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The unremarkable hybrid: Aloysius Pieris and the redundancy of multiple religious belonging.

Introduction

"Multiple religious belonging" has recently become a focal concern in the theology of religions. More than a few who write about selves intersected by diverse religious influences cite Sri Lankan theologian Aloysius Pieris as a model, a "pioneer" even, of the phenomenon. (1) Having entered the Jesuit order in 1953, by the late 1960's Pieris was training with a Buddhist monk and partaking in the life and learning of a Buddhist monastery. In 1972 he earned a doctorate in Buddhist studies from the University of Sri Lanka. Currently, as director of the Tulana Research Centre outside Colombo, Pieris continues in his scholarship and activism to combine socially engaged Catholic spirituality with deep immersion in the classical literature and lived practices of Theravada Buddhism. He is no doubt nourished by two religious traditions. Yet, notwithstanding his reputation as an exemplar of multiple religious belonging, Pieris does not grant the topic a separate space of intellectual inquiry. Nor does he self-identify with hyphens: Christian-Buddhist or Buddhist-Christian. How might we explain this paradox? What might it reveal?

In a recent essay, Michelle Voss Roberts called on theologians to recognize occurrences of multiple religious belonging beyond the level of religious elites. Not just the doctrinal refections of theologians and contemplatives but also, and perhaps especially, the fluid practices of "the masses" can shed light on the phenomenon. Although initially naming Pieris among the religious elites, Voss Roberts recognized that he also fits into a different model--that of hybrids in marginal communities--on account of his solidarity with the poor of Asia. (2) Pieris's uniquely dual social status--elite and marginal--makes him a particularly noteworthy case of dual religious status. Living and working alongside non-elites, Pieris experiences his hybridity not unlike the way they do: pragmatically and prereflectively. Yet, as unpronounced as this makes him on multiple religious belonging, the ample scholarly output he has produced (as a theological elite) is rich enough to provide a framework for theorizing it. The argument of this essay is that precisely Pieris's failure to raise multiple belonging to the level of an intellectual problem makes his theology a valuable source of illumination on the topic.

To apply Pieris's theological project to contemporary debates, I will compare and contrast it with two of the most powerful arguments in favor of multiple religious belonging: one made on christological grounds (represented by Peter Phan and Jacques Dupuis), the other on methodological grounds (represented by Francis Clooney and Paul Knitter). I will argue that Pieris overcomes limitations in both approaches. In contrast with the principle of asymmetry that underpins Phan's and Dupuis's proposals, Pieris offers symbiosis and a strong critique of inclusivism. In contrast with Clooney's and Knitter's method of tradition-crossing, Pieris highlights how Christianity has always overlapped with diverse religious streams. Religions, accordingly, would not need to be brought into dialogue; they are dialogical. Identities would not need to be multiplied; they are multiple. It is most clearly in this respect that Pieris finds no need to hyphenate his identity or to expound on multiple religious belonging. The phrase is too redundant to provoke reflection.

In expositing Pieris' thought against the backdrop of other post-Vatican II dialogical theologians, I refrain from making universal claims about the rightness of the former and the worthlessness of the latter. The context and constraints of a Roman Catholic in Europe or the United States are different from those of a Roman Catholic in Sri Lanka (and certainly different from those of myself, a Baptist-reared Sri Lankan-American). The relatively unthematized way in which Pieris instantiates multiple belonging may reflect the character of his south Asian homeland where drawing on more than one religious tradition has almost never posed problems--existential, doctrinal, or otherwise. Likewise, the explicit theorizing of the issue by theologians in the Western academy may reflect particular intellectual currents that have converged to construe religions as discrete entities. Recognizing such profound contextual differences, I proceed with the comparisons because the proposals for multiple belonging offered by Phan and Dupuis and by Clooney and Knitter are beset with limitations that are notable (and noted) even from within their proper frameworks. These problems can be circumvented, I will argue, by heeding the Asian or (more to the point) the professedly extra-academic orientation of Pieris. The critical questions I raise about standing theories of multiple religious belonging are therefore meant less to discredit them than to make explicit their assumptions as a way of exploring the thought of an Asian liberation theologian operating "on a somewhat different wavelength." (3) Call it a dialogue of dialogical theologies, a comparison of comparative theologies, an inter-regional engagement of interreligious engagements, or an exercise in comparative Christianities.

My guiding assumption is that Pieris's implicit case for multiple religious belonging is worth explicating because it captures what historians and ethnographers observe about religiosity among most people--in non-Western settings relatively unaffected by post-Enlightenment constructions of "religion" and among non-elites relatively unfazed by academic and ecclesiastic anxieties over the borders of traditions and the limits of orthodoxy. I conclude by attempting to strengthen Pieris's already formidable project by submitting his language of religious "cores" to a genealogical critique of essences and origins.

Peter C. Phan and Jacques Dupuis: Christological Core

For Dupuis (a late Belgian Catholic theologian) and, following him, Phan (a Vietnamese-American Catholic theologian), the conditions for the possibility of multiple religious belonging are christological. In particular, it is Dupuis's christological justification for interreligious dialogue that also permits a particular kind of multiple belonging. The point of departure for Dupuis's Christology is his critique of the fulfillment theory in the theology of religions, which posits Jesus Christ as the capstone of whatever truth and grace abide in non-Christian religions. (4) While this productively affirms God's revelation outside the bounds of Christianity, it fails to create conditions for dialogical relations, for, according to its logic, "Christianity would have nothing to receive but only to give, nothing to learn but only to teach." (5) Dupuis never denies that Christianity, in Jesus Christ, possesses the fullness of God's revelation. However, he distinguishes between the qualitative fullness of God's revelation in Jesus Christ, a measure of intensity, and the quantitative fullness of God's revelation, whose scope exceeds Jesus Christ. (6) God is revealed in, but not exhausted by, Christianity. Christians may therefore enter into relations with non-Christians not solely for the purpose of enriching or fulfilling them but for self-enrichment as well. Genuine dialogue is marked by the humility and openness to be converted by the non-Christian other. (7) Rather than unilateral complementarity, the proper relationship between Christianity and non-Christian religions is one of reciprocal or mutual complementarity.

