserting this implies that a thing is at some point, whereas in a Buddhist sense we are continually “becoming” rather than achieving an “essence” which may come or go – flux is our natural state).

In succinct form, this expression is the argument with which he opens his Fundamentals of the Middle Way, which later Mādhyamika thinkers termed the “Diamond Slivers” because it is seen to be as cutting and precise: “Never are any existing things found to originate from themselves, from something else, from both, or from no cause.” 38 I should also note that the basic form of the Fourfold Negation is found more widely in Indian philosophy, with Nāgārjuna giving a distinctive Buddhist spin to this.

The usage of Nāgārjuna that I am suggesting is already anticipated by John Keenan, who observes that, for Nāgārjuna, any position in and of itself is likely to be wrong. 39 It is neither this nor that. However, for Nāgārjuna this does not result in an absolute relativism nor nihilism. Nāgārjuna, I believe, helps us think this third space, where we deny all extreme positions but do not thereby deny the validity of any position. Just because it is neither this nor that, does not mean that we are left with only nihilism or relativism. It is also not neither this, nor neither that.

Notably, I am using these arguments very differently from Nāgārjuna. I am not advocating that we can have some Awakening experience where we can know the truth. Nor even that we can empty the mind to some transcendent state of mindfulness or meditative awareness. The ontology of scholarship and Buddhist ontology do not need to be equated. Rather, I suggest, we see an argument for denying two positions, but also denying the fact that they are not so in an absolute sense. Yet this is not simply about some new synthesis. We do not simply combine two alternate theories and meet in some middle point and therefore attain the answer. Rather, we need to realise the problematic nature of all theory as it relates to reality, and understand that we do not arrive at truth, or understanding in less absolute terms. But this does not mean we are not on a journey towards understanding. Our theory may be part of that journey even if never a final goal.

The key question here is how this contributes to theorising a hermeneutic for comparative theology. From Gadamer and Ricoeur, comparative theology has learnt about the dynamics of translation across borders and the possibility of human interpretation, 40 while the learning from Nāgārjuna is at least threefold. Firstly, it undermines the inherited Western perception from Aristotle about the laws on non-contradiction that things can either be true or false, and this shows another form of logical possibility. 41 Secondly, it raises a different attitude with relation to how we understand the process of learning away from a dialectical process which has become embedded in Western thought after Hegel, as we do not need thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. This aligns with issue raised in relation to Strategic Religious Participation in a Shared Religious Landscape where the crossing and returning motif was questioned, which arguable has a thesis (home tradition), antithesis (visited tradition), and synthesis (return with new perspective) model. 42 Rather, there is an ongoing questioning in which any home, or other, are held in abeyance. Third, it raises the option for holding our positions with a lightness of touch that means we can see that our ideas are always contextually based, because they are always interdependent and arise dependent upon other factors: in short, all claims of fact are statements of śūnyatā. This does not undermine Western hermeneutics, because Gadamer suggested that from a hermeneutical standpoint all statements have something of the nature of a question, meaning that they are provisional and subject to change rather than final statements of fact. 43 I am not suggesting that these are identical, each rests on different principles, merely noting a potential alignment in theoretical application.

5 Conclusion

In this paper, I have argued that an Asian comparative theology will always be contextual, for there is no single Asia in which it could be based. Nevertheless, taking some principles which resonate within a Singaporean and Southeast Asian context, I have sought to show how the basis of comparative theology will be different. Importantly, I have noted that this must also develop an Asian theory, and have used Nāgārjuna as an example which can help make sense of the context of religiosity of the Strategic Religious Participation in a Shared Religious Landscape which arguably exists there in some forms. An important caveat here is that, in employing Nāgārjuna, the hermeneutics retains a focus upon an elite, male, and literate tradition that arguably subordinates various subalterns including women. Nevertheless, it represents a start in such a process rather than an endpoint. Indeed, we can suggest that the nct is itself an ongoing process, so even if seen as embodying forms of Western-centrism these are not an essential part of it but may, potentially at least, be surpassed as it develops. Asian comparative theology may even be seen as an outgrowth of the nct, rather than a different venture altogether, for both “Orient” and “Occident” (if we do not give them a hyper-reality status) are unstable signifiers which have cross-fertilised and informed each other throughout history. Furthermore, in taking the positionality of the author into account, I would hope that it may be shown that comparative theology is not bound by its origins and that its driving hermeneutical principles could be seen as something which would allow it to transcend this. However, I must leave any assessment of the success of this venture to others.

