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The Beginning and the End of "Religion."(Brief Article)

By Nicholas Lash. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996. 284 pp. $54.95.

Lash presents a compelling argument for re-evaluating the definition and scope of those things called "religion" in the modern world. The use of the word "religion" evolved from the seventeenth century to the present from a strictly adjectival use to representing a genus--the species of which are Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, and the like. Religion is, then, Lash argues, relegated to a section of the fife of the individual, and allowed, like art or music, to be about the beautiful, and sometimes even about the good, but not about public truth.

The first three chapters are the texts of Lash's Teape Lectures of 1994, the topic of which is "The Upanishads of the Catholic Church." Lash grew up in India and reflects in these lectures on his background there and his theological training in England. The faiths of the East, he explains, do not fit into the modem (Western) category of religion. The remaining chapters of the book deal more directly with secularization and the proposed place of "religion."

What the "religions" do share, Lash says, is an identity as schools whose pedagogies share "the common twofold purpose of weaning us from our idolatry and purifying our desire." The first telling result of this renewed understanding is that the split between theology and spirituality of modernity is eliminated. Perhaps more important, however, is that Lash argues against the relegation of theology to at best a token seat at the table of sciences.

For instance, Lash observes that when dialogues between science and religion occur, the result is usually that religion must relearn its new place in light of current science. How would our world look if science truly engaged a dialogue with religion?

What would Lash have us do if there is no longer such a thing as "religion"? His call is for all to be faithful to the narrative within which they find (or place) themselves. Persons can still communicate with those who do not share their narrative, but it will take the work of conversation and painstaking translation, as well as the realization that translation is never exact. Lash presents a readable, cogent, and provocative account of moving beyond modernity's relegation of "religion" to the interior realm of the individual.

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Article Details
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Author:Heyduck, Steven C.
Publication:Journal of Church and State
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 1998
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