Dilatato Corde 1:2
July – December, 2011

Abstract: This paper lays out some developments in the Catholic theology of religions and in comparative study. It critiques them in light of the author’s experiences as a Roman Catholic practitioner of a Hindu form of meditation. Examples of the theology of religions and comparative study from the 1960s are inadequate because they reduce Hinduism to Christian terms, and both religions are too complex to be reduced one to the other. However, the approaches of Raimundo Panikkar, James Fredericks, and Jacques Dupuis are able to handle this complexity much better, resonating better with the author’s direct involvement with two religions. 

Résumé: Ce document présente quelques développements de la théologie catholique des religions et de l’étude comparative. Il les critiques à la lumière des expériences de l'auteur en tant que catholique romain qui pratique une forme de méditation hindoue. Des exemples de la théologie des religions et de l’étude comparative des  années 1960 sont insuffisants, car ils réduisent l'hindouisme a des termes chrétiens, or les deux religions sont trop complexes pour être réduites l'une à l'autre. Toutefois, les approches de Raimundo Panikkar, James Fredericks, et Jacques Dupuis sont capables de d'affronter cette complexité beaucoup mieux, et plus en résonance avec l'implication directe de l'auteur avec ces deux religions.


During the past century there has been a great deal of ferment in Roman Catholic theological reflection on religious diversity. Much of this excitement has been stimulated by direct contact with members of non-Christian religions. As Jacques Dupuis stated, “To scientific and academic study was added, moreover, a deeper experiential knowledge obtained through increased interaction between Christians and the members of other religious traditions. Barriers had begun to crumble, and communication was gradually developing, which brought home a new awareness of what the other traditions proposed to their adherents by way of salvation and liberation” (1997, 131-32). This development continues today as contacts between members of differing religions deepen.


In a 1959 essay, “Comparative Religion: Whither—and Why?,” Wilfred Cantwell Smith gave a reason why contact with members of other religions is critical for the development of scholarship on the world’s religions. Religion lies not simply in concrete observables, but in what those observables mean to the people concerned, religion lies in the ideals and passions of the people: 

A fundamental error of the social sciences, and a fundamental lapse even of some humanists, has been to take the observable manifestation of some human concern as if they were the concern itself. . . .

The externals of religions—symbols, institutions, doctrines, practices—can be examined separately; and this is largely what in fact was happening until quite recently, perhaps particularly in European scholarship. But these things are not in themselves religion, which lies rather in the area of what these mean to those that are involved. The student is making effective progress when he recognizes that he has to do not with religious systems basically but with religious persons; or at least, with something interior to persons. (Smith 1959, 35)

Hence, Smith noted a gradual movement in religious studies over the prior one hundred years from studying religion as an impersonal “it” to a studying it as a personalized “they.” He observed a further shift to a personally involved “we” studying a “they,” and anticipated a shift to a dialogue between a “we” and a “you” (Smith 1959, 34).


The issue Smith describes has a special importance for the study of some Hindu traditions. Many Western Christians consider the written word to be the primary vehicle of religious meaning, but some Hindu traditions regard the teacher to be superior to the written word. The reason is that the teacher is a living embodiment of meaning and is a link between the inherited tradition and the present situation (Cenkner 1982, 127). Hence, true progress and understanding is considered in certain Hindu traditions to be impossible without an appropriate teacher or master.


On my part, I was raised a Roman Catholic, am proud to be Catholic today, but have also been a practitioner of a type of Hindu meditation since childhood, which I learned through a lineage of teachers. The reader will see that I was engaged with Hinduism not as an “it,” mute on the pages of a book, but with a “you” that could challenge both me, personally, and ideas about it. This paper will show how that impacted my reaction to different theological and comparative approaches to Hinduism. The fulcrum of this critique will be the pedagogy and character of my teacher, who is a Brahmin who was raised with classic meditative and ritualistic traditions.


The first section of the paper will frame the issue by showing some twentieth century developments in the Catholic theology of religions and the second will cover some nineteenth and twentieth century developments in the comparative study of religion. The third section will show how an intense interior conflict arose in me in graduate school between my practice of mediation and the conclusions of the Catholic scholars Jean Daniélou, R. C. Zaehner, and Karl Rahner. The final section will show how I found a resolution through the thoughts of Raimundo Panikkar, James Fredericks, and Jacques Dupuis. The section will also show how, today, I live with both Catholic faith and a Hindu meditative practice.


Part I: Catholic Theology of Religions
As stated at the outset of this paper, Jacques Dupuis pointed out that increased contact with non-Christian religions and their members over the past century has led to a positive revaluation of them in many Christian theological circles. One of the first examples of such revaluation is the fulfillment theory of the church historian, Jean Daniélou. Daniélou applied the classic distinction between nature and grace—between what we have as human beings and what God may further give us which exceeds mere human nature—to the issue of non-Christian religions. These religions (excepting Judaism) are the products of human effort; they involve the human quest for God. As such they have many positive features, for human nature is essentially good. However, the fulfillment of religious aspirations can come only through Roman Catholicism, for this religion is not the mere product of human effort, but is the result of God’s active self-communication with humanity (Daniélou 1962, 8).


Daniélou’s approach might seem myopic to many people today, but it deserves admiration. By regarding the non-Christian religions as products of human effort it gives a positive evaluation to these religions, insofar as human nature itself is considered to be essentially good. Such assessments have helped non-Christian religions to be taken seriously and played an important role. For instance, this type of approach gave Henri Le Saux (Swami Abhishiktananda), who was a key example of involvement by a Catholic priest with Hindu monasticism, an impetus for his involvement (Monchanin and Le Saux 1964, 24-37).


A voice that became increasingly influential during through the 1950s, 60s, and 70s was that of Karl Rahner. Rahner made a marked break with the dominant Catholic theology of the early twentieth century by arguing that God’s offer of grace has fundamentally altered the constitution of all human beings through all history. This means that grace is widely available, even, potentially, through non-Christian religions. This is a radical departure from Daniélou’s fulfillment theology, but it has the same shape as Daniélou’s theology. Although grace may be available through non-Christian religions, Jesus Christ, as the Word of God made flesh, is the fulfillment of all sincere spiritual longing; he is the foundation and pinnacle of all divine-human communion. Non-Christians do not recognize the historical figure, Jesus, as the savior, but many have a deep longing, even if unconsciously, for the divine-human communion that he founds. Hence, there are many who, although not Christian in name, essentially exist within the orbit of the Christian mystery and are hence “anonymous Christians” (Rahner 1990, 311-21).


