Response to Klostermaier, Phan, and Light.
I appreciate Klostermaier's elaboration of the particularly fraught ecclesiastical challenges faced by the Roman Catholic theologians--Aloysius Pieris, Jacques Dupuis, Peter Phan, Francis Clooney, and Paul Knitter--whose differing stances on religious identity are discussed in my essay. With apparent disappointment, Klostermaier writes that he expected me "to mount ... a spirited defense of 'multiple religious belonging' in support of Pieris's writings over against the others." (2) I am sorry I have not met his expectation. I do think there is much to learn from Pieris's proposal for multiple religious belonging (or, more precisely, his lack thereof), but I emphasized repeatedly in the essay that the theologians are working out of different contexts and with different situational needs. My purpose, then, was less to promote or defend one vision "over against" the others than to highlight the features of one under-appreciated vision by comparing it with others. The difference between Pieris on the one hand and Dupuis, Phan, Clooney, and Knitter on the other is not between universally better and worse justifications (implicit justifications, in Pieris's case) for multiple religious belonging. All of them "work" within their proper frameworks. Moreover, all of them work despite being beset with internal inconsistencies. (I accept Light's criticism that my concluding attempt to resolve Pieris's inconsistencies raises problems of its own.) (3)
Yet there is a more fundamental point Klostermaier seems to have missed, which is that Pieris in important ways does not belong with the others in a class of "proponents of 'multiple religious belonging,'"(4) and therefore I would hesitate to describe him as "a major figure on the 'multiple religious belonging' scene." (5) That much should be obvious from his silence on the issue. Pieris is, as I put it in the title of my essay, an "unremarkable hybrid." I meant by this that Pieris instantiates his multiplicity without remarking upon it. This is in contrast to Dupuis, Phan, Clooney, and Knitter, whose differing takes on hybridity (theirs or others') are subject to more or less extensive remarks. The relevant opposition to "unremarkable hybrid" is not, therefore, "remarkable pure-bred," as Klostermaier puts it. (6) Those who explicitly thematize multiple religious be longing are "remarkable hybrids"--their hybrid condition or cultivation is able to be remarked upon. Perhaps this would have been clearer had l called Pieris, more cumbersomely, an "unremark-upon-able hybrid."
"Unremarkable" is not the only word from my essay's title that troubles Klostermaier. (I wish he had focused his response less on the title and more on the essay itself.) He finds it ironic that I would call "redundant" something about which I have written an entire essay. Phan also seems to have read me this way when he thinks of me as arguing "that discussion of multiple religious belonging is irrelevant." (7) This is emphatically not my argument. First, there is a distinction to be made between phenomena and the categories by which we seek to capture them. The phenomenon of co-present and co-mingling religious influences in Pieris's life and work is of utmost relevance. It is the category used to describe this co-presence and co-mingling that is, in light of Pieris's life and work, redundant. This difference is crucial because to call a phenomenon redundant is to render it irrelevant or superfluous, what economists mean when they speak about unskilled laborers as increasingly redundant to the global neoliberal order. It is not that the phenomenon of "multiple religious belonging" is redundant but that, in Pieris's case, the words "multiple" and "religious belonging" conjoin redundantly. This linguistic redundancy (tautology would have been a more precise word) is what I intended to convey. Pieris so spontaneously instantiates what others seem capable of doing only deliberately and reflectively that the theoretical construct fails to register for him. To speak of his multiple religious belonging would be like speaking of a round circle. There is something worth learning from that.
The second reason I should not be taken as arguing for the irrelevancy of this discussion is that I acknowledge that, in certain cases, even the category of "multiple religious belonging" is not redundant. Phan has misunderstood me if he thinks I am making universal claims to the effect that "all religious people are by historical necessity 'unremarkably hybrid.'" (8) I agree fully with what the theologians Jeffrey Carlson, Jeanine Hill Fletcher, and Michelle Voss Roberts (9) have already persuasively argued: that religions, and thereby religious identities, are "essentially" hybrid. However, it is clearly not the case that this hybridity is always and everywhere unremarkable (again in the sense of unremark-upon-able). Many readers of my essay and the responses to it are, like myself, situated in research universities within the post-Enlightenment West, institutional and intellectual contexts averse to ambiguity wherein the purity of our categories is largely assumed. (10) In such settings, metaphors of border crossing and notions of multiple identity are entirely appropriate. (11) Therefore I cannot agree with Klostermaier that calling attention to the redundancy of Pieris's "multiple religious belonging" leaves "the other proponents without a cause." (12) Moreover, and I regret not insisting more on this point, (13) the efforts of Dupuis, Phan, Clooney, and Knitter to articulate metaphors of religious border crossing and notions of multiple religious identity are awe-inspiring. I have nothing but admiration for their courage to transgress borders that do matter in their cultural, intellectual, and vocational contexts. The point of my essay is that the degree to which such borders matter is an open question. For those like Pieris and (I suspect) the billions of other human beings for whom religious traditions are not readily experienced as bounded entities, "multiple religious belonging" is a (linguistically) redundant classification of what is at stake for them.
