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Reviewed by:
  • Grounding Our Faith in a Pluralist World—With a Little Help from Nāgārjuna
  • Ruben Habito
Grounding Our Faith in a Pluralist World—With a Little Help from Nāgārjuna. By John P. Keenan, with Buster G. Smith, Lansing Davis, and Sydney Copp. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2009.

A key feature of our contemporary global society is that religious communities find themselves coexisting and inevitably interacting with adherents of other faith traditions on different dimensions of life. In such a context, given the critical situation of our Earth community wounded on many levels, relating to religious Others in constructive and cooperative ways becomes no longer just an academic or theoretical issue, but one upon which hangs the very survival of this Earth, the biosphere or "circle of life" that sustains us in common. Keenan addresses this vital issue in this volume.

In his first chapter, he describes the difference between this "world of many faiths" of our time and that of our ancestors, who lived "primarily in bounded worlds of monocultural assumptions" (p. 1). He describes the task at hand, that is, of reaffirming and reclaiming our faith within our respective traditions, and at the same time being able to respect and relate to those from other religious communities and traditions in a spirit of cooperation toward healing our Earth's woundedness, in part caused precisely by conflicting claims about ultimate reality made by these different religions.

The three "classic" positions (formulated by Alan Race and taken up by many others) vis-à-vis religious Others in the context of the multiplicity of religions are reviewed, and Keenan points out their respective inadequacies for dealing with our contemporary situation. A stance of exclusivism, affirming the absolute validity of one's own faith tradition, dismisses religious Others from theological consideration in a forthright manner, without bothering to understand what they are about or what they stand for. Surely this stance is not a viable way to live in a multifaith society, and needless to say, it easily leads to animosity, conflict, and even violence. A stance of inclusivism may give a place to those Others in one's own religious worldview, but in a way that tends to place them in a Procrustean bed of one's own theological design, thereby failing to hear or understand them as they are or as they would present themselves. A pluralist stance, regarding the many religious paths as "equally valid and true," may seem to be the more open and workable one in a world of many divergent affirmations about ultimate reality. But such a stance is likewise inadequate, in that putting the different kinds of "absolute affirmation" made by adherents from within their own faith tradition on the same plane as everyone else's "seems to undermine any such absolute affirmation, as well as any commitment to practice that might follow in its train" (p. 28).

Dismissing the possibility of a "lofty vantage point" of a "detached, see-it-all observer" (p. 29) that can adjudicate on the conflicting truth claims of the various religious traditions, as it were, "from above," Keenan emphasizes the need for an approach "from below" (as the volume title deftly suggests), that is, "grounded" in the actual belief systems and religious life of Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists, and so on, respecting and paying attention to the particularities of [End Page 241] these traditions. At the same time, such an approach must be able to "open those very practitioners to other traditions so that we might enrich one another, learn to respect and cherish one another, and live peacefully in the world of our common concern" (p. 34). This is what Keenan would understand by a "workable philosophy of religions," which he describes in his second chapter. This approach calls forth a new apologetics on the part of adherents of each particular tradition, involving a rearticulation of the basic features of their faith tradition from within its culturally given context, vis-à-vis our contemporaries in a multifaith society. This is an articulation in defense of one's faith, which at the same time is sensitive and attentive to the radically differing ultimate claims...


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