Dilatato Corde 5:2
July - December, 2015

Aaron Thomas Raverty OSB
A Sanctuary for Interreligious Dialogue
Lexington Books

The growing “field” (if I may use that word here for lack of a better one) of interreligious studies ought to welcome Raverty’s contribution set forth in this book. He offers an interdisciplinary approach drawing on sociology, anthropology, ethnography, and theology. This is entirely appropriate as interreligious studies is an interdisciplinary field, and Raverty’s graduate training is in sociology (doctorate) and theology (masters). The book examines the unique community of Crestone, Colorado, which hosts several religious organizations, communities, and groups – and examines the locale “as a ‘laboratory’ for engaging in interreligious dialogue” (72). This ethnographic project references twenty-five of these, ten of which represent Buddhism. Other religions represented are Baha’i, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Lakota, New Age, Shintoism, as well as non-religious and interreligious organizations. As a member of the Order of St. Benedict and dressed in monastic habit, Raverty acknowledges his biases in this project and perhaps the special access it allowed him—access that might not otherwise be given to non-religious or lay researchers.
One of the main arguments of the book “is that interreligious dialogue, because it is embedded in cultural practice, can, in its turn, be enhanced and refined by appropriating the qualitative ethnographic methods of cultural anthropology” (6). In five accessible chapters and a useful concluding postscript, Raverty 1) offers an overview of four the basic forms of interreligious dialogue as proposed by the Vatican’s Dialogue and Proclamation and suggests an approach of interreligious dialogue as praxis; 2) advocates for the value of qualitative ethnography for interreligious dialogue; 3) reviews the various voices of Crestone residents and visitors about what makes a place sacred and, in particular, what features makes Crestone a sacred place (e.g., vortex, mountains, sounds); 4) details the twenty-five communities he researched in the surrounding area that contribute to the religious and interreligious environment of the place, and suggests which forms of dialogue might be the most fruitful in their contexts; 5) draws on the importance of “ritual” in serving as one of the most appropriate occasions for interreligious interaction between and among religious persons in Crestone; and 6) concludes with a personal reflection on the his research in Crestone.
The opening chapter makes the useful argument that dialogue is itself a practice, and not to be understood as the strict doing of theology. “Because dialogue is a sociocultural event, taking place among human beings in space and time, it is subject to description and analysis using the methods of cultural anthropology” (34). This is, as I understand it, one of the more pressing lessons that scholars in the social sciences have to teach the rest of us in interreligious studies. Raverty asks, “Could anthropological methodologies assist these approaches to dialogue?” and concludes, “I believe they can, and that is why I wrote this book. My contention is that ethnographic methods are uniquely positioned to ‘jumpstart’ creative ways of entering more effectively into interreligious dialogue” (38).
Perhaps it is chapter five that offers one of the most robust theoretical contributions in its suggestion that “the richest contexts in which dialogue occurs are those involving a specific event of patterned human interaction—what anthropologists would call a ritual event” (121). In particular, Raverty explores the ritual of pilgrimage in the context of Crestone; that is, visitors “traveling to Crestone in their ritual practices of the various religious” traditions (124). Ritual, it seems, founds most adequately Raverty’s understanding of Crestone as a unique interreligiously diverse place. In this chapter, he gives his most lucid and concise statement of Crestone:
The religious/spiritual community adjacent to the town of Crestone, Colorado, originally envisioned and then created through the agency of ideological entrepreneurs, now stands as a “refuge for world truths,” a living spiritual museum and marketplace, a pilgrimage destination operating according to the principles of a ritual economy. (125)
This statement really does capture all of the important elements of Ravety’s project and analysis. In fact, I suggest the reader begin with this statement in mind and return to it often as they read the book alongside it. This book is a welcome addition to the field of interreligious studies and serves as a solid ethnographic example of how the social sciences might contribute greatly to mapping the terrain of interreligious encounter in the contemporary world.
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