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  • Sweetman, Will . “Against Invention: A richer history for ‘Hinduism’.” rsp Podcast (19 February 2018), available at: http://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/podcast/against-invention-a-richer-history-for-hinduism.

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  • Tharoor, Shashi . Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India (London: Penguin, 2017) (first published as An Era of Darkness: the British Empire in India (Delhi: Penguin, 2016)).

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  • Thulaja, Naidu Ratnala . Loyang Tua Pek Kong Temple.” Singapore Infopedia, available at: https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/infopedia/articles/SIP_352_2004-12-27.html.

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  • Tracy, David . “Western Hermeneutics and Interreligious Dialogues.” In Interreligious Hermeneutics, eds. Catherine Cornille and Christopher Conway (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2010), 143.

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  • Tyner, James . Violence in Capitalism: Devaluing Life in an Age of Responsibility (Lincoln, NB: University of Nebraska Press, 2016).

  • Walser, Joseph . “Nāgārjuna.” In The Buddhist World, ed. John Powers (Abingdon: Routledge, 2016), 496511.

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1

Richard King, Religion and Orientalism: Postcolonial Theory, India and “The Mystic East” ­(London and New York, NY: Routledge, 1999), p. 209.

2

See Syed Farid Alatas, ‘Captive Mind’, Wiley Online Library (2016), https://doi.org/10.1002/9781405165518.wbeosc006.pub2.

3

In this paper, I concur with Walter Mignolo’s assessment that decolonisation and postcolonialism are not separate things, but partly reflect a regional and disciplinary difference, with the former term typical of South America and black studies scholarship, the latter found more in Asian scholarship. However, I also use postcolonialism as a general rubric to discuss criticism of coloniality and Western hegemony, and decolonisation to refer to particular attempts to remove or overcome such influences. See Walter Mignolo, ‘On subaltern and other agencies’, Postcolonial Studies, 8:4 (2005), pp. 381–407.

4

Notably, I do not agree with one reading of decolonial scholarship which suggests that ­coloniality/ modernity/ Western thought are radically differentiated from decoloniality and non-modern and non-Western thought, see Walter Mignolo, The Darker Side of Western ­Modernity: Global Futures, Decolonial Options (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011). This operates on a problematic binary which is both historically untenable (Western modernity has absorbed currents from Islam, Buddhism, China, the Middle East and North Africa over time), reinforces the hyper-reality of concepts that King critiqued, and relies upon a simplistic dichotomy that may be seen to typify the very Western-centric system it critiques. It is not to deny very serious issues with the way that race and otherness are read within Western modernity, see Paul Hedges, Religious Hatred: Prejudice, Islamophobia and Antisemitism in Global Context (London: Bloomsbury, forthcoming 2021); nor the economic problems created by colonialism and neoliberalism, see Shashi Tharoor, Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India (London: Penguin, 2017); first published as An Era of Darkness: the British Empire in India (Delhi: Penguin, 2016), and James Tyner, Violence in Capitalism: Devaluing Life in an Age of Responsibility (Lincoln, NB: University of Nebraska Press, 2016), but these need to be adequately theorised.

5

See Paul Hedges, Comparative Theology: Critical and Methodological Perspectives (Leiden: Brill, 2017), pp. 2–4.

6

On this heritage and the general trends, see Francis X. Clooney SJ, Comparative Theology: Deep Learning Across Religious Borders (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010), pp. 30–53; Hedges, Comparative Theology: Critical and Methodological Perspectives, pp. 5–15; Paul Hedges, ‘Comparative Theology and the Science of Religion: The Nineteenth Century till Today’, in Wilhelmus Pim Valkenberg, ed, Brill Handbook on Comparative Theology (Leiden: Brill, 2020), pp. ; Paul Hedges, ‘The Old and New Comparative Theologies: Discourses on Religion, the Theology of Religions, Orientalism and the Boundaries of Traditions’, Religions, Special Edition: ‘European Responses to the New Comparative Theology’, 3:4 (2012), pp. 1120–37; Hugh Nicholson, Comparative Theology and the Problem of Religious Rivalry ­(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011).