In a late-career essay on "double belonging," Dupuis took his argument a step further to explain how his christological premises enable not only dialogue with others external to the self but also an internalization of otherness. Dupuis's interest in the phenomenon appeared to be not so much to promote it as to make sense of the cases that "are not unknown today" and "are even on the increase" among "trustworthy witnesses," one of whom is Aloysius Pieris. (8) It is Phan who picked up from Dupuis and systematically outlined conditions for the possibility of multiple religious belonging. He began with a description of the phenomenon: "some Christians believe that it is possible and even necessary not only to accept in theory certain doctrines or practices of other religions and to incorporate them, perhaps in modified form, into Christianity, but also to adopt and live in their personal lives the beliefs, moral rules, rituals, and monastic practices of religious traditions other than Christianity." (9) He then listed eight propositions, the first four, the sixth, and the seventh of which recapitulate the rough sketch I have made of Dupuis's Christology so far. The availability of salvation in non-Christian religions, the diffusion beyond Jesus Christ of the Logos, and "elements of truth and grace" outside Christianity have led Phan to advocate for the reciprocal relationship between Jesus Christ and other "savior figures." (10) For a Christian to experience anything close to the plenitude of God's revelation, he or she would do well to engage, and would not err in identifying, with the mutually complementing religious traditions.

Interreligious dialogue and even multiple religious belonging are legitimized, if not encouraged, by the principle of mutual complementarity. Yet, a modification of that principle moves Dupuis's and Phan's Christology a step backward, in the direction of the fulfillment theory. "While it may be true that there exists a mutual complementarity between Christianity and the other religions," Dupuis wrote, "it cannot be said that this mutual complementarity is a symmetrical one, identical in both directions." (11) The admission that non-Christian religions can serve as autonomous means of salvation is qualified by the assertion that religions' reciprocal relationship owes to the nature of Jesus Christ, who therefore is normative. Words with which Dupuis described Jesus Christ's role in salvation history include "the center," "the culminating point," "the climax," and "the key." (12) Identical expressions appear in point five of Phan's eight-fold path to multiple belonging. (13) Any complementarity among the saving figures of different religions owes to their ultimate reference and reduction to the Christ-event. It is in this respect that Phan has defended the inclusivist conception of Jesus Christ's uniqueness and universality: "To claim that Jesus is the unique savior in this sense does not ipso facto rule out the possibility of saviors other than Jesus; such a claim, however, entails that these saviors, if there be such, are either inferior to or dependent on Jesus." (14) Of the possible sources of salvation and mediums of God's revelation, Jesus Christ holds the superior and normative status. It is not enough, then, that religions be seen as mutually complementary. They are also asymmetrical. (15) "This asymmetricality," Phan wrote in his eighth condition, "is required by the claim of the Christian faith that Jesus is the Logos made flesh and represents the climax or the decisive moment of God's dealings with humankind." (16)

Phan and Dupuis have accepted on faith that Jesus Christ is the unsurpassable reference point for God's dealings with humanity. Given that conviction, their willingness to mount a case for multiple religious belonging is admirably bold. However, it is ultimately self-defeating. It is hard not to see contradictions in their deployment of the principle of asymmetry for the broader aims to which they, and particularly Phan, applied the principle. Dupuis acknowledged the force of what I am calling contradictions when he portrayed the Hindu-Christian belonging of Henri Le Saux (Abhishiktananda) as riddled with difficulties, tensions, and anguish. (17) If Christianity's saving figure is "the culminating point," any claims contrary to it would have to be rejected, even by the person who sees himself or herself as dually committed. Tensions would surely have to follow.

Under the principle of asymmetry one might further ask how mutual need the complementarity between Christianity and other religions be. As Knitter put it in his evaluation of Dupuis's proposal for interreligious dialogue: "Just how deep can enrichment or challenge or conversation go when Christians are convinced that in Jesus they have God's full, final, and fulfilling Word?" (18) Can non-Christian religions add anything interestingly new to what the Christian finds of God's truth and revelation in Jesus Christ? Phan appears to have foreclosed the possibility when he asserted that that which is revealed by the Logos and Holy Spirit in Christianity "may be truly different from, though not contradictory to" what they reveal in other religions. (19) Though logical in the sense of following from his premises, I question the limitation Phan has placed on religious difference. Refusing the possibility of incommensurability is not an embrace, but a refusal, of difference. What about the possibility of radical differences, differences of ultimate ends, for example? (20) What about the possibility of multiple normativities as in Roger Haight's provocative thesis that "Christians today can relate to Jesus as normative of the religious truth about God, the world, and human existence, and at the same time be confident that there are also other religious mediations that are true and thus normative"? (21) If differences are restricted to differences compatible with and absorbable by the singularly normative Christianity, then what is the motive and need for dialogue, much less for multiple belonging? Why would retreat into the spiritual depths of Christianity not suffice for as full and satisfying a religious experience as possible?

