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Andreas Grünschloß

Der eigene und der fremde Glaube

Studien zur interreligiösen Fremdwahrnehmung in Islam,
Hinduismus, Buddhismus und Christentum

(HUTh 37) Tübingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 1999 (pp.316--318)


This book is focused on the structure of interreligious hermeneutics. Religious traditions have always emerged from specific religio-cultural contexts, and they reflect these diverse religious environments in various ways. In the light of system-theory (N.Luhmann), religious reconstructions of other faiths can be understood as instances of "self-reference". This study is historical and systematic in perspective and it starts with the working hypothesis that the great variety of these different modes of self-referential interreligious relations can be arranged and reduced typologically. Since the topic is of common interest to Religionswissenschaft and Christian theology, it has been attempted to respect both the religious studies perspective on the subject as well as the theological one -- without blurring the different approaches in an illegitimate way.

(Ch.1) In religious studies and theology, the tripartite scheme of exclusivism, inclusivism and pluralism is already a well-known analytic tool for the evaluation of interreligious conceptions. It has even been argued that this tripartite scheme is comprehensive and logically sufficient. During the systematic and formal analysis in this chapter, however, the tripartite scheme of exclusivism, inclusivism and pluralism is differentiated further (e.g. by the categories of "exoticism"/"inferiorism" and pure "modality") and then gradually transcended by a more complex model of interreligious perception and hermeneutics . This model is partly derived from U.Berner's syncretism-paradigm and gives awareness to the fact that religious relations to other faiths can be formulated either on the level of total systems or on the level of smaller elements thereof (or in a highly complex combination of both modes). In the closer analysis, religious reconstructions of other faiths can therefore even appear to be inclusivistic, exclusivistic and pluralistic at the same time.
The formal model with its etic categories is then used as an heuristic tool for the analysis of the following emic representations of interreligious hermeneutics.

(Ch.2) The first case study is devoted to the formation of early Islam in the qur'anic period. The early Muslim community evolved within a context of religious plurality, and this fact is reflected throughout the documents. During distinct phases, the relationship to the "people of the book" changed dramatically on the conceptual level and on the material level, following a set of constructive hermeneutic principles. Starting with a harmonizing outlook in the early Meccanic era, the interreligious perception switched to a distanced and even hostile relationship during the time in Medina; finally, a rather complex mixture of several superiority claims is adopted, leaving the ahl al-kitâb in a state of legal and soteriological ambiguity (potentially faithful and potentially unfaithful). Identity and superiority of the Muslim faith are thus reconstructed in a self-referential way. Until today, depending on the actual context of interreligious encounter, Muslims can either rely more on the rather harmonizing or on the more exclusive parts of their scripture.

(Ch.3) Inclusivism is said to be a decisive feature of Indian religious traditions. After sketching the indological debate on this so-called "Indian Inclusivism", the attention is drawn to the most prominent text of classical Hinduism: the Bhagavad Gîtâ. After a long period of growth the text finally presents itself as an encyclopedia of religious knowledge: disparate (and sometimes conflicting) components like kshatriya-ethics, samkhya, yoga-techniques, ascetic world-renouncing, Veda-criticism and Upanishadic monism, presented in a quite harmonious arrangement, are amalgamated under the overarching hermeneutical dominance of theistic bhakti. Most of these incorporated elements are adapted, reinterpreted and transformed in multifarious ways to serve the Gîtâ's message. In the end, explicit religio-theological conceptualizations (cf. BhG 7 & 9) reconstruct other faiths 'inclusively' as representations of an 'anonymous Krishnaism'. And in modern times, Radhakrishnan and Prabhupâda can be viewed as two opposite interpreters of the Gîtâ: the first emphasizing the harmonizing, 'tolerant' strand of monism, and the other concentrating on theistic exclusivism.

