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 Comparative Theology after ‘‘Religion’’ J O H N J . T H ATA M A N I L The word ‘‘Aryan,’’ which, for Max Müller and his generation, had a purely linguistic meaning, was now in the hands of less academic persons, poisoners, who were speaking of races of men, races of masters and races of servants and other races too, races whose fundamental impurity necessitated drastic measures, races who were not wanted on the voyage, who were surplus to requirements, races to be cut, blackballed and deposited in the bin of history. salman rushdie, The Ground beneath Her Feet CONTAINING DIFFERENCE BY DELIMITING OUR INTERLOCUTORS Christian reflection has, from its inception, been situated in a world of difference. Indeed, it would be possible to craft a history of Christian thought and practice written as a series of interactions with and transmutations of movements and traditions that Christians have come to demarcate as nonChristian . Such a history would demonstrate not only that many of the central categories, practices, and symbols of Christian life are borrowed from Hellenistic philosophical schools, mystery religions, and, of course, most vitally from what we now call ‘‘Judaism,’’ but that for long stretches of history, no clearly defined and rigid boundaries existed between ‘‘Christianity ’’ and those traditions we now take to be Christianity’s others. Important components of such a history are now being written, and Daniel Boyarin’s Border Lines is just one recent example that comes readily to mind.1 Alongside such a history, a companion work could be written that would take note of tremors within (especially Western) Christian self-awareness when such profound entanglements come to surface. I suspect that such a PAGE 238 ................. 17764$ CH14 10-28-10 12:07:55 PS c o mp a r at i v e t h e ol o g y a f t er ‘‘ re l i gi on ’’ 兩 2 39 companion history would unearth moments of widespread anxiety among custodians of tradition at just those junctures when ‘‘the unbearable proximity ’’2 of those whom Christians customarily regard as other is most keenly felt. Arvind Mandair has written several important essays that together amount to a critical contribution to the latter sort of history.3 Mandair’s work is motivated by a basic question: ‘‘Why is it that despite the recent proliferation of postcolonial critiques of Indology, its modern successors such as the history of religions and area studies . . . continue to reconstitute past imperialisms, such as the hegemony of theory as specifically Western and/or the division of intellectual labor between universal and particular knowledge formations?’’4 Mandair is especially interested in interrogating the dichotomy between the normative/theoretical work of philosophy of religion (universal) and the history of religions (particular). As a result of this dichotomy, the religious traditions of Asia are understood as data to be studied by history of religions but are not permitted to furnish conceptual resources to and for the normative work of philosophy of religion. The persistence of this divide, as Mandair notes, is all the more peculiar since ‘‘cultural theory has helped not only to dismantle well-worn dualisms such as religion/politics, theism/atheism, sacred/secular, but, more importantly has helped to narrow the gap between academic practices and cultural practices such as religion that scholars seek to study.’’5 Mandair rightly observes that the work of cultural and critical theory has been especially productive for Christian theology. Pointing to ‘‘a reversal of critical theory’s atheistic roots in ‘the masters of suspicion,’’’ Mandair notes that Christian theologians have not only managed to ‘‘dispute the atheistic presuppositions of modern secular thinking in the social sciences’’ but also to legitimize ‘‘the use of phenomena from these particular traditions as resources for critical thinking about religion per se.’’6 Mandair cites as evidence a variety of texts, including John Milbank’s groundbreaking work, Theology and Social Theory.7 In texts such as these, Christian theology is not merely the object of social theory but claims for itself the conceptual power and resources to engage in social analysis itself. Despite such gains in the case of Western traditions, no comparable turn is evident in the case of Asian religions. There, the unmitigated divide between the universal and the particular, between theory and data persists. Why? Ironically, one answer that Mandair advances is that postcolonial critics have been so anxious to protect Indian culture from the ‘‘religious PAGE 239 ................. 17764$ CH14 10-28-10 12:07:56 PS 240...


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