Dr Albertus Bagus Laksana SJ. Sanata Dharma University School of Theology, Yogyakarta, Indonesia.
Title: ‘Comparative Theology and Inter-religious Learning: Religious Identity and Citizenship in a Plural Society.’
Description: Growing religious exclusivism, radicalism and fundamentalism among students in contemporary Indonesia have resulted in an urgent need for comparative theology as a method of interreligious learning. Even though the idea of citizenship in the Indonesian context necessitates interreligious sensibility, yet religious literacy among students, especially about religions other than their own, is strikingly low. I argue the need for comparative theology in Indonesia to be fluid about its methodology. Students may have a strong religious identity themselves, but many are not spiritually or psychologically ready to engage meaningfully with other religions. This paper examines the preparatory work required to help students overcome a sense of alterity. The paper also suggests a pedagogy that integrates a rigorous study of religious texts and a more sensory encounter with religious traditions through material culture (rituals and sacred space).
Prof Michael Stoeber. Scarboro Missions Chair in Interreligious Dialogue. Regis College, Toronto School of Theology and the University of Toronto, Canada.
Title: ‘Indigenous and Roman Catholic Canonizations of Nicholas Black Elk: Postcolonial Issues and Inter-religious Implications of Black Elk Speaks.’
Description: The story about the influential Lakota holy man and healer—Black Elk Speaks (1932)—has become widely popular and an authoritative guide for North American indigenous spirituality. However, given Nick Black Elk’s conversion to Roman Catholicism and his work as a Roman Catholic catechist some twenty-five years prior to its publication, controversy surrounds this book. How does Black Elk’s Roman Catholicism color the dynamics of the Lakota (Teton Sioux) spirituality in the book? What is the role of colonialization in the dynamics? How are we to understand Black Elk’s transforming identity in light of this apparent shift to Lakota—Roman Catholic multiple religious belonging? How has the work supported contemporary shifts in Roman Catholic spirituality? These questions have now been further complicated by the recent initiation of the cause for the sainthood of Black Elk by Roman Catholic authorities. How might this process towards canonization function to continue the Roman Catholic Church’s role in colonialism? How might it actually work to support the Indigenous spirituality that Black Elk articulated so influentially?
This presentation will explore these comparative questions in reference to postcolonial theories of C. Keller, H. Bhaba, and G. Tinker, as well as to various commentaries on Black Elk’s spirituality. It will highlight liberation theology in analyzing the religious hybridity of Black Elk. It will also show how Black Elk’s nomination for canonization might support certain shifts in various areas of Roman Catholic spirituality, in light of Lakota influences: to respectful approaches to visionary mysticism and dreams, to a transformed sense of spiritual intimacy with nature, to ecological consciousness and responsibility, and to positive affirmations of embodied spirituality.
Prof Celestina Omoso Isiramen. Department of Religious Management & Cultural Studies, Ambrose Alli University, Nigeria.) (PHOTO supplied):
Title: ‘Religious Identity: A Pedagogy for Interreligious Education among Nigerian Christians.’
Description: Post-modern religious pluralism presents unique challenges to religious educators who must find ways to respond honestly to the diverse realities of contemporary societies. In the sphere of inter religious encounter, identity relates to one possessing a strong confidence on one’s religious identity in relation to the ‘other’. A striking development among Nigerian Christians of today is reflected in their seeming disconnect from their genuine religious identity. This manifests in the “I am born again” abstract response to questions that border on religious identity. It presents a problematic trend as it fails to accurately highlight the honest specificities of people’s practical religious identity, especially when most people appear not to be straight-forward Christians. This paper addressed these pedagogical challenges in relation to identity conflict, acknowledgement of the differences of the ‘other’ and at the same time, respect for commonalities. I discuss how post-modern inter religious encounter can advance from the realm of abstraction to practical religious identity in relation to methodology, content and participants’ consideration for progressive inter-religious education.
