In the Winter semester I will be exploring the world of religions with a new class. I have some students signing up from my previous classes which has to look good to the admin! It is going to be challenging both for me and the students. I've done this sort of work as an undergrad but my grad work has all been struggling with an inside conversation - specifically focused on the nitty gritty world of evangelicals. In this course we will be trying to develop an outside perspective on a plurality of religions - putting aside our own commitments.
Yet, at the same time I want to find the place for our own commitments to come into the conversation. So the first class will have to introduce the idea of navigating conversations about world religions from a perspective of humility, expectation, and desire to bring out the best in others (and even to have the best brought out of our own religious commitment!)
My director often says that the problem with a lot of contemporary theology is that it lacks a good theory of religion. Where I think she is right is that we often think that what we practice is not religion but is somehow above the religious conversation, it has a privileged place. What is disturbing is that we all do it - Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, etc. We all talk about religion in essentially two modes: world religions as a phenomenon and our religion as the only reasonable and reliable faith. Where this gets tricky is that in one sense I believe this should be why we stick with our own religious commitment - why would you adhere to a religion that you don't completely buy into? If you do you will at best only follow the bits of it that are comfortable. Religion, at its best, cannot function this way.
But the other extreme - our way the only way - is what makes religions function at their worst.
This coming semester we will be seeking to find the balance. A good theory of religion. A humble approach to the other. And a desire to be the best of our religious heritage. Sound like a challenge? I think so.