7

For further discussion see Paul Chung, Comparative Theology Among Multiple Modernities: Cultivating Phenomenological Imagination (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), and Hedges, Comparative Theology, pp. 40–7.

8

Julius Lipner both rejects this criticism of the nct’s origins, and argues that autobiography has no place in scholarship, see ‘Comparative Theology in the Academic Study of Religion: An Inquiry’, Interreligious Relations Occasional Paper Series, no. 6 (2019), available here: https://www.rsis.edu.sg/rsis-publication/srp/interreligious-relations-irr-issue-6-comparativetheology-in-the-academic-study-of-religion-an-inquiry/#.XoEpz5MzY1. I contest the latter, and argue that reflexive autobiography is critical to scholarship, see Paul Hedges, ‘Encounters with Ultimacy? Autobiographical and Critical Perspectives in the Academic Study of Religion’, Open Theology, Special Edition: ‘Recognizing Encounters with Ultimacy across Religious Boundaries,’ 4 (2018), pp. 355–72.

9

See Jefferey Long, ‘(Tentatively) Putting the Pieces Together: Comparative Theology in the Tradition of Sri Ramakrishna’, in Francis Clooney, ed, The New Comparative Theology: Interreligious Insights from the Next Generation (London; T. & T. Clark, 2010), pp. 151–170.

10

For instance, Albertus Bagus Laksana, Muslim and Catholic Pilgrimage Practices: Explorations Through Java (Farnham: Ashgate, 2014).

11

Hedges, “The Old and New Comparative Theologies’.

12

See Paul Hedges, ‘Comparative Theology and Hermeneutics: A Gadamerian Approach to Interreligious Interpretation’, Religions, 7:1 (2016), pp. 1–20.

13

See Peter Park, Africa, Asia and the History of Philosophy: Racism in the Formation of the Philosophical Canon, 1780–1830 (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2013).

14

See on this usage and concept, Paul Hedges, ‘Gadamer, Play, and Interreligious Dialogue as the Opening of Horizons’, Journal of Dialogue Studies, 4 (2016), pp. 5–26.

15

See Hedges, Comparative Theology: Critical and Methodological Perspectives, pp. 66–72.

16

See Paul Hedges, Understanding Religion: Theories and Methods for Studying Religiously Diverse Societies (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, forthcoming 2021), and ­Tomoko Masuzawa, The Invention of World Religions: Or, How European Universalism Was Preserved in the Language of Pluralism (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2005).

17

This is also true of how it misrepresents various “Western” traditions, see Hedges, Understanding Religion, and Marianne Moyaert, ‘Christianity as the Measure of Religion?: ­Materializing Theologies of Religions’, in Elizabeth Harris, Paul Hedges, and Shanthi Hettiarachchi, eds, Twenty-First Century Theologies of Religions: Retrospection and Future Prospects (Leiden: Brill, 2016), pp. 239–260.

18

On some of this literature, see Timothy Fitzgerald, The Ideology of Religious Studies (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000); Jonathan Z. Smith, ‘Religion, Religions, Religious’, in Mark C. Taylor, ed, Critical Terms for Religious Studies (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1998), pp. 269–284; Paul Hedges and Anna King, ‘What Is Religion? Or, What Is It We Are Talking About?’ in Paul Hedges, ed, Controversies in Contemporary Religion, vol. 1: ‘Controversial Terms and Debates’ (Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2014), pp. 1–30, and Tomoko Masuzawa, The Invention of World Religions (Chicago, Il: Chicago University Press).

19

See Hedges, Understanding Religion.

20

See Christopher Driscoll and Monica Miller, Method as Identity: Manufacturing Distance in the Academic Study of Religion (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2018).

21

See Andrew Nicholson, Unifying Hinduism: Philosophy and Identity in Indian Intellectual History (New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2014), and Will Sweetman, ‘Against Invention: A richer history for “Hinduism”‘, rsp Podcast (19 February 2018), available at: http://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/podcast/against-invention-a-richer-history-for-hinduism.

22

See King, Orientalism and Religion, and Hedges, Understanding Religion.

23

See Paul Hedges, ‘The Old and New Comparative Theologies’.

