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The Promise of Critical Theology

Essays in Honour of Charles Davis

Written in tribute to one of the foremost Catholic theologians in the English-speaking world, the essays in The Promise of Critical Theology address the question: Can critical theology secure its critical operation without undermining its foundation in religious tradition and experience? Is “critical theology” simply an oxymoron when viewed from both sides of the equation?

From Marc Lalonde’s introductory essay which delimits Davis’ fundamental position, that the primary task of critical theology is the critique of religious orthodoxy, the essays examine Davis’ distinction between faith and belief and build upon the promise of critical theology as inextricably bound to the promise of faith. They ask: What is its promise? What particular religious ideas, themes, stories are appropriate for its concrete expression? How can the community of faith receive its transformative message? What might be the contribution of other religious traditions and philosophies?

Essays by Paul Lakeland, Dennis McCann, Kenneth Melchin, Michael Oppenheim and Marsha Hewitt respond to these and other questions and critically relate Davis’ work to ongoing developments in modern theology, critical theory, philosophy and the social sciences. Their diversity attests to the comprehensive scope of Davis’ thought and exemplifies the progressive character of contemporary religious discourse. They honour Davis and illuminate the promise of critical religious thinking in itself.

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Radical Difference

A Defence of Hendrik Kraemer’s Theology of Religions

It is commonly assumed that all religions are essentially alike, that they are all common members of the genus Religion. But what if religions are not fundamentally similar after all? What if, on the contrary, it is better to presuppose a radical difference among the world’s various religious communities, with each faith being defined by different beliefs, different practices, different world views, and different ways of life?

Radical Difference: A Defence of Hendrik Kraemer’s Theology of Religions explores the implications of this presupposition by examining the pioneering work of Dutch Reformed theologian and missionary Hendrik Kraemer. Perry shows that a critical reappropriation of Kraemer by contemporary Christian theology of religions can only help those Christians, especially evangelical Protestants, who find themselves equally unsatisfied with the various pluralisms and traditional responses, whether optimistic or skeptical, currently available.

Increased global migration and technological advances have brought us closer together than ever before. At the same time, ethnic, cultural and religious tensions throughout the world have awakened us to issues of interreligious tolerance and cooperation. This book recognizes and addresses the impact differing religious beliefs, practices and world views have on our lives.

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Religion in History / La religion dans l’histoire

The Word, the Idea, the Reality / Le mot, l’idée, la realité

The history of the concept of “religion” in Western tradition has intrigued scholars for years. This important collection of eighteen essays brings further light to the ongoing debate. Three of the invited participants, W.C. Smith, M. Despland and E. Feil, has each previously written impressive books treating this subject; the last two acknowledged the impact and continuing influence of Smith’s work, The Meaning and End of Religion.

An introduction and a recapitulation of Smith’s contribution as a scholar set the stage for a retrospective look at the published literature. Contributors then examine the transformation of words (the classical religio to the modern religion), particularities of religion in nineteenth-century France, Troeltsch’s concept of religion, the study of religion from an Asian point of view and the categorization of “World Religions.” The concluding essays elaborate contemporary anthropological, cross-disciplinary, semiological, deconstructive and psychoanalytical methodological approaches to the concept and study of “religion.”

Exploring critically different aspects of the concept and study of religion, these provocative essays typically reflect the methodological pluralism currently existing in the field of Religious Studies. Of interest to scholars and students alike, this collection also contains a complete bibliography of W.C. Smith’s publications.

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The Religious Dreamworld of Apuleius’ Metamorphoses

Recovering a Forgotten Hermeneutic

Apuleius’ Metamorphoses is probably best known as the literary source for the myth of Eros and Psyche and as a primary source of information about mystery religions in the ancient world.

There is another realm of the Metamorphoses which has, until now, received relatively little attention — namely, the many dreams found within it. The Religious Dreamworld of Apuleius’ Metamorphoses offers an engaging portrait of the second-century dreamworld. Recognizing the centrality of the religious function and spiritual interpretation of dreams, this book illustrates their vital importance in the ancient world and the wide variety of meanings attributed to them.

James Gollnick draws deeply from historical and psychological studies and provides a historical background on the current interest in the role of dreams in psychological and spiritual transformation.

This study of Apuleius’ Metamorphoses adds to an appreciation of Apuleius the dreamer and the second-century dreamworld in which he lived and wrote.

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Sharing without Reckoning

Imperfect Right and the Norms of Reciprocity

Sharing without Reckoning is the first full-scale treatment of the ancient and persistent distinction between “perfect” and “imperfect” rights and duties. It examines the use of the distinction in jurisprudential, philosophical and religious material from Classical times until the present; proposes a connection between imperfect right and the “norms of reciprocity” (as that complex set of ideas has been developed in anthropology and sociology); and argues that contemporary understanding of the nature of morality and of moral reasoning would be well served by the reintroduction of this traditional doctrine.

This enlightening study includes a notable chapter reassessing the role of imperfect obligation in the thought of Immanuel Kant, portraying a “kinder and gentler” Kant.

Concluding by elaborating ways in which concepts such as love, justice and the boundary between law and morality might be reconstructed — taking the fact of imperfect right seriously — this work will serve as a key reference for scholars interested in the complex question of “perfect” and “imperfect” rights and duties.

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Understanding the Consecrated Life in Canada

Critical Essays on Contemporary Trends

The story of the consecrated life in Canada since the 1960s should be about much more than numerical decline. Although the falling numbers are significant among Catholic religious in communities that pre-date Vatican II, many communities continue to show stability and even growth. This book provides nuance to that story by adding detailed portraits of movements, communities and institutions.

In four parts, this book presents essays in both English and French from the leading scholars on religious life in Canada that seek to address the state of religious communities dedicated to religious virtuosity normally characterized by formal promises of chastity, poverty, and obedience. The essays examine a broad range of topics related to the general state of consecrated (or “religious” or “monastic”) life in contemporary Canadian Christian and Buddhist traditions.

In the first section, the contributors trace the demographics and definitions of religious life in Canada. The second section examines Canadian developments in Catholic religious life during the Vatican II and the post-Vatican II eras. A third section explores trends in contemporary Canadian religious life, while the fourth section describes the consecrated life in other Canadian religious traditions.

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Veneration and Revolt

Hermann Hesse and Swabian Pietism

One of the most widely read German authors in the world, Hermann Hesse (1877-1962) won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1946. After his death, his novels enjoyed a revival of popularity, becoming a staple of popular religion and spirituality in Europe and North America.

Veneration and Revolt: Hermann Hesse and Swabian Pietism is the first comprehensive study of the impact of German Pietism (the religion of Hesse’s family and native Swabia) on Hesse’s life and literature. Hesse’s literature bears witness to a lifelong conversation with his religious heritage despite that in adolescence he rejected his family’s expectation that he become a theologian, cleric, and missionary.

Hesse’s Pietist upbringing and broader Swabian heritage contributed to his moral and political views, his pacifism and internationalism, the confessional and autobiographical style of his literature, his romantic mysticism, his suspicion of bourgeois culture, his ecumenical outlook, and, in an era scarred by two world wars, his hopes for the future. Veneration and Revolt offers a unique perspective on the life and works of one of the twentieth century’s most influential writers.

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