Phan's assertions of Jesus Christ's finality in points five and eight of his conditions for multiple belonging manifest profound problems when applied to multiple religious identities. When Phan moved from his justifications for multiple religious belonging to descriptions of its "pioneers," it is telling that he declared his disinterest in Gandhi, Thich Nhat Hanh, and others who drank deeply from Christianity without abandoning their primary (Hindu or Buddhist) identities. These cases, Phan wrote, "are not, strictly speaking, instances of multiple religious belonging." (22) Why not? Maybe it is because Phan's target readership is Christian; Gandhi and Thich Nhat Hanh do not represent the kind of multiple belonging they may be inspired to acquire. However, I think the matter runs deeper--as deep as Phan's Christology. Phan seems to believe that the only valid way to achieve multiple belonging is with Jesus Christ at the core, with Christianity as the substantive for which other religions serve, at best, as adjectival modifiers. (23) The principle of asymmetry demands that any approach to multiple belonging position Jesus Christ as the superior, normative savior figure to whom all others are ultimately answerable and who is answerable to no others. As Dupuis admitted, "whereas other religious traditions can find, and are destined to find, in the Christ event their fullness of meaning--but without being absorbed or dispossessed--the reverse is not true: God's self-manifestation and self-giving in Jesus Christ are not in need of a true completion by other traditions." (24) Christianity always holds the trump card. Operative here is a belief in the superiority of Christianity. While Phan and Dupuis are entitled to have professed this belief, insofar as they have done so, it is hard to imagine why they would need to dialogue with, much less take on the additional identity of, another religion. If everything of ultimate significance about the absolute is already revealed in Jesus Christ, what would be the need to turn to other religions? In light of Dupuis's point about the inevitable difficulties, strains, and tensions that attend the multiple belonger committed to Christianity's asymmetric standing, what would make one even want to?

Aloysius Pieris: From Christological Core to Multiple Cores

In many ways, Pieris has advanced the same project as Phan and Dupuis. All are interested in moving beyond exclusivist claims of Christianity as the one and only repository of God's grace and truth, claims that dismiss all other religions wholesale as superstitious errors. Moreover, Phan, Dupuis, and Pieris have commonly appreciated the importance of focused, scholarly attention to the particularities of traditions other than one's own. (25) Indeed, when Phan argued for the importance of "intellectual mastery of the intricate doctrines and histories of non-Christian religions" to avoid the "shallowness and trendiness" that frequently characterize multiple religious belonging, he pointed to Pieris as a model. (26)

For Pieris, however, interreligious engagement is not as much about intricate doctrines and histories as it is about concrete relationships in Sri Lanka's multireligious context. Dialogue is more than an academic exercise carried out in "interreligious seminars organized and financed by Western agencies ... far removed from real life." (27) Awareness of his situated needs has narrowed Pieris's scope to two religions--his Christianity and his country's predominant Buddhism. Pieris was not moved to elaborate a universal theory that runs the risk of collapsing non-Christian religions into a generic category of otherness--as in the title of Dupuis's Christianity and the Religions. In Asia, interreligious engagement, "with all its psycho-sociological tensions," composes daily, existential experience. (28) These psychosociological tensions are not derivative of doctrinal tensions. Pieris has shown that doctrinal tensions can be transcended rather than allowed to lead to the stagnation of oxymorons in such theological and missiological expressions as "mutual asymmetrical complementarity," "bold humility," and "prophetic dialogue." (29) Committed as a liberation theology to the lived experiences of the multireligious poor of Sri Lanka, Pieris has not contented himself with intellectual considerations of inherited theological formulae. His approach is inductive, arising out of and responding to everyday encounters between Buddhist and Christian neighbors. Treating interreligious dialogue as more a practical than an intellectual problem, Pieris has been able to dissolve the tension between evangelism and dialogue, between asymmetrical finality and mutual complementarity.

He has done so by recourse to something other than the type of reductionist Christology operative in Phan's and Dupuis's proposals for multiple religious belonging. An initial observation is that the inclusivist model, wherein whatever sources of fulfillment are to be found in the various religions remain dependent on the sources of fulfillment in one, is not uniquely Christian. Particularly following the polemical debates in nineteenth-century Sri Lanka between Christian missionaries and Buddhist reformers, many Buddhists came to adopt an understanding of Jesus as something along the lines of an anonymous Bodhisattva. This species of thought, in both its christological and buddhological forms, Pieris has considered an "impasse" to genuine dialogue. Insofar as it universalizes the "uniqueness" of Christ or of the Buddha, it makes inclusivism all too similar to exclusivism. It cannot be denied that these figures are unique--"Is not each one of us unique?" (30) What Pieris wondered, then, is whether uniqueness has become the inclusivists' "euphemism for absoluteness." (31) Absolutism is not permitted by what Pieris has called rules of religious systems that adhere closely to rules of language systems, the most basic being that "[no] language should be allowed to absorb another." This forbids the wholesale replacement of one religious system with another. Inclusivists concur. Furthermore, "The rules of one language game should not be imposed on another." This injunction suggests that even universalizing the salvation history of Christianity--Jesus Christ as uniquely salvific--is a violation. One additional rule appears, on the surface, to blunt Pieris's otherwise pluralistic impulse: "The specificity of each language implies an element of 'chosenness.'" (32) Each faith community is therefore justified in understanding itself to be among the elect. Here, Pieris posited a space for self-understood superiority. However, whereas Dupuis and Phan posed Jesus Christ's asymmetrical finality as an ontological claim, Pieris has been much more reserved: "[T]he chosenness of one's own religion should be confronted with the equally inviolable specificity of other religions." (33) This means that, if the Christian sees Buddhists as achieving fulfillment through the Christ, then he or she must no less concede the validity of any Buddhist's view that Christians achieve fulfillment through the Buddha.

Both cases, however, are marred with a fundamental problem: The Buddha and the Christ are mere titles. These titles are "interpretations" of the salvific medium unique to each of the two religions; "it is not the interpretation that saves!" (34) This is a central point for Pieris. Christological and buddhological titles are culturally-limited human categorizations and are therefore not salvific in and of themselves. Citing Mt. 7:21, Pieris noted that it is not those who say, "Lord, Lord," but those who do "the will of the Father," who are saved. Furthermore, "not all who obey the Word or walk the path feel obliged to claim its proper name to be Jesus." (35) Therefore, mere proclamations of faith are not enough. Orthopraxis, not orthodoxy, is what matters for salvation. Pieris's central concern is not about the right way of speaking about Gautama or about Jesus. This is too academic a question. Rather, Pieris worries about the right way of living fully into the salvific idioms each figure represents. Salvation comes not from saying or believing but from doing.

