The New Comparative Theology: Interreligious Insights from the Next Generation models a respectful, appreciative, yet critical dialogue within comparative theology. Generational, gender, racial and even confessional divides are bridged in an effort to develop the burgeoning field. The book is organized as a kind of back and forth between junior scholars with each other and with their collective mentor, Professor Francis X. Clooney, S.J.
The idea for the volume was inspired by a 2007 AAR Comparative Theology session which discussed the problem of hegemony in Christian comparative theologies. The overall concern is as follows. Western Christian comparative theologies are deeply conditioned by imperialistic attitudes inherited from their expansionist, missionary ancestors in dialogue. Even seemingly benevolent forms of the tradition like theological liberalism are suspected of participating in this problematic history. The new scholars featured in this volume, sensitized by feminist, liberation, and post-colonial theologies, discern and uncover the subtle influence imperial dynamics have had on a wide range of contemporary comparative methodologies that privilege such inter- related factors as maleness, textuality, unjust power relations, and a Christian essentializing of the “other.” The questions that drive their respective projects include the following: is there an “other” or many “others” who are being excluded, suppressed, or dominated in comparison? Do theologians and adherents of other religious traditions have a voice in how Christian theologians appropriate their tradition in comparison? If comparative theologies have been shaped by male and clerical dynamics, is the field implicitly slanted toward dialogue partners in other traditions that share in similarprivileged categories, therefore supporting oppression and marginalization within religions?
The emerging generation of comparative theologians critique tendencies toward hegemony and explore new alternatives in the main body of the work. All of them are indebted in some way to Francis X. Clooney's comparative theological methodology and so an interesting tension between continuity and discontinuity plays itself out. Several rightfully begin by pointing to Clooney's comparative method as especially suited for non-hegemonic practices and as a helpful foundation for their own work. Hugh Nicholson in “The New Comparative Theology and Theological Hegemonism” traces the genealogy of Christian views of the religions from the 19th century onwards and lauds Clooney's method for its attention to particular examples and an overall “resistance to generalizations” that often “reflect and embody a history of asymmetrical power relations between the west and other religions and cultures.” (58) Tracy Sayuki Tiemeier in “Comparative Theology as a Theology of Liberation” looks at the outset to existing CT models for her project of a non-hegemonic comparative theology of liberation. She notes approvingly that the AAR group statement, largely inspired by Clooney's approach, is open to conceiving of CT in Indic categories such as “meditative perception” and “insight” in a way that allows for the full participation of non-Christian theologians. The Clooney approach of reading and listening to the other as a source of personal transformation also lends dignity and power to the non-Christian interlocutor, as it affirms that “both have something significant to say about reality.” (140)
There are essays in the volume that pursue this thread of continuity with Clooney's method yet bring his methodology to bear in new, exciting places. Two such examples are A. Bagus Laksana's piece, “Comparative Theology: Between Identity and Alterity” and John Sheveland's “Solidarity through Polyphony.” By interfacing comparative theology with pilgrimage and musicology, respectively, hallmark themes of Prof. Clooney's comparative theological method are deepened in new ways, generating new insights for extending the conversation on how to do theology comparatively and non-hegemonically. Other scholars felt the need to “disrupt” the assent given to Clooney's method as an antidote to hegemony and instead pursued a critique. Tracy Sayuki Tiemeier and Dan Joslyn-Siemiatkoski demonstrated that what can be non- hegemonic in one context can be hegemonic in another. Tiemeier asserts that a comparative theology of liberation by principle cannot be impartial in its choice of interlocutors or deferential to 'mainstream tradition.' The poor in all religions demand our response and solidarity and choices have to be made about whom to dialogue with and about what. If a dialogue with the poor is not the starting point in comparative theology, but rather the very authoritative channels within religions that reinforce their condition, comparativists will have to accede complicity. That Christian theologians could widen the circle of theological exchange and learning beyond Judaism and even Islam seems like a worthy development. Yet, Dan Joslyn-Siemiatkoski in his essay “Comparative Theology and the Status of Judaism: Hegemony and Reversals,” wonders whether comparative theology's preoccupation with Asian traditions such as Hinduism and Buddhism admits of a latent and implicit supersessionism. Judaism is rarely engaged in comparative studies, Siemiatkoski speculates, because it “is not acknowledged as a fully distinct religious tradition and so does not generate the same theological questions as a consideration of Buddhism or Hinduism might.” (97)
The chapters in this book appeal to such a wide range of topics that any scholar interested in pilgrimage, post-colonial theology, feminist theology, mission history, et. al., would find this book useful. With Professor Clooney's appreciative but challenging remarks for the contributors in the conclusion, the book above all displays that comparative theology seems destined for intensive and creative developments in the future.