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Learning Interreligiously, by Francis X. Clooney, JS.

July 29, 2018

Learning Interreligiously
Learning Interreligiously: In the Text, in the World, by Francis X. Clooney, JS. Fortress Press, 2018.

5 stars

A provocative collection of essays exploring intersections of world religions written by a Jesuit globally known for his insight into Hinduism and the interconnections between religions.

Francis X. Clooney is an American Jesuit priest who is Professor of Comparative Theology and Director of World Religions at Harvard Divinity School.  His particular area of specialization is Hinduism and South Asian languages and civilizations.  For decades he has traveled widely, researching the interactions of traditional and contemporary faith traditions, especially between Hinduism and Christianity.

From 2008 and 2016, Clooney wrotea blog for a wide range of readers interested in interreligious dialogue.  As he points out, his blog posts were short, thoughtful articles written quickly and meant to suggest a few facts or ideas, rather than be fully articulated and documented academic articles.  Although often touching on deep, critical issues, the essays are very accessible to readers with or without theological training.  In these essays, he often focuses on close readings of religious texts.From these he extracts meaningful images and details there are relevant into today’s world.  He also mines religious traditions to reveal meaningful details or incidents.

This book is a compilation of some of the essays that he poted on his blog. The first fifty entries in the book follow the Catholic liturgical year with consideration of relevant concepts or texts from other major religions. Much of the time he writes about Christianity and Hinduism, his own major research subjects, but he also includes the text of Islam, Buddhism, and Mormonism.  The titles of the blogs give a sense of how his mind works. For example, he writes about ‘Krishna in Advent” and “Yoga in Lent.”  The second half of the book is more varied introducing readers to news and celebrations in religions worldwide.  In typical posts, he uses the publication of a new translation and study version of the Qur’an to help non-Muslims appreciate Islamic ideas.

Clooney’s approach differs sharply from the earlier ecumenical attempts I remember from the 1950s and 1960s. Instead of looking for ways to water down other religions into mainstream Christianity, he asserts that we all need to study them closely in their own right.  He gives close textural readings of foundational books of other religions, looking for differences to his own Catholicism as well as variations of familiar themes.  As I read Clooney’s brief essays, I was reminded off the words of a favorite African American scholar who urges us “to pivot into the lives of others.”  That is the kind of journey that Clooney helps us make.

I found Clooney and this book to be impressive.  They provide a fine example of generous and hospitable conversation around religious differences that we are often told cannot be breached.  He can teach us to be both curious and respectful of others without surrendering our own particular beliefs and practices.

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