Therefore, more than one "salvation idiom" can save. This is why the conventional typology of the theology of religions--exclusivist, inclusivist, pluralist--breaks down. These categories "do not make sense" (36) to Pieris because they presume the priority of the question of Christ's uniqueness, whereas the priority in Asia is "the poor" and "the liberational thrust that defines our theology of religions." (37) In their place Pieris has favored syncretism, synthesis, and symbiosis, "if categories are needed at all in this new paradigm," and of these three he favors symbiosis. In symbiotic relations, "[e]ach religion, challenged by the other religion's unique approach to the liberationist aspiration of the poor ... discovers and renames itself in its specificity in response to the other approaches." (38) By affirming that each religion is irreducibly distinct and incapable of compromising its unique identity, symbiosis contrasts most starkly with the type of multiple religious belonging that Phan and Dupuis have articulated, in which a Christian adopts beliefs and practices of another religion but only in a way that modifies his or her core Christianity. For Pieris, it is not sufficient for a Christian to initiate dialogue with a Buddhist "from the core of Christianity." He or she must ensure that the dialogue is "with the core of Buddhism." (39) The complementary accoutrements for which Dupuis and Phan comb non-Christian religions are, in Pieris's thought, less important than the cores of each tradition: "For nothing short of a core-to-core dialogue merits to be called dialogue." (40) Each religion has its distinct core, glossed by Pieris as its liberative experience. In Buddhism, it is Gautama's inward experience of enlightenment under the Bodhi "tree of knowledge," and goes by the name of gnosis, "liberative knowledge," or wisdom. (41) In Christianity, it is Jesus' outward expression of protest on the Calvary "tree of love," and goes by the name of agape, or "redemptive love." (42) These are two distinct salvation idioms. Neither is reducible to the other.

Although irreducibly different, wisdom and love are not simply two options or soteriological alternatives. Rather, these "languages of the spirit" are necessarily complementary, "each incapable, unless aided and complemented by the other, of mediating and adequately expressing the human encounter with the ultimate." (43) Religions are challenged and made whole through dialogue and common praxis. The Buddhist and the Christian need each other; each is inadequate and even incomplete without the other. Ironically, when Dupuis wrote about Pieris as a "trustworthy witness" of dual belonging, he failed to recognize the profound difficulty that this aspect of Pieris's thought creates for his. Dupuis well summarized Pieris's principle of symbiosis when he wrote that "the mutual complementarity of the two traditions [Christianity and Buddhism], in spite of their obvious differences, is based on the innate inadequacy of the basic 'medium' proper to each, which leaves them open to completion." (44) There is, however, nothing in this statement that resembles Dupuis's asymmetry or the finality, culmination, or ultimacy of the Christian medium. Pieris's insistence on the "innate inadequacy" of the mediums--including agape and Jesus Christ--would be unacceptable to Dupuis and Phan who, despite calling for a mutual complementarity, cannot mean by that a complementarity made imperative by virtue of Christianity's incompleteness.

Nevertheless, there is a parallel between Dupuis and Pieris having to do with Pieris's Christian-centric concerns--with "salvation," for example--and Christian-centric terms--like "languages of the spirit" and "the ultimate." In the end, perhaps, Pieris is guilty of doing what he critiques: reducing non-Christian religions to Christian tropes. Indeed, by claiming that the "specific mission of a religion is such that it cannot annul the common vocation of all religions," which is to respond to "the universal calling to God's Reign," Pieris has failed to consider the possibility of uncommon and incommensurate religious ends, callings, or vocations. (45) In this sense he is, no less than Phan and Dupuis, a clear candidate for the inclusivist model. However, the mark of Pieris's superior foundation for multiple religious belonging is not his placement within the exclusivist-inclusivist-pluralist typology that he has disavowed. His approach transcends what he has considered to be irrelevant categorizations by placing praxis before theory, comparisons before classifications. The starting point of Pieris's theology, much like that of Francis Clooney (to be discussed below), is studied attention to and lived engagement with that which is external to Christianity. Pieris has clarified at every turn that it is not Christianity in isolation that fuels his theology but engagement with the poor who are, in Sri Lanka, largely non-Christian. He has refused to begin, as Dupuis and Phan did, with a priori doctrinal claims about the superior status of Christianity and Jesus Christ. Whereas Phan and Dupuis elaborated their theologies in ways meant to motivate dialogue and multiple belonging (and in this, I have argued, they fall short), dialogue and multiple belonging precede Pieris's theological elaborations which, though frequently couched in Christian terms, are inflected by core Buddhist principles.

Pieris has provided, in this respect, a more compelling foundation for multiple religious belonging. His appreciation is of the need for an individual to internalize those two poles of which Christianity paradigmatically expresses one and Buddhism the other. As distinct from the type of multiple belonging that Phan has theorized, Pieris has been committed to affirming a multiplicity of cores, not just the core of Christianity. To employ a cliched metaphor, he did not accept the husk of Buddhism independent of its kernel. This clarifies the precise form in which Pieris can be considered a multiple religious belonger. Rather than a core Christian with Buddhist complements, he is a Christian whose fundamental Christian beliefs and practice are challenged and transformed, not just complemented and enriched, as they are brought into contact with fundamental beliefs and practices of Buddhism. Symbiosis, the term Pieris has preferred over synthesis and syncretism, does not seek to unify or combine diverse elements into a transcendent whole. Rather, symbiosis allows the maintenance of each religion's integrity in mutually supportive relations with the other. Phan's and Dupuis's model of multiple religious belonging, by contrast, comes closer to synthesis or syncretism. Perhaps, to expand on Pieris's biological metaphor, parasitism would better describe the inclusivists' project of multiple belonging. Their asymmetric axiom preserves one religion's core, but only at the expense of that of the other. Symbiotic multiple belonging seems to carry much more promise than parasitic multiple belonging.