Andrew Kingsford. Comparative Theology Focus Group, Melbourne, Australia.
Title: ‘Saiva Ritual Defended - and Repudiated? A Comparison of the views of Arumuga Navalar and J.M. Nallaswami Pillai.’
Description: Profound transformations occurred in Saiva Siddanta, the dominant form of South Indian Saivism and one of the eighteen Saivite sects in India between approximately 1880 and 1950. Factors implicated in the transformation include: the impact of Christian missionary activities and their modes of evangelisation, the growth of an English Speaking middle class, development of a vernacular print culture, and the recovery of ancient Tamil classics - reinterpreted according to modern Western philology. Simultaneously, a longstanding social cleavage between the regionally dominant Vellala caste, traditionally associated with the Saiva Siddhanta Mathams, and the mainly Saivite Tamil Speaking (but Sanskrit- oriented) Brahman community was politicized. My discussion examine this situation and focuses on the efforts of Aroura Navalar (1822-79) and J.M. Nallaswami Pillai (1864 -1920).
Assoc. Prof John D’Arcy May. Trinity College Dublin, Australian Catholic University.
Title: ‘Non-duality: A Christian Option?’
Abstract: Henri le Saux OSB (Abhishiktananda) went to India in 1948 to live as a sannyasin and died there in 1973 after a long struggle to reconcile his Christian practice with the Indian ideal of advaita, ‘non-duality’. This is not an abstract idea but the goal of spiritual practice in many Asian religious traditions, most radically in the second century Mahāyāna Buddhist scholar-monk Nāgārjuna. The Christian mystical theologian who came closest to this was possibly Meister Eckhart (1260-1328), drawing on the ‘negative theology’ of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite (5th-6th c.). For seeming to identify the ground of the soul with God, Eckhart was investigated for heresy. Is non-duality the ultimately inescapable dimension of any serious spiritual practice, whether theistic or non-theistic? Is it compatible with Christian thought and practice based on Trinitarian theologies of creation, incarnation and redemption? Or can it be understood as clarifying and deepening the quest for union with God? The paper will draw on studies of Buddhist and Christian spiritual traditions by David Loy and Denys Turner.
Assoc. Prof John Dupuche. University of Divinity, Melbourne.
Title: ‘Comparative theology and religious education in Catholic Schools.’
Abstract: How does a Catholic school maintain its specific identity while at the same time creating a vibrant community where students of all faiths are respected and their values promoted? This question lies at the basis of the document ‘Welcoming Each Other: Guidelines for Interfaith Education for the Schools in the Archdiocese of Melbourne’ which was approved and endorsed by the Most Rev. Dr Peter Comensoli, Archbishop of Melbourne, in his letter dated 4 October 2018. In his letter he also asked that “these guidelines be actively implemented in the schools of the Archdiocese…”
This paper explains how comparative theology answers this vital question. Indeed, the principles of comparative theology are the well-spring of this innovative document which shows how students can deepen their own faith by learning from other traditions, which avoids the pitfalls of relativism and indifferentism, which ensures that students from other religions or with no religion are integral to the particular character and ethos of the distinctively confessional Catholic school, and which prepares students for life in a multi-faith and multi-cultural Australia. The paper also shows how these principles can be applied to Jewish and Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist schools in Victoria, and indeed to non-confessional State schools.
A Delegation from the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue visited Australia in September 2018. At a meeting with Catholic Education Melbourne, Bishop Ayuso, head of the Delegation, publicly received this document, spoke to it and commented on its world-wide significance.
Dr Amanda Burritt (University of Melbourne) / Dr Katharine Massam (University of Divinity, Melbourne).
Title: ‘Stories of Faith’
Abstract: The contemporary multi-faith Australian classroom is a key place of interreligious encounter. Developing relevant and respectful pedagogical approaches to teach religiously and culturally diverse students presents challenges to teacher capacity and self-efficacy and to the writing and resourcing of curriculum.