In her response, Light has very helpfully rearticulated the central claims of my essay. I am grateful to her for highlighting "the limitations of our theorizing" and the resistance of "orthopraxy" to "human categories." (14) By elevating thought over practice, worldviews over lifeworlds, we risk losing sight of individuals who are marginal to the West or, better, to the scholastic concerns of academia. The reality of such people, in Light's eloquent words, "is already the phenomenon of multiple religious belonging, which needs not just explanation or justification but also welcome." (15) Light has urged me to give Phan's proposal for multiple religious belonging more credit on the grounds of "his commitment to beginning with the reality of the Asian situation." (16) I am more than happy to do so, but I would rephrase her praise. What is notable about theologians like Pieris and Phan is not so much their commitment to "the reality of the Asian situation," what Light earlier abridges to "the reality of Asia." (17) Notable is their commitment to the extraordinary lives of the ordinary women and men who happen to live in Asia. Light is not unaware of this; she describes Phan's point of departure as "those who are marginalized for reasons of economics, race, gender, and religious tradition." (18) Yet missing from her list are people marginal to high academia and its classificatory culture. I emphasize here what I only tentatively hinted at in my essay: (19) Pieris's professedly extra-academic orientation is more to the point than is his Asian-ness. Whatever distinction there may be between an Asian reality and a Western reality must be miniscule when compared with the cross-regional distinction between elites (religious or academic) and the masses of the marginalized. Credit goes to any theologian--Phan as much as Pieris, but Knitter as well--who refuses the comfortable safety of distance from those masses. (20)
Phan's solidarity with marginalized people comes across in his concern that I have ignored how "religious and political authorities have not refrained from exploiting [religious boundaries] to their advantages." (21) I assure Phan that what worries him here worries me as well. Yet, could not resistance to power structures take the form of contesting their terms of engagement, of interrogating if not refusing the reifications that they normalize? This project could begin with making our scholarship responsive at least as much to the everyday lives of the disempowered as we make it to the official pronouncements of authorities. I am drawn to Pieris's life and work because they invite and inspire me to stay close to the irreducibly complex phenomena of lived experience, to refuse limiting myself to the categories and constructs of elite discourses.
Again, I sincerely thank Klostermaier, Phan, and Light for engaging me in this task.
(1) Devaka Premawardhana, "The Unremarkable Hybrid: Aloysius Pieris and the Redundancy of Multiple Religious Belonging," J.E.S. 46 (Winter, 2011): 76-101.
(2) Klaus K. Klostermaier, "Responses to Devaka Premawardhana's 'The Unrernarkable Hybrid: Aloysius Pieris and the Redundancy of Multiple Religious Belonging,'" J.E.S. 46 (Winter, 2011): 102.
(3) Aimee Upjohn Light, "Responses to Devaka Premawardhana's 'The Unremarkable Hybrid: Aloysius Pieris and the Redundancy of Multiple Religious Belonging,'" J.E.S. 46 (Winter, 2011): 105, n. 5.
(4) KIostermaier, "Responses," p. 102.
(6) Ibid., p. 103.
(7) Peter C. Phan, "Responses to Devaka Premawardhana's 'The Unremarkable Hybrid: Aloysius Pieris and the Redundancy of Multiple Religious Belonging,'" J.E.S. 46 (Winter, 2011): 104.
(9) See my discussion of them in Premawardhana, "The Unremarkable Hybrid," pp. 90-91.
(10) Illustrative of this is the rigidity of the Western academy's disciplinary borders, resistant to the bold challenges of inter- and multi-disciplinary thinkers.
(11) It is therefore not ironic, as both Klostermaier (p. 102) and Phan (p. 103) suggest it is, that I am bound to use labels of multiplicity for myself.
(12) Klostermaier, "Responses," p. 102.
(13) However, see Premawardhana, "Unremarkable Hybrid," pp. 89 and 100.
(14) Aimee Upjohn Light, "Responses to Devaka Premawardhana's 'The Unremarkable Hybrid: Aloysius Pieris and the Redundancy of Multiple Religious Belonging,'" J.E.S. 46 (Winter, 2011): 105 and 106, respectively.
(15) Ibid., p. 108.
(16) Ibid., p. 107.
(17) Ibid., p. 105.
(18) Ibid., p. 107; emphasis in the original.
(19) Premawardhana, "Unremarkable Hybrid," p. 78.
(20) Important even beyond this is to notice and name the individuals within the masses, and this is where ethnography could be brought in as a crucial complement to even the most contextual of theologies.
(21) Phan, "Responses," p. 103.
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|Publication:||Journal of Ecumenical Studies|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2011|
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