Pieris has promoted core-to-core dialogue not just because it is good for interreligious relations but also because it is good for Christianity. It enhances the Christian's experience of Christianity because the gnostic dimension of Buddhism serves to evoke the underdeveloped gnostic dimension of Christianity. Christianity's salvific path, Pieris has written, is constituted by a "twofold ascesis" symbolized by Jesus on the cross. On the one hand, the cross represents Jesus' "open denunciation of mammon, which organizes itself into principalities and powers ... (Jesus" struggle for the poor)." This is a form of exterior liberation, captured well by Christianity's core concept of agape, or redemptive love, and expressed in the struggle against forced poverty. On the other hand, the cross represents "Jesus' renunciation of biological, emotional, and physical ties that bound him to the 'world' (Jesus' struggle to be poor)." This is a form of interior liberation, captured best by Buddhism's core concept of gnosis, or wisdom. Within Christianity lies the possibility of realizing both agape and gnosis. It is in this regard that the cores of Buddhism and Christianity stand not in antagonistic or in simply complementary, but in co-dependent and co-constituting, relation. The core of Buddhism and the core of Christianity cannot but meet in the praxis of liberation. (46)

Francis X. Clooney and Paul F. Knitter: Crossing Traditions

By stressing the symbiotic relationship between Buddhism and Christianity, Pieris has emphasized that neither religion is reducible to the other. This, I have argued, is the profound advantage his (implicit) theory of multiple belonging has over that of Dupuis and Phan. Pieris has gone even further in arguing that each religion is irreducible even to itself, or to what he understands as its core feature. Buddhism, despite its gnostic core, does not lack an agapeic element, and Christianity, despite its agapeic core, does not lack a gnostic element. This essential hybridity owes to historical overlaps between what are today misleadingly reified as "Western" and "Eastern" religions. To set the stage for this area of Pieris's thought, it is helpful to turn first to comparative theology and the understanding of multiple religious belonging within it.

The greatest strength of comparative theology is its high level of scholarly attentiveness to the particularities of another non-Christian tradition. Clooney (an American Catholic theologian) is the principal advocate of this approach. He has argued and through his example illustrated that the Christian believer enriches his or her experience of Christian texts and doctrines by re-reading them after disciplined engagement with the theological resources of non-Christian traditions. (47) As a classicist, Clooney has focused on scriptural and theological texts. Unsatisfied with mere theoretical debates over the status of non-Christian religions, Clooney has demonstrated (much like Pieris) that such practices as comparative reading are prior temporally and primary in importance. In books dealing with diverse theological themes--from reasoning and goddess devotion to nondualism and surrender (48)--Clooney has consistently shown that rethinking his Catholic Christianity in light of Hindu scriptures or commentaries has a transformative, indeed an invigorating, effect. It shapes both his theology and his identity.

Although not a declared comparative theologian, (49) Knitter (also an American Catholic theologian) has provided an illustrative application of its method in his most recent, provocatively titled work, Without Buddha I Could Not Be a Christian. In it, Knitter explicated how his understanding of particular ideas, doctrines, and practices of Christianity were challenged, enhanced, and given fresh meaning after learning about and experiencing analogous ideas, doctrines, and practices of Buddhism. Differently from Clooney, Knitter clarified that his learning comes not only through the reading of texts but also through participation in lived religious communities and relationships forged therein, including a relationship with "[m]y good friend and mentor Aloysius Pieris, S.J., from his study and practice of Buddhism in Sri Lanka." (50)

Clooney and Knitter have deployed similar metaphors to describe the process guiding their efforts: "crossing boundaries" (Clooney), and "passing over" (Knitter). (51) Both entail recognizing one's starting point within a "home" tradition, then entering into the (textual, ritual, or other) richness of another tradition, and finally returning to the primary affiliation where the original theology can be recast and reformulated. Knitter structured each of his chapters according to this method: "[I]n the first part I state my problems in affirming Christian beliefs, the second describes my effort to 'pass over' to Buddhism, and the third part summarizes what I think I can learn when I 'pass back' to my Christian identity and beliefs." (52) This back-and-forth, this tradition-crossing, is permissible, if not advisable, on the grounds of a conclusion Clooney reached through comparatively reading a specific Srivaisnava Hindu verse (Mutal Tiruvantati 44) and a Jesuit Christian text (Ignatius Loyola's Spiritual Exercises): "God graciously takes seriously our religious diversity and the effect it has on our religious and theological imagination. God keeps up with us, finding us where we are." (53) This argument is premised on the same principle we saw explicated by Phan and Dupuis: God is revealed within but not exhausted by the Christian tradition. Learning from the religious other is a means of accessing the breadth and fullness of what is most essential to Christianity. Rather than an. impediment to experiencing the divine, multireligious involvements may in fact be a means.

This type of interreligious activity leads to what Clooney has called a "complexification of religious identity." (54) The result of crossing the borders of traditions is no longer simply or singularly that of a Christian identity. Especially in view of today's circuits of fast-flowing information, Clooney holds that "multiple religious belonging is in important ways as accessible and ordinary as any process of attentive reading." (55) Knitter reveals that his decades-long exposure to and learning from Buddhist communities and texts has culminated in his acquisition of a multiple religious identity. Upon undergoing an initiation ritual in his U.S.-based Buddhist community in the summer of 2008, he became officially "what I think I've been over these past decades: a Buddhist Christian." (56) As comparative theology holds, and as both Knitter's and Clooney's lives attest, Christians may encounter God more fully by transgressing Christianity's boundaries and acquiring, in addition to a Christian belonging, some standing (official or not) within another tradition as well.