The Victorian Curriculum (2016) includes intercultural understanding as a key capability to be addressed across all year levels and subject areas. It also recognises the diversity of faith-based and non-religious world views represented by Victorian school students and teachers.
Stories of faith, informed explicitly and implicitly by Indigenous and international theologies of storytelling, offer an opportunity to enrich interreligious knowledge and understanding, whilst enabling dialogical practices of teaching and learning. The recognition of personal stories and stories from traditions and cultures can help to foster mutual respect and responsible, informed citizenship amongst young Australians.
Prof Constant Mews, Director, Centre for Religious Studies, School of Philosophical, Historical and International Studies, Monash University, Melbourne.
Title: ‘Songlines and Sacred Teaching: Aquinas, Charlesworth and renewing contemplative pedagogies.’
Abstract: Sacred teaching, I argue, is potentially a more useful concept than theology when comparing aspects of cultural tradition. It is not often realised that Thomas Aquinas used the phrase doctrina sacra much more than theologia to refer to what he taught within his Summa (misleadingly called the Summa theologiae only after his death). Thomas preferred to keep the term theologia for its traditional contemplative sense of discourse about the divine rather than for ethics, redemption and the sacraments, all part of sacred teaching. Thomas saw sacred teaching as resting on both scripture and philosophical inquiry.
While Thomas had very limited knowledge of other religions, his pedagogical technique of drawing on different authorities can be applied to a wide range of sacred teachings. In particular I connect his approach to the way that the Australian philosopher, Max Charlesworth (1925-2014), discussed what he called religious inventions. While Christianity and other religions draws on written texts, I suggest that we can benefit from understanding songlines in indigenous tradition, as orally transmitted sacred texts that recall the story and journey of a spirit ancestor who gives life to the land and a particular people. Songlines, recalled in chant and dance, provide the pedagogical tool of sacred teaching in an indigenous context, but are by their nature sacred. Christians draw on the stories of the Jewish people, as interpreted through the experience and life-story of Christ.
In developing a contemporary pedagogy of sacred teaching, inflected by the experience of this land, the core value must be that of respect for the songlines and sacred stories of its many communities. While the different contexts of Aquinas, Charlesworth and indigenous traditions must be recognised, there are also benefits in allowing them to speak to each other in shared dialogue.
Michael Atkinson. Doctoral Candidate, La Trobe University, Melbourne.
Title: ‘Reciprocal illumination: extending the theory.’
Abstract: Inter-religious dialogue is based on the premise that there is more that unites than divides us; that there are inter-connections that bridge differences in religious values, beliefs and practices. Epistemological humility, acceptance of religious plurality or the need for unity itself have all been presented as unifying pathways across disparate religious traditions. Despite such approaches however, the specific question of how to undertake comparison and thereby approaches to dialogue have not arrived at a standard practice. Perry Schmidt-Leukel has presented Arvind Sharma’s comparative approach of ‘reciprocal illumination’ as a potential means to fill this void. As Sharma argues, the concept of reciprocal illumination embodies the idea that something in another religious tradition may enrich our understanding of our own religious tradition. Reciprocal illumination therefore presents as a dialogical approach with its focus on identity, mutual learning and reflective transformation. `This theoretical paper, although broadly sympathetic to Sharma’s approach, nevertheless points out that dialogical theory itself profits from a deep understanding of moral psychology and social learning theory; areas touched on, but not explored by Sharma. The former posits that a sense of ‘fairness’ and ‘universal care’ are aligned with religious acceptance. On the other hand values of sanctity, loyalty and authority promote a sense of religious conservatism thereby hindering liberal ideals around plurality and acceptance. The latter suggests that it is first and foremost the exploration of difference, not similarity, which provides the tension to question our preconceived moral values and constructions and thereby move to more inclusive ones. Through contextualising these theories within the reflective ideas put forward through diverse case studies, this paper suggests that bridging difference does not lie in making micrological comparisons, or exploring major topics such as truth but rather an acceptance (and even embrace) of religious ambiguity.