These types of speculations had an impact on the formal teachings of the Catholic Church. For instance, in his 1951 encyclical, Evangelii Praecones, Pius XII stressed that just as human nature is essentially good, so many aspects of human culture, even if non-Christian, are good. Further, the Christian missionary should not try to supplant these but work with them (56-58). A decade later, Nostra Aetate, a document of the Second Vatican Council, spoke appreciatively of non-Christian religions and stated that they often reflect “a ray” of the light of Christ. Although a modest statement and a modest document, Nostra Aetate did much to foster a positive attitude in the Catholic Church towards non-Christian religions and their members (Council Vatican II 1965: 2).


In the following decades, Rome issued a variety of documents speaking positively of non-Christian religions and encouraging dialogue. A statement that pushed the boundaries of Church teaching is John Paul II’s 1990 assertion that “The Spirit's presence and activity affect . . . society and history, peoples, cultures and religions. Indeed, the Spirit is at the origin of the noble ideals and undertakings which benefit humanity on its journey through history” (John Paul II 1990: 28). This goes much further than the statement in Nostra Aetate about a “ray” of the light of Christ, for the latter can be interpreted as nothing more than the classic idea that a limited knowledge of God is available to all people through reason, whereas John Paul II’s statement asserts that the Holy Spirit has been active in other religions. This leans towards Rahner’s position that grace itself—the supernatural assistance of God—is present in non-Christian religions (Dupuis 1997: 165-70, 177-79).


Although Nostra Aetate initiated a profound change in the Catholic Church’s assessment of non-Christian religions, for many Catholics this document and even the more radical position of Rahner do not go far enough. A key representative of this party is Paul Knitter. He had been raised with an exclusivistic Catholicism and had become a seminarian in the 1950s with the Divine Word Missionaries. He dropped his exclusivistic framework in the 1960s while he was pursuing a licentiate in Theology in Rome, for he was there when the Vatican Council was meeting and had a class with Karl Rahner. However, in the 1970s he moved beyond an inclusivistic framework. Key to this change was his friendship with a Muslim student, Rahim, which he formed while he was a doctoral student at the University of Marburg. Rahim seemed fully satisfied with his faith and adhered to higher ethical standards than the majority of Christians whom Knitter knew. Hence it occurred to Knitter that non-Christian religions might have validity in their own right, independent of any relationship, either explicit or implicit, to Christ (Knitter 1996, 4-8). Knitter referred to his shift in perspective, moving from a theology of fulfillment to pluralism, as crossing a “theological Rubicon” (Knitter 1987a, viii).


Knitter advanced a pluralist position in the controversial book, No Other Name?, published in 1985. He made a plea for a switch from “christocentrism” to “theocentrism,” from a focus on classic claims about the normativity of Christ to a direct focus on God himself. The many savior figures of the world’s religions are different but generally equivalent routes to God. God himself is the common ground behind all these figures: “There must be the same ultimate reality, the same divine presence, the same fullness and emptiness—in Christian terms, the same God—animating all religions and providing the ultimate ground and goal of dialogue. If this is not so, then, ultimately, humanity is apples and oranges. Division, the fertilizer of discord and destruction, will have the final word” (Knitter 1985, 209).


A main problem with the pluralist position is the belief that there is a common goal shared by all religions. This belief seems unsupported by the evidence, since different religions teach different beliefs and have varying ideas about the ultimate reality. However, the well known philosopher of religion, John Hick, addressed this issue. Relying on the Kantian distinction between phenomena and noumena, he wrote that the ultimate reality is beyond human understanding and that there are hence a variety of differing interpretations of it, including, for instance, the contradictory beliefs of both Advaitins and theistic Christians:

It is in relation to different ways of being human, developed within the civilisations and cultures of the earth, that the Real, apprehended through the concept of God is experienced specifically as the God of Israel, or as the Holy Trinity, . . . And it is in relation to yet other forms of life that the Real, apprehended through the concept of the Absolute, is experienced as Brahman, or as Nirvana, or as Being. (Hick 1989, 245)

A further challenge to the pluralist position is the specter of moral relativism. However, Knitter capably defended his pluralism against this charge: “To suggest that many religions can be considered to be absolute in that they deliver a saving message for all people is not to say that all religions do so. . . . ‘many’ does not mean ‘any.’ Discernment, evaluation, and looking carefully remain important, for as history indubitably shows, much mischief and self-seeking hides under the cloak of religion” (Knitter 2002, 234). (One might add to this that not all traditions in a religion are necessarily good or salvific.


Another well known Catholic pluralist was Raimundo Panikkar. Like Knitter he had originally adhered to an exclusivist framework, having been raised in Franco’s Catholic Spain and having become a priest in 1946 in the theologically conservative institution, Opus Dei. However, because of his strong interest in philosophy, his Indian ancestry (his father had come from India), and the tension that had been rising between him and Opus Dei, he traveled to India in 1954 and studied Hindu philosophy at Banaras Hindu University. [2] This switch in his worlds led him to adopt an inclusivist stance in the well known book, The Unknown Christ of Hinduism, published in 1964, and later a pluralist stance, which he expressed in the introduction to the 1981 edition of this book. [3]


Panikkar advocated a pluralism different from that of Hick and Knitter, one that has received relatively little scholarly comment. Rather than arguing that the differing religions converge on the same, unified reality, Panikkar argued that the differences among religions point to differences at the level of the ultimate reality. To believe otherwise is to evade the challenge of diversity rather than to embrace it: “Either we consider this state of affairs [religious diversity] an anomaly, a result of original sin, alienation, our irritating limitations, and the like, or we see this human condition as reflecting the very nature of the real. . . . If we take religious pluralism seriously we cannot avoid asserting that truth itself is pluralistic. . . . pluralism is the factual structure of reality” (Panikkar 1984, 110-11).


In stating that truth is “pluralistic” Panikkar did not mean that there are a variety of unrelated ultimate realities. Rather, his notion of a pluralistic Godhead is rooted in the doctrine of the Trinity. The Father, Son, and Spirit are all distinct and cannot be reduced to one another as mere modes of each other. Yet, they are all one, sharing the same divine substance. This general view of the Godhead is consistent, Panikkar believed, with the Hindu notion of advaita or “nonduality,’ which, while negating duality, does not affirm a monism either. Panikkar explained:  

It [dualism] cannot satisfy the mind, for a reduction to unity is in fact the condition of intelligibility. It cannot satisfy any genuine experience of love, for love by its very nature tends to transcend any kind of separation. . . .
. . . No monism can be true either; no monistic explanation of reality can ever be convincing, because in pure monism there is no place whatever for any explanation, no room for any kind of unfolding, metaphysical or even epistemological. . . . 
. . . advaita makes room for pluralism, not as a competitor of the One, but as enhancement of effective oneness. It allows for a free interplay among all the tensions of existence, and yet does not dissolve the polarity of the real into irreconcilable parties with no interconnecting bridge. (Panikkar 1977, 656-58) [4]  

