UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds

Currents

Are all religions inherently the same?

By Trisha Elliott


Canada is more religiously diverse than ever. As of 2011, roughly seven percent of Canadians identify as Muslim, Hindu, Sikh or Buddhist, a two percent increase in just a decade. If Statistics Canada’s projections are right, the proportion of Canadians affiliated with a religion other than Christianity will rise to 14 percent by 2031.

The growing pains are evident: there’s wrangling over public funding of faith-based education, and debate over religious clothing such as turbans and niqabs.

“Individual religious traditions are under internal and external stress as they are challenged to engage an array of religious others,” writes Francis Xavier Clooney, a Jesuit priest and comparative theology professor at Harvard University, in Comparative Theology: Deep Learning Across Religious Borders. “Some find themselves under siege, threatened by a bewildering range of religious possibilities.”

Comparative theology is one antidote to the modern impulse to claim that all religions are inherently the same, retreat into private spirituality or hammer other religions with one version of the truth. At the same time, it doesn’t mean giving up a particular faith stance.

“Comparative theology is not the same as comparative religion,” Clooney explains in a phone interview. “In comparative religious studies, scholars can be believers but they take a neutral stance in their work. Comparative theology literally is faith seeking understanding. It means you are a believer but have an open mind.”

Clooney began studying Hinduism in 1973 when he moved to Kathmandu, Nepal, to teach English. Since then, he’s written multiple books on comparative theology, an expanding field of study with scholars like Marianne Moyaert and Michelle Voss Roberts applying a comparative lens to religious ritual and body and gender issues.

The term “comparative theology” has been used since the late 1600s, but the focus has changed. Clooney explains: “Historically, the approach has been to compare religions in order to prove that Christianity is the most complete religion. I’m not taking a position on the truth of Christianity. The point of comparative theology isn’t to prove something about one’s own religion, but to learn what religions have in common and to develop a deeper faith of one’s own.”

How does the average person practise comparative theology? Clooney says it’s fairly mundane but more demanding than meeting someone of another faith and adopting a benign attitude of respect. “You can start by picking up another sacred text and actually studying it. Get a copy of the Bhagavad Gita or the Qur’an and study it. Ask questions: How does studying this other religious tradition affect me personally? How does it affect my community? It’s a back-and-forth process of learning from similarities and differences and allowing them to change you.”

Rev. Trisha Elliott is a minister at City View United in Ottawa.



Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!
Promotional Image

Editorials

David Wilson%

Observations

by David Wilson

If statues could talk

Promotional Image

Video

ObserverDocs: Stolen Mother

by Observer Staff

The daughter and adoptive mother of one of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women share their story

Promotional Image

Society

July 2017

From far and wide

by Various Writers

Meet 11 immigrants who are putting down new roots

World

June 2017

A suitcase for Cuba

by Christopher Levan

You’ll find more than giveaway toiletries and hand-me-downs in the writer's luggage. Each carefully chosen gift offers a glimpse into the lives of Cubans today.

Justice

June 2017

Undocumented

by Kristy Woudstra

Up to half a million people are living in Canada without official status. The ‘sanctuary city’ movement is growing, but the fear of deportation persists.

World

June 2017

Resisting genocide

by Sally Armstrong

In August 2014, ISIS attacked Iraq’s Yazidis, slaughtering thousands and forcing women and girls into sexual slavery. Today, the survivors are fighting for their ancient way of life.

Society

April 2017

Dear Grandkids

by Various Writers

Six acclaimed Canadian authors write letters from the heart

Society

March 2017

Called to resist

by Paul Wilson

Liberal Christians in the United States test their faith against a demagogue

Promotional Image