24

Talal Asad, Genealogies of Religion: Disciplines and Reasons of Power in Christianity and Islam (London: John Hopkins University Press, 1993).

25

See Paul Hedges, Comparative Theology: Critical and Methodological Perspectives, pp. 40–2.

26

See Paul Hedges, ‘Multiple Religious Belonging after Religion: Theorising Strategic Religious Participation in a Shared Religious Landscape as a Chinese Model’, Open Theology, Special Edition: ‘Multiple Religious Belonging’, 1 (2017), pp. 48–72.

27

The identification of Southeast Asia as a region is itself problematic. It was a Western imposition, first used by colonial writers in the nineteenth century. See Farish A. Noor, The Discursive Construction of Southeast Asia in 19th-Century Colonial-Capitalist Discourse (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2016). In this, we should therefore discount the oft-heard claim that it originates with the formation of Lord Mountbatten’s Southeast Asia Command during the Second World War. See Milton Osborne, Southeast Asia: An Introductory History, 9th ed. (Crows Nest, nsw, Australia: Allen & Unwin), p. 12. Nevertheless, the post wwii and Cold War context helped solidify the conception and importance of Southeast Asia as an area of study and a distinct regional classification.

28

Though in Singapore, unlike in Indonesia, it is possible to officially identify as being outside of a religious/faith tradition.

29

See Laksana, Muslim and Catholic Pilgrimage Practices, and Naidu Ratnala Thulaja, ‘Loyang Tua Pek Kong Temple’, Singapore Infopedia, available at: https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/infopedia/articles/SIP_352_2004-12-27.html.

30

Mignolo, ‘On subaltern and other agencies’, 386. The term “colonial difference” is taken from Partha Chatterjee, The Nation and its Fragments: Colonial and Postcolonial Histories (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993); the “colonial wound” from Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderland/La Front era: The New Mestiza (San Francisco, CA: Aunt Lute, 1987); Mignolo also refers to Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (London: Penguin, 2001 [1963]).

31

Boyung Lee, ‘Toward Liberating Interdependence: Exploring an Intercultural Pedagogy’, Religious Education, 105:3 (2010), pp. 283–198 at p. 291.

32

See Hedges, Comparative Theology: Critical and Methodological Perspectives, pp. 70–2.

33

See Joseph Walser, ‘Nāgārjuna’, in John Powers, ed, The Buddhist World (Abingdon: ­Routledge, 2016), pp. 496–511, and Hsueh-li Cheng, Nāgārjuna’s ‘Twelve Gate Treatise’ (Dordrecht: D. Reidel, 1982), pp. 4–12.

34

Chou Ping, ‘A Middle Way of Emptying Dualism in Social Theory’, in A. K. Giri, ed, Social Theory and Asian Dialogues: Cultivating Planetary Conversations (Singapore: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018), pp. 173–211.

35

See Paul Hedges, ‘On the Future of Interreligious Studies: Academia, Activism, and Asia’, Keynote Lecture “The Future of Interreligious Studies” Conference, Trinity St David’s ­University, Wales, UK (July 2017), I will also explicate it more fully in an ongoing project.

36

See Paul Williams, Mahāyāna Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations, 2nd ed. (Abingdon: Routledge, 2009 [1989]), pp. 72–81.

37

Nāgārjuna, cited in Kenneth Chan, Buddhism in China (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1972 [1964]), p. 84.

38

Nāgārjuna, cited in Carl Olsen, ed, Original Buddhist Sources: A Reader (Piscataway, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2005), p. 199.

39

John P. Keenan, Grounding Our Faith in a Pluralist World (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2009), p. 47.

40

See Hedges, Comparative Theology, pp. 58-66, Hedges, ‘Comparative Theology and Hermeneutics’, and David Tracy, ‘Western Hermeneutics and Interreligious Dialogues’, in Catherine Cornille and Christopher Conway, eds, Interreligious Hermeneutics (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2010), pp. 1–43.

41

This aspect of Nāgārjuna is specifically picked up as a decolonising resource for sociology in Ping, ‘A Middle Way of Emptying Dualism in Social Theory’.

42

On how this operates in crossing and returning, see Hedges, Comparative Theology, pp. 20–1.

43

Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method (London: Sheed and Ward, 1979, 2nd end), p. 266.

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