This pluralism is different from that of Hick and Knitter. The latter two argued for a convergence on a common ground, whereas Panikkar believed that difference lies in the bosom itself of the Godhead. [5]


A pluralistic position raises the question of relativism, and Knitter’s general defense of pluralism was given above. In this regard, Panikkar’s pluralism has an additional defense. Because he believed that differences matter and are not due merely to historical and sociological circumstance, Rowan Williams argued that Panikkar’s theology does not endorse an escape to a timeless common ground and that it thereby escapes the charge of religious relativism: 

To affirm the plurality of religions in the way Panikkar does is actually the opposite of being a relativist and holding that all religious positions are so conditioned by their context that they are equally valid and equally invalid. That would be to take up a position outside all historical standpoints and real traditions, and Panikkar in effect denies that this can be done. He is himself entirely committed to believing certain things about the way reality is—that is, he is committed to an ontology. And the heart of this ontology could be summarized by saying that differences matter. (Williams 1990, 4) [5]

While some, like Williams, may laud Panikkar for not attempting to step around religious diversity but to acknowledge it at an ultimate level, many theologians feel that Panikkar’s approach destabilizes the Christian message by not giving it a clear center place. Indeed, although Williams defended Panikkar against the charge of relativism, he wished that Panikkar would have developed his application of Trinitarian theology to religious diversity in a way that would have paid more attention to the distinctive characteristics of the different members of the Trinity (Williams 1990, 12). However, Jacques Dupuis’ Toward a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism, which received much praise from theologians, applies Trinitarian theology to religious diversity in a way that Williams would appreciate. [7]  Dupuis argued that the action of the Spirit is universal and accounts for religious variety and uniqueness but that this action is not separate from the person of Christ, such that all positive religious phenomena are oriented towards him. Yet, at the same time, the religions have their distinctive contributions that are not simply reducible to Christianity (Dupuis 1997, 205-208). In his words, 

Truth and grace found elsewhere must not be reduced to “seeds” or “stepping-stones” simply to be nurtured or used and then superseded in Christian revelation. They represent additional and autonomous benefits. More divine truth and grace are found operative in the entire history of God’s dealings with humankind than are available simply in the Christian tradition. . . . If he [Jesus] brings salvation history to a climax, it is by way not of substitution or supersession but of confirmation and accomplishment. [8] (Dupuis 1997, 388)

Part II: Developments in Comparative Studies
In the 1800s comparative religion began to take shape as a discipline, fostered by the translation of a large number of Oriental works. The main figure in this regard was Max Müller, who called for a “science of religion.” This science would investigate religion as geology investigates rocks and sociology human groupings. This assumes that religion is an objective phenomenon that can be investigated by reason in a neutral fashion, that reason can investigate religion without being in the service of confessional claims. Yet, although done neutrally, comparative religion can help one understand and appreciate one’s own religion better, for it is through comparison that one realizes what distinguishes it from other religions. In Müller’s words, “He who knows one [religion], knows none.” In the assessment of one scholar, Müller “had given the comparative study of religion an impulse, a shape, a terminology and a set of ideals. . . . he had prepared the Western world for what has since come to be called the dialogue of religions” (Sharpe 1975, 45). [9]


There are many different definitions of religion, and comparativists have tended to consider religion primarily in terms of a particular type of experience. This trend had been initiated earlier in Christian theology by Friedrich Schleiermacher who considered the essence of religion to be a “sense of the Infinite” which is prior to language and conceptualization. In this way he hoped to defend Christianity against those who would reduce religion to other factors, for religion originates, he argued, from a sui generis experience. This approach was helpful to comparativists like Müller who wanted to treat religion as a phenomenon which can be studied in its own right (Fredericks 1995, 71; Müller 1907).


The most prominent figure in twentieth century comparative religion was Mircea Eliade. He stated that religion consists of an experience of the “sacred,” an experience of something that is felt to be the complete opposite of the routine or “profane” order, but which breaks into the profane order. He did not attempt to define the “sacred” much farther than being the opposite of the profane, for he did not wish to be labeled as a philosopher or theologian. Rather, he considered himself to be a historian of religion, giving descriptions of the phenomenon of religion from around the globe and from prehistoric times into modern times. Eliade hoped thereby to elucidate the nature of religion, believing it to be an objective phenomenon whose characteristics can be clarified, just as rocks or stars can be clarified. [10]


A twentieth century comparativist who was foundational for the academic study of mysticism and who was particularly relevant for issues of Hinduism and Christianity was R. C. Zaehner. He examined Hindu, Christian, Buddhist, Islamic, and Zoroastrian texts, and English literature, alongside each other. However, rather than assuming that essentially the same experience lies behind the different religions he identified three different types of mysticism: nature, monistic, and theistic (Zaehner 1969, 198-99). He identified examples of nature mysticism in a wide variety of literature, concluded that monistic mysticism predominates in Advaita Vedanta, and that theistic mysticism predominates in Christianity.


Zaehner was like Eliade in giving comparative descriptions of religious experiences, but unlike Müller and Eliade he did not attempt to analyze them from a neutral point outside the religions. Instead he relied unabashedly on Roman Catholic doctrine. He believed that there is an immortal soul in all humans and interpreted monistic mysticism not as a direct experience of God but as an experience of the human soul in a state of purity, in isolation from temporal realities and concerns (168, 194). He hierarchically arranged the three mysticisms, regarding, for instance, monistic mysticism as a stepping stone to theistic. The Advaitic aspirant abandons temporal realities and practices self-discipline, thereby coming to experience his or her soul in an immortal, pure condition, as the image of God. However, Zaehner was very critical of monistic mysticism and believed that Advaitic spirituality alone does not lead to an authentic experience of God: 

The purpose of asceticism is to polish the mirror so that the reflection or image of God may perfectly emerge. So far non-theistic mysticism may take us: it can polish the mirror by the practice of total detachment from created things in order that the reflection of the One Reality may be seen. The real mystical experience in which God takes over from His own image, begins only when the rust and the dirt have been removed. . . . but whereas the Vedānta leaves off when the mirror is clean, it is only at this point that the via mystica proper of the Christian begins. (194) [11]

The diverse contributions of men like Eliade and Zaehner represent a distinct phase in the development of comparative studies, a phase which has come under much criticism. One line of critique was expressed by Raimundo Panikkar in the 1980s. He identified a thrust present in many academic disciplines towards giving a comprehensive account of humanity. In this comparative task it is generally assumed that human reason can stand more or less independently of a particular worldviews to analyze them from a neutral vantage point (Panikkar 1987: 119; 1988:116). Panikkar critiqued comparative religion by focusing on the idea that reason can neutrally investigate the religions. [12]


Panikkar criticized the idea that reason can neutrally mediate between the religions by arguing that there are different contexts, different “myths” that people live under. These myths make different facts and ideas appear credible and valid. Myth is “an ensemble of facts that forms the basic fabric where what is given stands out as if against a horizon. Myth thus serves as the ultimate reference point, the touchstone of truth by which facts are recognized as truths” (1979, 98-99). [13] For instance, a current master myth in the West is history, and hence the great importance attached to proving Christ’s historicity and a general feeling that Christianity rises or falls upon certain historical facts. There is a related belief that a figure like Krishna is ultimately irrelevant to humanity’s spiritual life because there is little verifiable historical truth behind him. However, to Hindus Krishna is primarily a spiritual, mystical figure, and by underscoring the historicity of Christ Christian missionaries run the risk, Panikkar observed, of making Christ seem irrelevant (1979, 99-100). These are examples of the inability of reason to stand independently of a mythic context and mediate between the traditions, to formulate a comprehensive framework.