Underlying this procedure for acquiring a multiple religious belonging are certain assumptions about the nature of identity and tradition. (57) For hybridity to be conditional upon passing between religious traditions, religions and religious identities must be understood as being, in the absence of boundary crossings, nonhybrid: pure, monolithic, internally coherent, and well-defined. Within this assumed framework, comparative theology deserves credit for pushing at its limits. If traditions are bounded, then the most courageous thing one could do (particularly when doing so risks reproach from punitive authorities) is to challenge the rigidity of those bounds by crossing them and, further, writing about such crossings so compellingly as to inspire similar acts of transgression. Moreover, the liminal status of the boundary-crosser can exact painful costs. Clooney has warned: "Seeking to be insiders twice over, we may instead turn out to be marginal twice over." (58) The courage to invite estrangement by crossing boundaries is admirable, particularly as this inevitably promotes such goods as peaceful coexistence and humble engagement. However, the conception of traditions as bounded and whole (required by the metaphor of boundary-crossing) is neither universal nor necessary. In fact, it has been largely discredited from numerous quarters of religious scholarship within the West--to say nothing, for now, of scholarship such as Pieris's outside the West.

In moral philosophy, Alasdair MacIntyre has provided a useful starting point for a more historicist understanding of tradition by defining it as a "historically extended, socially embodied argument." (59) As such, tradition cannot be static or monolithic; it continually evolves, devolves, or simply mutates through ongoing inquiry and debate, including with that which is "outside" of it. However, as Thomas Lewis has contended, MacIntyre did not hold as true to that definition as he could because the vision of narrative traditions he provided is too overarching and comprehensive to account for the kinds of community that obtain in pluralistic settings. (60) Lewis posited the existence of subgroups formed not only around meta-narratives but also, simultaneously, on the basis of crosscutting commitments to particular practices. Communities, including religious communities, are thereby necessarily heterogeneous and traditions necessarily overlapping, thus foreclosing the "Manichean rhetoric" (61) with which MacIntyre occasionally portrayed narrative traditions, a rhetoric also present in the comparative theologians' ready invocation of an opposition between "one's own and another tradition." (62)

Among historians and anthropologists of religion, the adequacy of the category of "religion" has come under considerable challenge. Wilfred Cantwell Smith was the earliest to denaturalize the term by documenting the modern Western provenance of its meaning and citing as convincing evidence of this the fact that "there are today and have been in the past relatively few languages into which one can translate the word 'religion'--and particularly its plural, 'religions'--outside Western civilization." (63) Smith underscored the inability of the term, reified and abstracted as it is, to capture the flux and fluidity of historical experience and human involvements. Jonathan Z. Smith, also a historian of religions, argued that maps showing through shadings and colorings the regional distributions of "religions" (as in the 1995 HarperCollins Dictionary of Religion) fail to portray adequately the intermingling and cohabitation of different traditions, as well as their adaptations to one other. "This is partially due," he wrote, "to an ideological emphasis on purity of lineage" in academic studies of religion. (64) The anthropologist Talal Asad has mounted what is perhaps the most devastating challenge to the assumption that a universal definition of religion is even possible. Such an assumption elides the "specific Christian history" (65) of the term and therefore distorts what, outside of the Christian context, it seeks to describe. Asad and, following him, Webb Keane, have identified early modern, particularly Protestant, emphases on propositional belief as responsible for universal definitions of religion and the accompanying erection of boundaries that separate religion from other spheres of social experience as well as one "religion" from another. (66)

Even within the theology of religions and comparative theology, assumptions underlying belonging and tradition have been challenged. Jeffrey Carlson has made a convincing case for recasting the noun "tradition" as a verb--"traditioning"--in recognition of the ongoing processes of selective reconstruction that, only when artificially frozen, appear as stable religions and religious identities. All traditions and all identities are more "an amalgam of impermanently related bits and pieces" than the pristine singularities assumed in shorthand labels. He concluded in words this essay reiterates: "'double belonging' is a tautology." (67)

More recently, some feminist theologians of religions have argued for the intrinsic hybridity of religious identity and the inherent ambiguities of the self. Jeannine Hill Fletcher, for example, contesting the bounded and impermeable character of all identity categories, has argued, "One's 'Christian' identity ought not be thought of as isolated from other communities, nor as unaffected by so called 'non-Christian' communities (religious or cultural)." (68) Michelle Voss Roberts has promoted hybrids, rhizomes, and fluids as useful metaphors for subverting, respectively, the singular conception of religious identity, the theological affinity for the One, and the false presumption of impermeable boundaries. (69) Both theologians cited postcolonial theorist Homi Bhabha and a range of feminist theorists and theologians. Bhabha is most famous for popularizing in academic discourse the concept of hybridity, deploying it as a critique of binary logics. His project is committed to "the rearticulation, or translation, of elements that are neither the One ... nor the Other ... but something else besides, which contests the terms and territories of both." (70) The implications for theories of subjectivity are well-enunciated by Judith Butler and Julia Kristeva, who have argued for the fundamental relationality of the self, its constitution through others, and the immanence of the strange in the familiar. (71) Voss Roberts and Hill Fletcher have not extended their critical theoretical reflections to an explicit interrogation of comparative theology's boundary-crossing metaphor. Nevertheless, their arguments and the perspectives they gather point persuasively to the inherency of multiplicity, thus prompting the question of why one would need to cross boundaries to acquire what one already has. As Voss Roberts has written, "Even before we exercise choice regarding our identities, we are always already multiple" (72)--likewise Hill Fletcher's declarative chapter title, "We Are All Hybrids." (73)

None of this is to deny that "religion," "tradition," or "identity," understood in bounded and essentialist terms, serve valuable heuristic functions. They are expedient labels for indexing the sum total of propositions that announce where one stands in relation to others. However, the traditions we inherit are messier than the tradition with which we identify. Diversity within any given tradition always exceeds the uniformity ascribed to it. Christianity, as much as Buddhism, Hinduism, or any other "religion," is thus more a negotiated process--MacIntyre's "argument" or Carlson's "traditioning"--than a monolithic purity. Their histories, from the moment of emergence, abound with doctrinal contestation, textual overlays, convergences with neighboring religious practices and vocabularies, and unsettled disputes over the line between heresy and orthodoxy. This inherent instability, the crossed nature of traditions, casts doubts on the suitability of "tradition-crossing" metaphors. In response to Clooney's argument that "We are what we read, and if we read in complex ways we become persons with complex religious identities," (74) the question arises: What would be a noncomplex religious identity? Clooney is by no means unaware that traditions, including Christianity, have always been in contact with one another. (75) Yet, if that is so, can comparative theology claim to be fundamentally different from theology per se? Has there ever been such a thing as a "noncomparative theology" (76) or a religious belonging that is not already multiple, complex, and hybrid? One may reasonably posit degrees of complexity, wherein a practitioner's religious identity becomes increasingly hybrid with every additional cross-religious reading. However, to speak of becoming persons with complex religious identities masks the multiplicity inherent even in the claim to be nothing more than a Christian.