Dr Antonia Pizzey. Theology lecturer, ACU / FTP, Qld., Australia.
Title: ‘I am Who I am because of Who We All Are’: Exploring Links between Comparative Theology and Receptive Ecumenism.’
Abstract: This paper enquires into the dynamic between Comparative Theology and the emerging ecumenical method of Receptive Ecumenism. What can Receptive Ecumenism both learn from, and potentially offer to, Comparative Theology? The impetus behind Comparative Theology is that of deep learning which leads to the enrichment of the dialogue partners’ identities. Receptive Ecumenism shares this goal - it focuses on learning from the other in the service of deepening identity, rather than overcoming specific obstacles to achieve unity. This paper seeks to map out areas of potential enrichment between the two approaches focusing on how they grapple with the issue of ecclesial/religious identity in pluralistic context by not seeking to change the other, but being receptive to change in response to the other. The virtuous underpinnings of both Receptive Ecumenism and Comparative Theology, especially the virtues of hospitality and humility will receive specific attention. [143 words]
Dr Suleyman Sertkaya. Lecturer in Islamic Studies, Charles Sturt University, Melbourne.
Title: ‘The Concept of Infallibility: A Comparative Approach.’
Description: Islamic theological sources have long debated the concept of ismah (‘infallibility’) as it pertains to nubuwwah (‘prophet hood’). According to scholars of Islam, all prophets possess the essential attribute of ismah. The quality represents the bestowal by God of a pure, unwavering character upon His prophets and their consequent immunity from sin. Is ismah a universal gift of God to all holy people or does it apply only to prophets? William A. Curtis, in his entry to Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, states that “to believe in inspiration, in revelation, in illumination, to accept a dogma, to proclaim a truth, implies in every case a faith in something infallible”. It would not be wrong to propose that all great world religions and their legal systems in one way or another derive from such authority. The Roman Catholic Church, for instance, speaks of the infallibility of the Church and the Pope and has explicitly and consistently articulated this conviction at numerous Ecumenical Councils.
In this paper I examine the concept of ‘infallibility’ (ismah) from both a Muslim and a Catholic perspective, demonstrating similarities and differences and questioning possible areas of overlap. My goal is to shed further light on the concept of ismah from a comparative theological perspective.
Ven. A/Professor Alex Bruce. Australian National University, College of Law and University of Oxford (DPhil Theology Candidate.)
Title: ‘Self & Salvation in Evagrius Ponticus and Tsongkhapa.’
Abstract: Both Eastern and Western societies in antiquity were concerned with notions of the “self” and its need for salvation, liberation or enlightenment. For Patristic Christian monastic Evagrius Ponticus (345-399 CE), influenced by the essentialist metaphysics of Platonic philosophy, the self was coextensive with the nous which extended into soul and body. In his influential trilogy the Praktikos, the Gnostikos and the Kephalia Gnostika, Evagrius outlines an astonishingly subtle path by which the monastic oscillates between praktikē (ascecis) and theoria (contemplation) in recovering the true self, by novating from body, then soul to the nous in its originally created relationship with God.
However, for Indo-Tibetan Buddhist monk-scholar Tsongkhapa (1357-1419 CE), and consistent with Buddhist philosophy, believing in and searching for the “self” is the very root of human suffering. In his seminal text the Lam rim chen mo (“Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment”) Tsongkhapa utilizes sophisticated reasoning associated with the Prāsaṅgika-Madhyamaka (Middle Way Consequence) philosophical school to deconstruct the very notion of a self. For Tsongkhapa, believing in and attempting to recover a “true self” (ātman) simply perpetuates suffering within cyclic existence (saṃsāra), leading one further away from liberation or enlightenment.
Nevertheless, Evagrius is insistent that practices intended to recover the self, the nous, particularly apatheia (equanimity) does not lead to suffering, but to love (agape), something that at first glance, would puzzle Tsongkhapa. Given the contemporary phenomenon of Buddhist-Christian dual-belonging, this presentation discusses these themes and offers a potential solution to this puzzle.