A further point is that each religion is unique and gives a sweeping account of reality; each religion has a completeness and internal coherence. In that way, religions are like languages, for each language, independently of the others, has elements which can give accounts of all aspects of the experiences of their native speakers. Thus, just as in translating from one language to another one must not simply pluck a word out of its context but consider the context and connotations one must not pull religious ideas and experiences out of their contexts in comparing them (1988, 125-26).


Realizing the shortcomings of comparative religion Panikkar attempted to offer a route forward. He coined the term “diatopical hermeneutics,” which involves interpreting across space between two cultures that are unrelated. Because it is a completely foreign culture there are few, if any, guideposts in one’s own culture for interpreting the other. Further, there is no neutral stance outside the two cultures which could mediate between them. Hence, one must existentially cross from one culture into the other in order to gain proper understanding. In Panikkar’s words, “Only those persons who, for one reason or another, have existentially crossed the borders of at least two cultures and are at home in either, shall be able first to understand and then to translate. . . . The process may be likened to that of learning a new language. At the beginning we translate by comparing with the mother tongue, but when we become proficient we think and speak directly in that other linguistic universe” (1988, 133). Since the two mythic contexts being bridged are unique and irreducible, there is no set pattern or result that diatopical hermeneutics is bound to. Rather, the process and conclusions are open and fluid: “The rules here do not precede the understanding nor the theory the praxis. . . . Diatopical hermeneutics is an art as much as a science, a praxis as much as a theory. It is a creative encounter, and there is no blueprint for creativity” (1988, 133).


Another critic of comparative religion is James Fredericks. However, rather than critiquing the idea that reason can mediate between religions he critiqued the use in comparative study of the idea of a common, pre-conceptual experience, as discussed earlier. The use of this idea had an important role, for those who have considered religion mainly in terms of doctrine and morals have often considered the differences between religions to be too vast for meaningful comparison to be possible. However, if there is a common mystical experience which precedes conceptualization and doctrine then the different religions can be regarded as comparable (Fredericks 1995, 72-73). In Frederick’s words, “Since religious symbols can be understood as expressions of an extratextual experience, religious symbols can be compared with other symbolic cultural expressions” (1995, 77).  


Fredericks argued that this approach is ultimately unhelpful for comparative study. To begin, the focus on ineffable experience tends to diminish the importance of the particulars of the religions: “If all religious traditions are in fact different expressions of the same ineffable experience, then the historical specificities of the various religions can be safely overlooked as secondary, if not merely accidental” (1995, 76). If these specificities are not significant, then what is the point of comparative study, except to attempt to point out a common, pre-conceptual experience? There are further problems. For instance, just because several religious traditions indicate an experience that is ineffable it does not automatically follow that the experiences are identical. Also, Fredericks argued that the theory of a common experience cannot be tested and thereby proven or falsified, for any doctrinal evidence to the contrary can be dismissed as post experiential content, and hence not relevant to the argument. (1995, 70-73, 76-77, 82-85; 1999, 106-108, 113-16).


In place of earlier approaches, Fredericks endorsed a new “comparative theology.” [14]  It consists of careful, precise comparisons which require a detailed knowledge of another religion. Further, one does not assume an overarching theoretical framework or race to formulate one. (1995, 82). The concerned religion is thereby allowed to be itself and it can thereby present a greater challenge to the Christian comparativist. Further, one does not engage in it as a detached exercise, as an outsider to religion. Rather, one engages in the comparison as a committed insider to a particular faith. Comparing while maintaining a religious commitment can result in tension, but this can be creatively harnessed: “There will always be a tension between our commitments to the Christian tradition, on the one hand, and, on the other, to the allure of other religious traditions. . . . we must resist the temptation to overcome this tension. . . . The real challenge is how to keep this tension creative” (1999, 170). In the hermeneutical turn away from totalizing theories, other religions become for Christianity not only a tremendum which resists incorporation into our already constituted interpretations, but a fascinans which suggests ways in which these interpretations might be revised” (1995, 86).


Scholars whom Fredericks identified as engaging in comparative theology are Donald Mitchell, John Cobb, Leo Lefebure, John Keenan, Francis Clooney, David Carpenter, John Berthrong, and David Burrell (1999, 165). Also, there are deep similarities between the diatopical hermeneutics of Panikkar and Frederick’s comparative theology. They are creative, open ended processes that do not take a neutral stance beyond the religions, that do not absorb them into an overarching framework, and that require specific, detailed knowledge of religious traditions. Further, Panikkar advanced diatopical hermeneutics in a rejection of the idea that reason can mediate between the religions in a neutral stance, and Fredericks advanced comparative theology in a rejection of the idea of a common mystical experience.


Part III: A Personal Crisis
As discussed in the beginning of this paper, personal contact with members of other religions can make an enormous difference in one’s assessment of these religions. My exposure to both Catholicism and Hinduism came through people. To begin, I learned Catholicism through family, friends, teachers, nuns, and priests, and I also had significant contact with a Christian contemplative tradition, the Benedictine. The root of Benedictine spirituality is a belief that a particular man, Jesus Christ, was the Word of God made flesh and died on a cross in obedience to his heavenly father. St. Benedict (c. 480–c. 550) taught that one draws close to Christ by learning humility through the trials and challenges of living in community (Benedict Rule 7). Through my parents, who had strong connections with Saint John’s Abbey and University in Collegeville, Minnesota, I was exposed to Benedictine ideals from childhood through adulthood.


In terms of my involvement with Hinduism, there is a contemplative dimension in my personality, and this dimension found expression in my youth through involvement in the Meditation Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Over an eleven year period, from ages ten to twenty-one, I spent countless hours in meditation, lecture, and retreat. The Center was directed by a Brahmin priest, Dr. Usharbudh Arya. [15] He taught that beneath one’s empirical awareness is a state of pure awareness, which is consciousness without an object. Some schools, like Advaita Vedanta, teach that this state of pure awareness is a substratum common to all beings. This idea was articulated in the sacred texts, the Upanishads, many of which were composed during the time period, 1000-500 BCE. The Upanishads teach that “Atman is Brahman,” that the state of pure awareness, which is one’s deep, inner “Self,” is the “Immense Being” underlying the cosmos.