Pieris: From Crossing Traditions to Crossed Traditions

Enrichment through interreligious study and engagement is just as much a part of Pieris's project as it is of Clooney's and Knitter's. He shares in common with Clooney scholarly training in the classical languages and literature of both Christianity and a South Asian religious tradition, yet there are significant differences--if not in method, then at least in the assumptions underlying them. In an essay titled "Cross-Scripture Reading in Buddhist-Christian Dialogue," Pieris began by acknowledging his initial inability to formulate his practice as "cross-reading of scriptures" until prompted to do so. (77) Rather, his espoused exegetic principle involves "a living encounter of the texts within the encounter of religions, resulting in a further articulation of implicit meanings which these texts would not reveal unless they are mutually exposed to each other's illuminating disclosures." (78) This process, which Pieris has called "symbiosis," entails the unveiling of latent, repressed, or occluded aspects of one's home tradition that would remain hidden except through encounter with the other. As we saw symbiosis to differentiate Pieris from Dupuis and Phan, it also, for other reasons, differentiates Pieris from Clooney and Knitter. Among the theological consequences listed by Clooney of comparative reading, (79) the revealing of buried aspects of one's home tradition does not appear to be one of them. Knitter comes closer to Pieris on this point: "Passing back" after "passing over" enables him "to look back and rediscover or retrieve what has been part of Christian tradition all along," but Knitter did not explore, as did Pieris, cross-religious resonances as owing to historical encounters, overlaps, and exchanges between them. (80) What stands out in Pieris's lack of "tradition-crossing" metaphors is his insistent focus on the multiplicity within the traditions rather than the borders between them. Disclosure of fresh meanings owes fundamentally not to the crossing from Christianity to Buddhism and back again but to the two traditions' long history of interpenetration.

Pieris's historical sensibility can be clarified by noting where and how Pieris has made reference to boundaries. Writing about what he termed the Semitic, the Indian, and the Chinese "streams of religiousness," Pieris argued that they "have not confined themselves to the neighborhood of their sources, but have been meandering beyond their linguistic boundaries, even across continents, thus flooding the world--Asia in particular--with a plethora of hybrid cultures." (81) "Boundaries" here refer not to lines between religions to be transgressed by individual, diligent readers but, rather, to the geographic and linguistic lines of demarcation long transgressed by religious streams. The earliest histories of religions reveal not pure origins but cross-fertilizations and hybridizations. Before any theologian came along to cross from one tradition to another, the traditions were already well adulterated. This is true, as Pieris has noted, especially in Asia. What is noteworthy about Pieris's insight, however, is his claim to be describing a particularly, but not exclusively, Asian phenomenon.

Indeed, it is not just Buddhism that emerged in contact situations. No religious tradition, not even Christianity and not even Christianity in the West, is historically reducible to a monolithic purity. Jesus, born and ministering in the Semitic cultures of the Near East, "was no less an Asian than were the founders of Buddhism and Islam." (82) The distinction between Eastern and Western religions, therefore, has no geographical basis: "[T]here is no surviving major world religion that is not Eastern." (83) Clearly Pieris did not infer from this that Christianity's emergence overlapped with particular Buddhist people, ideas, or institutions the way that it did with Judaism, with Greek religions, and with the "pagan" traditions of Europe, for example. Yet, the reality of a common "Eastern" origin for both Buddhism and Christianity does reveal the inadequacy of bifurcating "spiritual instincts" as occurs easily with the reification and polarization of traditions and regions: "'East' and 'West' are geographical misnomers for two spiritual instincts surging from the deepest zones of any human being, be he or she in the 'East' or in the 'West.'" (84) Likewise, Buddhism and Christianity are religious misnomers for principles that cohabitate in any human being, be he or she Buddhist or Christian. The religious traditions to which Jesus and Gautama each gave rise derive from contexts that are not polar opposites of each other, as East and West are (for political reasons) (85) constructed and imagined to be. To speak of Christianity as a "Western" religion and Buddhism as an "Eastern" religion obscures more than it reveals. East and West have come to be reified to the point at which each represents one of the "two irreducibly distinct languages of the spirit" (86)--gnosis and agape--that only together constitute what Pieris has called "a genuine spirituality." (87) Phrases such as "genuine spirituality' suggest that his claim of overlap between Buddhism and Christianity is as much evocative of a theological principle as it is referential of a historical reality.