Dr Hakan Coruh. Islamic Studies, Charles Sturt University, Sydney campus.
Title: ‘The Notion of Wisdom (Hebrew hokhmah; Arabic hikmah) in the Jewish, Christian and Islamic Traditions.’
Abstract: The concept of wisdom (hokhmah, hikmah) is a universal term dating back to Greek philosophy. The Hebrew hokhmah contains a common Semitic root, attested to in Aramaic and Arabic. While it is traditionally translated as wisdom, Biblical usage indicates a broader semantic range including intellectual prowess, sagacity, concrete skills such as spinning cloth (Ex. 35:25), and the art of dream interpretation (Gn. 41:8). At its highest level, hokhmah comes to be interpreted with piety in the wisdom literature of Hebrew Bible. Moreover, we see references to the concept of wisdom in the New Testament as well. Jesus is identified as possessing divine wisdom, the embodiment of Torah (Mt. 11: 25-30). Jesus is also considered as the earthly incarnation of the deity (Luke, 7:35) and one of his attributes is wisdom of God. In the Christian tradition, while Jewish wisdom literature is accepted, new interpretations are provided and sources which narrate Jesus’s sayings became dominant. The concept of hikmah is mentioned many times in the Qur’an (e.g. al-Baqara 2/269) and Prophetic traditions, and various interpretations are provided by commentators. In the Islamic intellectual tradition, the notion is also used to refer to ethics, good behavior, and philosophy. Muslim thinkers throughout Islamic history did not consider hikmah as special to Islamic civilization but accepted it as a bridge among various civilizations.
This paper first analyzes the concept of wisdom in the Abrahamic traditions, showing its universal character and the key ideas common to Jewish, Christian, and Muslim traditions. It then on the Muslim theologian ‘Adududdin al-Ijī’s (d. 756/1355) Ashlar ‘Adudiyya (Risalat al-Akhlaq), an influential classical moral ethics work, and its super-commentary by Tashkoprizade (d. 1561) as a case study with regard to the concept of wisdom. Al-Ijī considers wisdom (hikmah) as the middle way of the power of intellect, analysing seven faculties of hikmah. Tashkoprizade identifies hikmah with philosophy, elaborates it with its faculties, and defines hikmah as ‘Knowing things as they are and acting as required’
Assoc. Prof. Amy Yu Fu. Dept. of English, Zhejiang University City College, Hangzhou, China.
Title: ‘Selfhood and the “Unity of Knowing and Action”: Comparative Study of Wang Yang-ming and Swami Vivekananda’s Thought.’
Abstract: Various studies compare both Neo-Confucianism and Christianity, while others compare Indian and Western religions. However, only a few comparative studies of Neo-Confucian and Indian thought. This paper seeks to fill the gap in a small way, by comparing two representatives of Neo-Confucian and Hindu thought: the prominent Chinese philosopher Wang Yangming (1472-1529) and the well-known Indian philosopher and social activist Swami Vivekananda (1863-1963). There are incredible affinities between them, in spite of their significant differences on a number of important issues, including the concept of action, the concept of self, moral epistemology, and the relationship between knowledge and action. While in Wang Yangming’s philosophy, knowledge and action are one, and a person’s innate knowledge of good has to be extended to praxis, Swami Vivekananda, on the other hand, insists that direct perception is the valid way to acquire truth. For Vivekananda, the moral character of the inquirer conditions the discovery of truth as well. The thrust of the paper is to show how these seekers of truth open us to the possibility of dialogue between different traditions and by comparison, help us see each other anew.
Fatih Tuncer. Whittlesea City Council, Melbourne.
Title: ‘Was Rumi a Comparative Theologian?’