To realize the Brahman underlying oneself and all things Dr. Arya taught “tantric” methods of meditation. [16] A classic tantric text is the Saundarya Lahari, the Ocean of Beauty, which considers the entire universe to be an expression of Shakti, the power of the ultimate reality. The divine can hence be experienced through the physical world, for instance, through sacred sites, rituals of worship, the human body, and traditional words (mantras) and diagrams (yantras). Arya taught basic methods of controlling the body and mind in order to give one’s undivided attention to the mantras. One focuses on one’s breathing while mentally reciting a given mantra over and over. An intermediate level of practice is to focus not on the breath and the mantra alone but on the processes of breathing and reciting the mantra; one watches their arising and subsiding to witness the impulse that sends them both forth (Arya 1981, 204). Thereby one can eventually experience the Atman.  


From grade school through college I experienced virtually no tension between my Catholic identity and my practice of tantric meditation. As educated lay Catholics, my parents, like Max Müller, felt that through comparison one can come to appreciate one’s own religion more. Their thinking was also shaped by the theology of Daniélou, which has a positive outlook on non-Christian culture and believes it can be coordinated with Christian faith and practice. Furthermore, Dr. Arya did not regard his work as competing with other religions but as complementing them (Arya 1979, 98; 1981, 192; Darling 1987, 191). On my part, I experienced Catholicism mainly as a set of practices, a culture I was immersed in, and a personal identity. Through meditation I gained a sense of inner awareness and peace which in no way threatened my Catholic identity; Catholicism was seated mainly in the arena of action, personal relationships, and sensory experience, whereas meditation lay in an interior arena. Since they occupied different arenas, they did not pose a threat to each other.


Although Catholicism and meditation originally posed no threat to each other, the latter enriched my life in a way that the former did not. Catholicism did not immediately address the arena of inner experience. The epitome of that for me was the Mass, for it seemed a dry ritual that had no impact upon me. However, meditation involved inner awareness and feeling. For instance, the darkness of a mind cleared of thoughts seemed to be the borders of infinitude. As Arya wrote in words intended for the atheist, “As the mind develops clarity, equilibrium, harmony and intuitive faculties . . . One begins to suspect that a conscious reality exists beyond the shallower surfaces of the mind—something unfamiliar beyond the familiar, perhaps infinite beyond the finite. At some time during meditation one comes to a state of ineffable tranquility and feels as if he has touched the fringes of infinity” (Arya 1979, 105-106). [17]


Hence, meditation gave me a sense of connection with God that Catholicism did not. However, I did not suppose Catholicism to be void of spirituality. Arya believed, like Müller, that a pre-conceptual mystical experience lies behind all religions (Arya 1979, 95-100; Darling 1987, 190). With my limited knowledge of Christianity, this made sense. For instance, while Advaita Vedanta teaches the renunciation of individuality before the Brahman, Christ had undergone self-abnegation on the cross and Saint Paul had taught self-abnegation before Christ: “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20 [NRSV]). Hence, during childhood and early adulthood Catholicism and meditation fit together in many ways.


After college, when I began studying theology in the master’s program at Saint John’s University, I was expecting Catholicism and Hindu meditation to continue to fit snugly together. However, they did not. The first issue that struck me, early into my studies, was the distinction between nature and grace. This distinction between what we can accomplish on our own and what we can accomplish through God seemed to me to be a powerful way of expressing personal transformation in Jesus Christ. However, I quickly realized, as seen in the theology of Jean Daniélou, that it can be applied to religious diversity in a way that considers other religions to be a product merely of human effort. In my course-related reading I was shocked to see Hindu meditative practices portrayed—based upon the nature-grace distinction—as incapable of mediating an experience at the heart of the Godhead. Also, I was startled to read Zaehner arguing that Advaitic philosophy is pantheistic and that Advaitic experience terminates in an experience of oneself, not of God. Such claims led to an intense interior struggle on my part, for the Christian faith I had accepted since childhood was suddenly undercutting the dignity of the meditative tradition I had participated in for so long.


These theological assessments troubled me not so much for the presumed superiority of Christianity but because they did not match my experiences. To begin, it is true that Arya’s instructions in meditation focused heavily on technique and method. However, his lectures made it clear that the inner peace we sought was not the product of human effort. In fact, mental effort can actually block and shatter the peace of pure consciousness. The methods Arya taught were intended to quiet the mind so that it can fall away. The mind is the seat of one’s effort, and when the mind falls away the inner peace can be experienced. The peace itself is eternally present; meditative methods simply promote conditions in which the peace can be experienced, they do not cause the peace itself. [18]


The next issue is Zaehner’s categorization of the Advaitic doctrines of the Atman as pantheistic. As used by Dr. Arya, the term “Atman” did not refer to some dimension or aspect of one’s personal makeup. Rather, it referred to a substratum underlying the individual self. To experience the substratum we were directed in meditation to move beyond all thought and desire. Hence, the doctrine of Atman and Brahman, as taught by Arya, was not an indulgent doctrine making me feel as if I were divine or close to God. Far from this, it was a harsh doctrine that left me feeling cold, lost, and dark inside myself, as I sat in meditation at age eleven. [19]


Exposure to Rahner’s idea of the anonymous Christian was also upsetting to me. I appreciated this idea as a sincere and novel way of attempting to evaluate the non-Christian world in a positive manner, as a way of breaking out of the type of characterization formulated by Daniélou. However, Rahner’s depiction of the anonymous Christian seeker did not match Arya very well. He seemed to me to be thoroughly satisfied with and possessed by his Hindu spiritual ideals; he did not seem to be asking any questions which would take him outside the Hindu tradition. Further, a strong conviction permeated the Meditation Center that we would find complete peace and fulfillment through the dark voids within us accessible through meditation. There was minimal reference to anything outside the tradition; there were no holes or cracks in the teachings and experiences through which a Christ might appear as the missing answer. [20]


Although disagreeing vigorously with Daniélou, Zaehner, and Rahner, I was nonetheless finding that Christianity and Hindu meditation did not fit together as snugly as I had once believed. It had been my belief that there was significant overlap between Christianity and Hinduism, such as a common mystical experience. However, what struck me during my studies was not an overlap between the religions but wide gaps. For instance, excepting John’s Gospel, which is only a thin sliver of the Bible, the Bible shows barely any concern with interior states of consciousness beyond discursive thought. Instead, it concerns a God who towers over the heavens and is known through his interventions in history. Further, the theological tradition enshrined in the ecumenical councils does not regard Jesus as one who realized a common mystical experience but as one in whom the divine and human natures were conjoined in a unique way. In Greek philosophy I did not find a unified tradition but a wide variety of contradicting beliefs, only a fraction of which resembled Advaita. There are many similarities between Arya’s spirituality and mystics like Teresa of Ávila and John of the Cross. However, Teresa and John had regarded orthodox belief to be essential to their spirituality. Since they felt it to be essential I felt I would be claiming to know and understand their experiences better than they did by divorcing orthodoxy from these experiences.