(Ch.4) Buddhism has been widely perceived as a tolerant and modest religion. However, most of the Pâli discourses contain a very critical perception of other mendicants, brahmans or ascetics, and they make it crystal clear that there is no real soteriological alternative apart from the Buddha's dhamma: there is no salvation outside the noble eightfold path. This is reflected in the fact that many dialogues with religious 'others' are composed in the standardized form of conversion stories, the dialogue partners finally taking refuge to the Buddha, his teaching and his community. Other "views" ( ditthi) are regularly represented as leading down into death and rebirth; other ascetics, brahmans and gurus are ridiculed, portrayed as "ignorant" and "blind", and they are contrasted with the uncomparable enlightenment of the Buddha; even the Vedic gods must bow to his achievement. At the same time, however, the Buddha recommends a spiritually 'controlled' attitude to people of other faiths, which is rooted in his soteriocentric pragmatism. In Mahâyâna-Buddhism, finally, the distinction between relative and absolute truth as well as the trikâya-doctrine can serve as new hermeneutic paradigms for religious self-reference in the light of religious otherness. And within the context of Hinduism, the Buddha is again absorbed into the cognitive map as an Avatâra of Vishnu (although with 'negative' implications).
Apart from the dominant conceptual claims to epistemological and soteriological superiority, it becomes clear in the course of these case studies that ambiguities, uncertainties and seemingly contradictory conceptualizations in the face of other faiths are common among religious traditions. They must be viewed not simply as erratic or incoherent cognitions, but they seem to be evolutionary achievements in the struggle of religious systems to construct a relevant set of guiding principles and differences for their ongoing self-referential contact with the surrounding world.

(Ch.5) This leads to a phenomenological conclusion. Religious encounters with other religious systems most commonly lead to competitive superiority claims and to predominantly self-preserving and allergic representations of 'otherness'. Religious systems can strengthen their identity in difference to other systems (1) by an intensification of their own immanent elements, or (2) by an extensification, be it (a complex set of) conceptual relationships towards the other or (3) selective material inclusions of the other. All three modes of self-reference can be combined in simple or complex ways. For example, adaption and transformation of 'other elements' into the 'own' system need not necessarily be accompanied by positive (harmonizing) conceptual relationships; they can take place even in the context of genetic or evaluative distancing. However, antipathy, polemic degrading and apologetic reaction are more dominant (e.g. the construction of a homo religiosus perversus ), whereas elaborate religious xenologies are extremely seldom. Based on the formal (etic) model of interreligious perception developed in the first chapter and the empirical (emic) findings of the case studies, several dominant types of interreligious hermeneutics can be outlined phenomenologically during the course of this chapter, which is concluded with a prospect on the phenomenology of religious alterity . In most cases, encounter with religious otherness is mastered with by means of an interpretative Gleichschaltung (unification), which appears as a mode of self-reproduction and which leaves only preconceived 'homelands' for a -- false or even monstuous -- alter ego . Immanent capacities for self-relativization, tolerance of ambiguity and certain reservations of insecurity can therefore be seen as important prerogatives for sensitive religious xenologies which are needed in the context of religiously plural societies today.

(Ch.6) The final chapter is devoted to a theological conclusion. It starts with a short demonstration of the model's heuristic usefulness in the context of Christian "theology of religions". Pluralist theologies of religion, for example, can appear as meta-inclusivistic reconstructions of other religions since, hermeneutically, they do not escape the problem of interpretative unification to their authors' leading conceptual horizons. The main question then is: How can faithful participation in one's 'own' tradition be combined with a sensitive mode of interreligious hermeneutics, doing justice to the continuing otherness of the 'other'? How can basic "misunderstanding" (Schleiermacher) and conflict, common to all interpretative efforts, gradually be overcome? -- In the attempt to deal with these issues, biblical and systematic-theological insights are combined with a set of helpful meta-constraints upon interpretation (Lenk, Collin) and guiding principles for a Christian hermeneutics of the 'Other'. From a Christian perspective, any genuine attempt to understand another religious perspective must lead to a contradictory and almost 'aporetic' situation: continuity with the 'own' faith is to be maintained as well as an hermeneutic openness towards a non-definable 'Other' -- and: the 'Other' must not be (ab)used as a secret path toward pious self-immunization. But hermeneutically, a kind of interpretative 'inclusivism' can never be evaded. All the more important are self-critical assessments of antipathies and hermeneutical conflicts. According to the constructive principles of Christian self-reference, any conceptual reconstruction of other faith must be seen as being doxological in nature and it can be attempted only with severe eschatological reservation.


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