Abstract: Mawlana Jalaluddin Rumi, a 13th century Muslim Sufi poet, jurist and theologian was strongly grounded in the faith of Islam, a fact that never change until his final breath. However, Rumi, like many Sufis, was open to other religions, especially Christianity and Judaism. Rumi’s all-embracing worldview and regard for other religions are evident in his poems and parables and this has made his work attractive and accessible to the world; he is a best-selling poet in the United States and arguably one of the best-selling poets in the world.
My presentation focuses on the life of Rumi and his deliberate references to common and even rare notions contained in other religious traditions. I enquire why he makes these references and whether he consciously participated in comparative theology. The presentation gives rise to questions and discussion pertaining to whether one needs to be aware and intent on comparative theology to be considered a comparative theologian. What level of understanding is required to enter the domain of the ‘other’? Also, where do notions of humanism and universalism intersect with comparative theology?
Dr Christopher Longhurst. Lecturer in theology, The Catholic Institute of Aotearoa, New Zealand
Title: ‘Interfaith Dialogue through Comparative Theology in Abstract Pictorial Art.’
Abstract: This paper sets out to demonstrate how interfaith dialogue can benefit immensely from comparative theology by using non-figural abstract pictorial art. After defining the art type in question, the subject-matter-based approach to comparative theology of comparativist Robert Cummings Neville is taken up and applied to pictorial form (meaning made visible) and pictorial content (what is in the painting). Neville describes the subject matter of comparative theology as “religious and theological ideas that fall under comparative categories.” Various artworks are presented as capable of expressing these ideas from different religious traditions across religious categories, that is, the artworks underscore Neville’s description of comparative theological subject matter in visual pictorial imagery. How this art functions as illustrative medium for the intersection of comparable religious ideas will evidence an interfaith aspect of comparative theology. Master artworks under consideration are from the pictorial genres of American abstract expressionism, Russian avant-garde, and newcomers to the post-secular abstract pictorial art scene. Examples of theological ideas shared across religious borders are Hinduism’s moksha (liberation), Islam’s wahdat al-wujud (Unity of Being), Asma al-husna (Beautiful names of Allah), Christianity’s divine attributes, Judaism’s echad (Divine Oneness) and Ein-Sof (Endless One), Shih-t’ao’s i-hua (one-stroke), and the Upanishad’s Soham (I am That IS), among others. Conclusions reached indicate that abstract non-figural pictorial art can serve as a tool for interreligious dialogue by exhibiting similar theological topics in diverse religious traditions, that is, Neville’s common ground of comparative theology
Prof Ismail Albayrak. Professor of Islamic Studies, Faculty of Theology and Philosophy, ACU, Melbourne Campus.
Title: The notion of ‘spiritual narrowness’, ‘spiritual breadth’ and inner peace in the context of the believer’s life under hardship: with special references to Said Nursi and Aleksander Solzhenitsyn
Abstract: This paper focuses on the religious experiences of two distinguieshed figures from the 20th century who suffered profoundly under authoritarian regimes. Bediuzzaman Said Nursi (1877 – 1960) from the Islamic tradition and Aleksander Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008) from the Russian Orthodox Christian tradition. Both men lived during a time of significant spiritual, social, political and intellectual upheaval and suffered enormously for their respective beliefs. Nursi, for instance, experienced 35 years of imprisonment and exile, while Solzhenitsyn underwent grim isolation, imprisonment, exile and silencing. However, despite their difficulties, they led exemplary lives, confirmed and retained their faith in God in their darkest hour and continued with their outstanding scholarly and literary work. They serve as beacons for all who endure hardship for their faith.
My paper concentrates primarily on the notion of spiritual narrowness and breadth, demonstrating that even though one might be free of shackles, yet he or she can feel deeply distressed spiritually, as Solzhenitsyn puts it ‘the greatest calamity is our spiritual devastation.’ On the other hand, one may be confined to a prison cell yet know deep inner peace and serenity. Of course, there are differences in the ways that various religious traditions approach inner peace, but I am of the strong belief that significant commonalities exist between them. Both these men translated their prison life and exile into paradise. It would be useful for us to identify these commonalities and differences and discuss them from a comparative theological perspective. Finally, to underscore my point, I refer to my own recent experience of incarceration.