Not seeing much overlapping ground between Christianity and Advaitawas distressing. Like Knitter, I believed that a certain homogeneity is necessary for a harmonious relationship between religions (Knitter 1985, 209). [21]  I hence turned to the work of John Hick, knowing that he argued that the religions converge at an ultimate level. I hoped that he could restore the snug relationship I had envisioned between Catholicism and Hindu meditation. However, he did not engage in an in depth manner with the concrete practices and doctrine of two or more religions, but instead appropriated Kant to argue that diverse practices and doctrines are simply different interpretations of the same experience (Hick 1989, 245). But, as discussed above, Fredericks pointed out that such an argument is not falsifiable, which makes it irrelevant (Fredericks 1999, 106-108).


To summarize what I have said thus far, the main issues that distressed me during my initial theological studies were the evaluation of non-Christian religions by nature-grace schemas, the evaluation of Advaitaas basically pantheistic, and the concept of the anonymous Christian. These three issues are distinct, but they all came in the same package; they all used Christian theological ideas to evaluate non-Christian religions and they all supported the superiority of Christianity. However, it was not the argued superiority of Christianity that distressed me as much as the fact that these depictions of Hinduism did not match my experiences. Further, I was becoming acutely aware of the fact that Arya’s world and Christianity are very different worlds, and did not fit together as easily as I had once believed them to.


Part IV: A Resolution
My professors at  Saint John’s were supportive of my efforts to wrestle with these issues and encouraged me to explore them further by enrolling in doctoral studies at The Catholic University of America. There William Cenkner introduced me to Panikkar’s thought, which showed me the common problem at the root of the conclusions of Daniélou, Zaehner, and Rahner. Religions are grand myths, unique and comprehensive systems. Hence, Christianity and Hinduism are irreducible systems; one system is not adequate for constructing the world view and context of another.


Consider, for instance, the issue of grace. Since the tantric context is unique and irreducible the Christian can truly learn it only through direct engagement. Without this, the Christian outsider, observing the heavy emphasis on method, might conclude, as Daniélou did, that Hindu meditative techniques are merely a matter of personal effort and might not recognize anything resembling the Christian notion of grace. With regard to the Atman, it has few—if any—parallels in mainstream Christian teaching. However, rather than being open to the idea that the Atman might be something genuinely new and foreign, the Christian might map this concept onto familiar territory by categorizing it as pantheistic.


Finally, consider Rahner’s notion of the anonymous Christian. Since the different religious worldviews are unique and complete systems, they are independent and exclusive of each other. They do not together form a vast, interlocking system, with one picking up where the other leaves off, like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Hence, Usharbudh Arya was completely satisfied with his inherited tradition and exhibited no restless questing for something beyond it; he exhibited no “anonymous” seeking for Christ. [22]


Although Panikkar’s thought explained the root problems with the theories of Daniélou, Zaehner, and Rahner, it also challenged my own assumptions. I had believed since childhood that Christianity and Hinduism overlap to a large extent. At Saint John’s, my study of the concrete datum of the Christian religion challenged this assumption, and Panikkar’s ideas reinforced this challenge at the very same time that it overturned the approaches of Daniélou, Zaehner, and Rahner. Just as Hinduism cannot be reduced to Christianity neither is there a readily apparent common ground. [23]


My realization at Saint John’s University that there are significant and dividing differences between Hinduism and Christianity was originally very distressing to me. However, Fredericks placed the fact of religious differences in a positive light. It is by treating the religions as truly different that the Christian can be challenged by other ideas and experiences and that a fruitful dialogue can take place. There will be tension, but that tension can be creative. (Fredericks 1995, 86; 1999, 170) [24]


This dynamic can be illustrated with a brief experiment in comparative theology. While I had concluded in childhood that the mystery of Christ is essentially the same mystery of Advaita, my later theological studies introduced me to a very different understanding of Christ. Christ did not remain beyond space and time but renounced divine aloofness to become human. Further, his humanity was not merely a veil, for he became truly subject to the limitations of space and time (Rahner 1990, 222, 226-27; Phil. 2: 6-8).


This doctrine has a host of ramifications for the spiritual life of humanity. Because the Word of God became a concrete particular in the world it is through the world and the relationships within it that one comes to the Ultimate, not by extinguishing individual identity. In fact, Rahner wrote of an enhancement of one’s individuality through Christ: “By the fact that a person finds God, that he falls, as it were, into the absolute, infinite and incomprehensible abyss of all being, he himself is not consumed into universality, but rather he becomes for the first time someone absolutely unique” (Rahner 1990, 308-309). This is a spirituality diametrical opposed to Arya’s. [25]


One could attempt to dissolve the tension between the two spiritualities with a general theory of religion. Alternatively one could engage in comparative theology, taking the differences seriously. In terms of a comparative theological approach, when I sit down to meditate the goal is to plunge beyond individuality, but an orthodox Christian practitioner cannot do this for its own sake. Rather, I have found that temporarily renouncing one’s sense of “I” can give one strength to be in the world. For instance, learning not to identify with emotions can give the strength, outside of a meditative context, to feel them more deeply and strongly. Because there is more to oneself and to every human being than the surface play of memories and emotions, one can take more of a risk in the world, knowing that memories and emotions do not constitute the true self.


Shankara probably did not consider Advaitain this light, and the early church fathers, even the ascetics among them, probably did not practice a spirituality that seeks not just to discipline the individual self but to uproot it thoroughly. This insight about meditation and worldly life is a concrete fruit of my practice of comparative theology. [26] Although helpful, this insight does not resolve the vast theoretical difficulties that Christian theology and Advaitic metaphysics propose to each other. That is good, however, in that the tension between them can be a continual source of fresh insight. [27]


On a final note, these considerations lead me from the topic of comparative theology to the theology of religions. [28] The above experiment in comparative theology assumes that Hinduism and Christianity are both sources of truth and goodness but recognizes that they are also unique and distinct. Rahner and Knitter, though one an inclusivist and the other a pluralist, argued that there is a certain homogeneity between the religions. However, Dupuis and Panikkar, though the former an inclusivist and the latter a pluralist, accounted for genuine variety and difference among the religions. In that way, the latter two theologies of religion resonate well with comparative theology.[29]


In the past century there has been a long development in the theology of religions. There was a trend, extending from Daniélou through Rahner to Knitter, to be increasingly affirming of non-Christian religions. Although attempting to be affirming, Knitter’s approach does not go beyond Rahner’s in an important sense, for it affirms the religions by reducing them to a common ground (albeit a “theocentric” rather than a “christocentric” ground). However, Dupuis and Panikkar, though one an inclusivist and the other a pluralist, both attempted to account for differences among the religions, and hence can speak deeply to one who takes religious particularities seriously.


In terms of comparative study, there have been many sincere efforts over the past two centuries. Comparative religion has tended to assume that there is a neutral stance outside the religions that can mediate between them, whether that stance is reason or mystical experience. However, Panikkar argued that reason cannot stand outside of a given tradition to perform a neutral role and Fredericks argued that the notion of a common pre-conceptual mystical experience is irrelevant to comparative study as a whole.


In place of earlier comparative approaches one can adopt “comparative theology” in which one operates from a specific faith context while engaging deeply with another religious tradition. Thereby one can assume a committed stance like Rahner’s, but at the same time maintain an openness to other religions that does not reduce them to a common factor and is actively committed to learning from religious differences. This approach resonates well with this author’s joint experiences of practicing Hindu meditation and learning Christian theology, for it takes seriously the wide gulfs between traditions rather than seeking a ready resolution.


Comparative theology opens the door to a great deal of creativity by taking seriously the particularities of the world’s religions. The growing number of PhDs in comparative theology and the growing body of comparative theological studies are testaments of this. However, I will suggest a different, but complementary route. Fredericks and Clooney did an admirable job of reformulating comparative study as a confessional practice, as “faith seeking understanding.” However, the scholar, St. Anselm, who coined that expression, was a monk, and medieval theology had its origins in monasteries, not universities. Monastic theology was a practice that arose from prayer and led back into prayer. Following this, one could stand before the mysteries of Advaitaand Christian faith without trying to distill some new thought or insight, but simply contemplating them. The issues might not be resolvable by a common mystical experience beyond words, but certainly Advaita and Christian faith are both beyond words. One could hold the two in one’s heart, letting them interact at a deep level and allowing them to affect one’s mind and character without necessarily striving for new results. [30]




[1] This paper began as a presentation at a panel, “How We Began to Learn World Religions,” organized by Francis Clooney, at the 2008 Convention of the Catholic Theological Society of America. I am grateful to the people who offered feedback on drafts of the paper, especially Ruben Habito, James Fredericks, Francis Clooney, my department members at the University of St. Thomas, and reviewers and editors at Dilatato Corde


[2] For biographical information on Panikkar’s early years see Duggan (2000: 46-129).


[3] For a brief summary of his shift from exclusivism to pluralism see Panikkar (1971: 222).
[4] See also Panikkar (1984, 112). Panikkar distinguished between “pluralism” and “pluralistic” on the one hand and “plurality” on the other: “Truth itself is pluralistic, and thus not one—nor many, for that matter. Pluralism is not plurality. . . . the pluralistic character of truth does not mean that there are many truths” (Panikkar 1987, 128, 131).


[5] See Knitter for helpful discussions of the differences between Panikkar and other pluralists (1987b, 184-85; 2002, 129).


[6] For Panikkar’s own discussion of the issue of relativism see (1984, 113-15; 1996, 258-62, 276-84).  


[7] Clooney pointed out that qualifying pluralism with a “Trinitarian perspective” is emerging as a main trend in the theology of religions (Clooney 2003, 319).


[8] Good discussions of Dupuis’s approach include Kendall’s edited volume (2003) and Knitter (2002, 89-93, 103-104). Phan, though admiring Dupuis’s theology, stated that far more clarity is needed on how the Spirit can contribute to uniqueness (Phan 2003, 82). More strongly, Knitter stated that Dupuis’s theology is impotent on this matter (Knitter 2002, 103-104).

[9] For good discussions of Müller see Sharpe (1975, 35-46) and Paden (1992, 67-68). See also Müller (1985: vii-xxxiii).
[10] For good discussions of Eliade see Sharpe (1975, 213-17) and Paden (1992, passim 69-86). See also Eliade (1959).


[11] Nevertheless, Zaehner did not exclusively identify soul mysticism with Hinduism and God mysticism with Christianity, but stated that authentic examples of both are found in both religions (1969, 205). 


[12] The main target of Panikkar’s 1988 essay, which I draw heavily on here, was not comparative religion but comparative philosophy. However, scholars have argued that, although attempting to be neutral, comparative religion, including that of Eliade, is often a veiled philosophy of religion (Baird 1971, 71-94; Paden 1992, 84). 


[13] Panikkar’s writings are complex and difficult to untangle without some guidance. Important secondary sources include Krieger (1991), Hall (1993), Prabhu (1996), and Duggan (2000).
[14] The two main architects of comparative theology were James Fredericks and Francis Clooney. However, this paper will mainly mention Fredericks, as his casting of comparative theology is the one most relevant to this paper. For a concise introduction to comparative theology see Clooney (2010a). For critiques of comparative theology see Cooney (2010b) and Knitter (2002, 235-37).


[15] Today Arya is known as “Swami Veda Bharati.” For an engaging account of his upbringing as a Brahmin see Arya (1979, 27-44).


[16] For a thorough historical and theoretical analysis of the term “tantra” in contemporary usage see Urban (2003).  “Tantra” is an ancient but ambiguous, even controversial, term. Today it is deeply associated in the minds of many Indians and Americans with moral and sexual libertinism. I am using the term in a very general sense to refer to spiritual paths that use material realities to encounter God, as opposed to paths relying mainly or solely on mental analysis, such as the paths prescribed in Shankara’s Upadeshasahashri  and Ramana Maharishi’s “Self-Inquiry” (1997: 17-38). There are elements of sexuality and sorcery in many classic tantric traditions, but my concrete experience, practice, and instruction were devoid of such elements. (However, allegations of sexual abuse surround Arya’s deceased guru, Swami Rama. Yet, such claims are not particular to tantric traditions, but have been coming to light in many other traditions, including the Catholic Church).


[17] Many young people are today turning from the apparent formalism of the denominations they were born into to the enthusiasm of evangelical denominations. Instead I turned to meditation for personal feeling and awareness.