Philip Morrissey. Philip Morrissey is of Kalkadoon and colonial Irish descent. (Univ. of Melb). He retired in 2017 after ten years as the Academic Coordinator of the Australian Indigenous Studies program at the University of Melbourne. In this role he created and implemented the University’s first Australian Indigenous Studies major and Honours program. He has published widely on Aboriginal culture, writing, arts and philosophy.
Title: ‘”We have a Law now”: A story of Being from the Aboriginal tradition.’
Abstract: The late David Banngal Mowaljarlai was one of a generation of Aboriginal elders who mediated concepts from the Aboriginal tradition for a wider reading public in the late 20th century. In Yorro Yorro: Everything Standing Up Alive, a narrative of a journey and conversations with author Jutta Malnic, Mowaljarlai relates a story of how the Law was stolen by two men Wodoi and Djingun from a mysterious Melchisedec-like figure named Wibalma. The story in its density and rudimentary form transcends any simple moralistic or ethical explanation and this paper will explore some of the ways the story, as related by Mowaljarlai for an audience outside the Aboriginal tradition, articulates a conception of Being that calls to mind the poetics of Heidegger.
***Nadine and M-C. These can be reduced to far fewer words, if nec.
Ms Naomi Wolfe. Aboriginal Academic. Lecturer in the Faculty of Education and Arts, Australian Catholic University.
Title: ‘Doing’ Indigenous theologies: the challenges and the blessings for comparative theology.
Abstract: Indigenous and First Nations communities across the world have their own unique understandings of the spiritual, and their own ways of engaging with other religions and with theology as a discipline. One of the challenges to the inclusion of Indigenous and First Nations voices within comparative theological discourse has been the challenge of misinformation, and the misrepresentation of Indigenous theologies, Indigenous ontologies and Indigenous ways of engaging cross culturally. How then do we ensure that Indigenous and First Nations voices have a seat at the table of comparative theology? How can non- Indigenous and First Nations scholars engage with works from Indigenous and First Nations theologians, authors and community members? Naomi is a Trawloolway woman, and an Aboriginal academic at Australian Catholic University. She is also foundation member of the Australian board of NAIITS: An Indigenous Learning Community which is developing Indigenous and First Nations theological education worldwide. She will share some challenges and some blessings from the experience of work within Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and share the exciting developments of theological education for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples around the world.
The Rev Dr Xiaoli Yang. Xiaoli lectures at Whitley College, University of Divinity, Melbourne. She is also a member of the Comparative Theology Focus Group at ACU and is an ordained Baptist minister in Melbourne.
Title: ‘Tian in Chinese Poetry, Heaven in Christian faith.’
Tian (天, Heaven), an ancient yet central concept that has long been used in Chinese philosophy and religion, can be traced back to the Shang Dynasty (17th-11th century BCE), where Chinese people referred to their supreme god as Shangdi (上帝). Though scholars have studied the philosophical and religious significance of Tian extensively, its poetic understandings employed frequently by poets throughout the ages have been neglected. This paper examines the concept of Tian, expressed by three distinguished poets in Chinese intellectual history: the earliest poet Qu Yuan (340–278 BCE), the Catholic convert and priest Wu Li (1632–1718) and the contemporary poet Haizi (1964–1989). Despite their historical distance, common to them are not only their legendary life and poetry, but also the concept of Tian predominantly occupied in their poems to express their longing for the ultimate or intercultural exchange for their generations. This paper offers, on one hand, the multi-directional poetic understanding of Tian within their historical and cultural contexts beyond the traditional philosophical discourse; on the other hand, the concept of Heaven from the perspective of early Christians in the New Testament. It creates an intercultural dialogue between Tian in Chinese poetry and Heaven in Christian faith. In doing so, it is hoped that both will be mutually enriched and grow in truth and respect.