[18] Also, in a lecture in which he strongly emphasized undergoing trials and learning self-mastery he qualified his statements by stating “the same very one who gives a test also gives the strength to pass the test. And that is the secret of discipleship. The same one who gives the test also gives the answer. The answer is provided for. The same one who gives you the test, the same master also gives you the strength and energy and guides as to how you may succeed in passing the test. . . . It’s not yours [the strength] but it is at your disposal” (Arya n.d.).
[19] Although I am critical of Zaehner’s conclusion he was a pioneering scholar who paved the way for the comparative study of mysticism. For a study which uses Zaehner’s comparative methodology but comes to a different assessment of monistic mysticisms see Stoeber (1994). Stoeber argued that some apophatic, monistic experiences of oneness or unity culminate in “theo-monistic” realizations—experiences that include dynamic and personal elements that are creative and moral, and to which other kinds of mysticism might also be related. 
[20] Arya frequently drew on Hindu, Buddhist, Islamic, and Christian stories in his lectures. Also, he claimed to lead people along the meditative path relying on the particularities of whatever religious tradition the person belonged to. However, he interpreted other religions entirely from a Hindu perspective. For instance, he once offered a weekend long seminar on the Book of Revelation, which he interpreted as a manual in tantric meditation. Also, he interpreted Christ in terms of a primordial tradition, rather than as someone who brought anything fundamentally new (Arya 1979, 98; Darling 1987, 191). Hence, although apparently open to other religions he did not appear to me to be seeking anything beyond Vedanta, which is not what Rahner’s idea of the “searching memory” would lead one to expect of the sincere non-Christian seeker (Rahner 1990, 318-21).
     As additional examples I can cite conversations with certain members of the Center. A long time teacher mentioned to me that Christianity was generally considered as “beginner’s theology.” Also, there was a group that met regularly, led by a Catholic nun, to discuss the relationship between yoga and Christianity. I never attended the group, but in my discussions with the leader I never heard her comment on anything other than the profound similarities. Both of these examples defy Rahner’s “searching memory.”    


[21] Knitter has since adjusted his position. “The different words that we use for Mystery are not just different ways of saying the same thing; each word is saying something different about the same thing, the same Mystery. Therefore, the differences matter. Perhaps we might say that although all the different religious fingers are pointing to the same moon, each, as it were, points to a different part of the moon” (Knitter 2009, 72). Also, compare the intriguing reference to “apples and oranges” in (1985, 209; 2009, 104).
[22] Cf. the comments by Jules Monchanin in experiencing different Hindu monks: “The more spiritual a Hindu becomes, the further in a sense he distances himself from Christianity (Stuart 1989: 32)” “A truly human being [Ramana Maharishi], there is not an atom of Christianity in that serene and beautiful spirit” (Stuart 1989: 32-33). See also Abhishiktananda’s comment about Ramana Maharishi in Stuart (1989: 234).
[23] Panikkar played a tricky game of attempting both to  affirm a common spirituality and to assert that there are variety and difference at the most ultimate levels of spiritual experience (1981, 20-30).


[24] Swami Abhishiktananda, a Catholic monk and priest who was deeply involved with Advaitic mysticism, experienced severe tension between his Christian identity and his Advaitic practices, but spent the 1950s and 1960s attempting to resolve this tension by integrating Advaita and Christianity in a theology of fulfillment. However, after two decades of attempting to resolve these tensions theologically, Abhishiktananda concluded, in a fashion similar to Panikkar, that the theological terms of one tradition are not able to encompass the other tradition: “The dharmas [religious systems] are contradictory to one another. Mutual dialogue between them can never be anything but superficial” (Abhishiktananda 1998, 335). “Every theological problem arises out of a particular faith, as R. Panikkar correctly points out. The problem of Hinduism-Christianity will be seen and studied in a different way depending on whether you place yourself within the Christian or the Hindu formulation of the mystery” (1998, 333). See also (1998, 319, 326-27). Abhishiktananda came to accept the tension rather than to treat it as something to be overcome: “The best course is still, I think, to hold on even under extreme tension to these two forms of a unique ‘faith’ until the dawn appears” (Stuart 1989, 268). Panikkar gave a striking assessment of this: “His failure [to integrate] proved to be his great success. He was unable—or unwilling—to integrate the two traditions into a single system of thought” (Panikkar 1998, xviii).
     Abhishiktananda’s approach to the tension became that of bypassing the problem altogether by transcending the intellectual plane through prayer, meditation, and the Spirit (Abhishiktananda 1998, 335; Panikkar 1998, xviii). Frederick’s approach to the tension between religions is not to transcend it but to learn, intellectually, from them. For an analysis of Abhishiktananda life and thought in terms of the developments in comparative theology and the theology of religions in recent years see Ulrich (2004).
[25] For a discussion of the importance of this point in an interreligious context see a book review by Malkovsky (2009).  Rahner himself has an intriguing, albeit problematic discussion of the issue (1967, 58-85).


[26] I was influenced, in part, by Michael Stoeber’s discussion of Eckhart (1992, 132) and by seeing other Westerners integrate Asian meditative traditions into their daily lives.
[27] Cf. Clooney (1993: 187-88).
[28] Clooney criticized available theologies of religions for being abstract and general (1993, 194). More strongly, Fredericks argued that the theology of religions is no longer a worthwhile project to engage in (1999, 165-71; 2003, 119-21). For a critique of Frederick’s moratorium on the theology of religions see Duffy (1999, 111-12).


[29] Clooney and Fredericks both especially critiqued pluralism, arguing that if all religions boil down essentially the same thing there is no point to dialogue (Fredericks 1999, 113-15; Clooney 1990, 77-78). However, Knitter argued that there is an affinity between comparative theology and pluralism (which he referred to as the “acceptance” and “mutuality” models, respectively) (2002, 234-35). Also, Panikkar’s pluralism escapes the particular criticism of Clooney and Fredericks because, as Rowan Williams pointed out, it has an “ontology” in which “differences matter” (1990, 4).
     Clooney stated that of the available theologies of religion, inclusivism goes best with comparative theology (1993, 194-95). In his rudimentary sketch of a possible Christian theology of the Śrīmad Rahasyatrayasāra, Clooney expressed a perspective similar to Dupuis’s:  “A theology of religions cognizant of the Mantras and their tradition seems necessarily to take seriously the possibility—or rather, probability—that, from a Christian perspective, God intends there to be the three Mantras as enduring spiritual realities . . . possessed of a wisdom that does not disappear or appear as mere shadow to the light of Christian revelation” (Clooney 2008, 184-85). See Dupuis (1997: 388). Although reticent about the theology of religions, Fredericks endorsed the inclusivist position as the best (2003, 119).
     Although Panikkar was a major figure, not many scholars have relied on his version of pluralism. A scholar who did, but, ironically, from an evangelical Christian perspective, is Mark S. Heim (1995).


[30] Cf. Abhishiktananda’s statement, “The best course is still, I think, to hold on even under extreme tension to these two forms of a unique ‘faith’ until the dawn appears” (Stuart 1989, 268). See also Panikkar (1977: 767-78).



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