The Rev Dr Jane Lee is an Australian Anglican parish priest in Adelaide (South Australia). She has taught theology at Trinity College, University of Divinity and St. Barnabas College in Adelaide.
Title: ‘Take off your shoes. Bridge Building for God’s World. The Work of Romano Guardini and Henri Le Saux (Abhishiktananda)’.
Abstract: In 1963 the religious philosopher and theologian, Roman Guardini, wrote, “... we might discern a kind of division of labour, by which, for example, certain truths and values became clear in India whereas Europeans had not yet grasped them. Hence we might find in the spiritual realm of the Vedas some insights which could be useful for a deepening of the doctrine of the Trinity....”
This paper is about the work of two religious giants. Romano Guardini was a major influencer of Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis I, and Dom Henri Le Saux (Swami Abishiktananda) established the first Christian Ashram in India. Abhishiktananda was a pioneer and model for others in interreligious dialogue. Guardini developed a strong theology of the human person. His inductive and open method of doing theology enabled his work to have an ecumenical dimension with an openness to aspects of other faiths while remaining very Christological. While Guardini could be viewed as rather conservative, Abhishiktananda would be seen by some as unconventional. Yet I will argue that rather than occupying opposing poles the work of these two leaders is similar and complementary, although different in certain ways, and capable of addressing many of the issues which confront people in the world today including the transformation of identity. Seeking unity between the world and God, both were visionaries who sought to bring the world to a greater realization of that which is all in all and which Christians call God.
Sebeesh Jacob. Research Assistant and PhD scholar, Faculty of Theology and Religious studies, KU Leuven.
Title: ‘Inculturational Art in Christian Worship and Religious Education: A Case study.’
Description: For many Asian theologians, inculturational art in Christian worship is an increasingly important strand in the practice of contextual and comparative theology. Despite significant development in theological literature on the relevance of indigenous symbols and artistic idioms in Christian mission, there is little understanding to discern creative adaptations and appropriations. Individual artistic endeavors of inculturation in North Indian Catholic mission are interesting cases for drawing insights into a social imagination based on a dialogical model of religious encounter. This paper will present a case study of the artistic works by Joy Elamkunnapuzha, a pioneering Indian Christian artist who employed inter-cultural and inter-religious icons and representations in the art and architecture of Christian worship centres in North India. In a context characterized by religious intolerance and violence, instead of conventional representations of Biblical scenes and Western Christian imagery, he adapts symbols from Indian traditions alongside Christian themes and employs them as properties in Christian worship. His critics see the inculturation attempts as transgressive, syncretic and even theological vandalism. His unique style of collaborating with local artists and craftsmen from other traditions and religious backgrounds renders his artworks hybrids of religious symbols. This paper will focus on his works in two theological seminaries and their chapels where Elamkunnapuzha’s inculturational artworks invoke unique theological presentation and provide space for an interreligious aesthetic experience for religious education. I will illustrate this presentation with visual images of Elamkunnapuzha’s artworks and provoke discussions on the complex nature of interreligious representations of ‘the sacred’ and the intentions and intuitions with which inculturational art is experienced, appreciated and evaluated.
Dr Ogugua Patricia Anwuluorah. Department of Religion and Cultural Studies, Nwafor Orizu College of Education, Nsugbe (Nigeria).
Title: ‘Ana-Herme-Dialogics as a method of understanding cultures and avoiding religious conflict in Nigeria.
Abstract: Nigeria comprises many different cultures, religions and ethnicities, a fact that can naturally lead to conflict. Conflicts usually ensue because we are ignorant of other cultures and think that our culture is superior. I propose that an innovation known as ‘Ana-Herme-Dialogics’ can help minimize conflict. The method of Anaherme-dialogics is coined from three philosophical methods: Analysis, Hermeneutics and Dialogics.