Although associating the core of Buddhism with gnosis and the core of Christianity with agape, at nearly every mention of these characterizations Pieris has been careful to stress their mutual imbrications. Those who are Christian do not for that reason lack a gnostic dimension; those who are Buddhist do not for that reason lack an agapeic dimension. (88) This hybridity owes not to a subsequent acquisition of something otherwise lacking, the result of boundary-crossing. Due to historical cross-fertilization since the traditions' points of origin, the cores are already crossed. To substantiate his point, Pieris provided illustrative examples from each tradition. Medieval monasticism, with its accompanying signs of meditative introspection and contemplative detachment, stands for him as evidence that the gnostic pole is every bit present in Christianity, "still circulating beneath a thick encrustation of Occidentalism." (89) Similarly, Buddhism can never be fully captured by the popular image of "the navel-gazing yogi on the banks of the Ganges." (90) There is an agapeic dimension even at the gnostic core of Buddhism. The Pali word for this is "karuna," a word that approximates the redemptive love (agape) of Christianity. Therefore, Buddhism manifests a pragmatic, social dimension and is not, contrary to Weber's caricature, a merely otherworldly asceticism. (91)

Pieris drew out the implications of these historical overlaps for religious identity in the following:
   I believe that there is a Christian gnosis that is necessarily
   agapeic; and there is also a Buddhist agape that remains gnostic.
   In other words, deep within each one of us there is a Buddhist and
   a Christian engaged in a profound encounter that each
   tradition--Buddhist and Christian--has registered in the doctrinal
   articulation of each religion's core experience. What seems
   impossible--the interpenetration of the two irreducibly distinct
   idioms--has already taken place both within Christianity and within
   Buddhism. (92)


As neither Christianity nor Buddhism is a monolithic totality, neither can the Christian or the Buddhist identity be. Every Buddhist and every Christian maintains the truth of the other tradition even without having to claim it explicitly or purposefully to traverse supposed boundaries into it. The conclusion, Pieris appears to delight in exclaiming, is that "a true Buddhist-Christian encounter is possible only at the depths of our being where the core-to-core dialogue has already taken place!" (93) Buddhist-Christian dialogue, even Buddhist-Christian identity, is a natural extension of what it means to be Buddhist--and to be Christian--at the core.

It should be acknowledged that the historical and theological claims of overlap and mixture have not led Pieris to deny the specificity and uniqueness of Buddhism and Christianity. As quotations from this essay clearly indicate, Pieris has not been averse to using such words as "tradition," "religion," or "Buddhism" and "Christianity," although the frequency with which he has written of religious streams, as opposed to religious traditions, is significant. Nor has Pieris refused to claim a primary rootedness in Christianity, although this seems to be more emphasized in his latest works. (94) To the extent that he has used reified labels, he has revealed that, despite his professed distaste for intellectualism and academicism, he too is not averse to linguistic conventions indispensable for indexing where one stands in relation to others. Moreover, his terminological recognition of different religious traditions--Buddhism as distinct from Christianity--reflects his conviction that each is meaningfully different from others. He has even written, again in a more recent essay, of "the non-negotiable differences between Buddhism and Christianity." (95) Yet, such claims for the specificity and even singularity of particular traditions need to be read in terms of his overriding insistence that their characteristics are not determined a priori. Religious identities are real, but they have a history. They come into being, as do the traditions themselves, through dialogue and exchange. For example, when describing dialogue in Basic Human Communities (interreligious communities directed toward liberative praxis, modeled on Latin America's Basic Christian Communities), Pieris has written that "our starting point is not the uniqueness of Christ or Christianity, or of any other religion." (96) Rather, "the Christians in BHCs [basic human communities] are given their identity, and are made to discover what is unique about Jesus, by the non-Christians." (97) Stated otherwise, "It is in the process of naming and recognizing both sin and liberation as experienced and acted upon by us in a BHC that we acquire for one another our respective religious uniqueness." (98) As in the symbiotic process explored earlier, an authentic awareness of one's own "tradition" or, here, religious identity can come only through engagement with another. Not unlike Paul Ricoeur's insistence that "the shortest route from self to self is through the other," (99) Pieris here has pointed to religious identity, religious tradition, and religious difference as products of, not preconditions for, dialogical encounters and practical engagements.

The importance of praxis in Pieris's formulations speaks to his view of religions as living and dynamic. They are not reducible to textual expressions that are relatively fixed on the printed page. For this reason, Pieris included as part of his engagement with Buddhism such nontextual dimensions as art and ritual. (100) In contrast to Clooney, who embraced his textual bias even while acknowledging its elitist distortion, (101) Pieris has emphasized the limits of textual analysis in light of religion's dynamism: "[T]he peasantry and the proletariat of the Third World are, for the most part, bearers of a nonscriptural or regionalized traditional religiousness ... Their beliefs and practices have not frozen into written formulas but flow with time." (102) Pieris expanded upon this by pointing out a distinction (though not a dichotomy) between the normative forms of a tradition like Christianity and the popular forms. The former may be deciphered through its scriptures and doctrines, but the latter requires attentiveness to orality. Relatedly, Pieris has distinguished between metacosmic and cosmic religions. Metacosmic religions are those that soteriologically orient themselves toward a "Beyond," outside the realm of quotidian affairs. These religions include Christianity, Buddhism, and Hinduism. Cosmic religions, what might today be called indigenous religions, (103) are more geographically localized. They revolve, according to Pieris, around such issues as "food, harvest, rain and sunshine, floods and drought, health and sickness, life and death, marriage and politics" and are most certainly oral rather than textual in expression. (104) The two levels of religiosity are not mutually exclusive. They are always and naturally combined in a process that Richard Gombrich, as cited by Pieris, termed "accretism." Accretism, as distinct from syncretism, suggests a vertical merger of cosmic concerns with soteriological orientations. In Pieris's view, this relationship between metacosmic and cosmic religions makes anthropology a necessary complement to textual studies in the field of religion. (105)

The intemal multiplicities of such "world religions" as Christianity and Buddhism owe, in part, therefore, to their inevitable interactions with oral and indigenous traditions, aspects of Asian "culture." However, Pieris has argued, the first step in taking Asia's multireligious character seriously is acknowledging that, in situated practice, culture has no meaning independent of religion. Therefore, the missionary strategy of inculturation is inadequate, for the very idea presupposes a "culture-religion dichotomy" that does not exist. (106) Not unlike the arguments explored above about the provinciality of the category "religion," Pieris has noted its limited utility in the Asian context: "None of the Asian soteriologies, not excluding the biblical ones, has offered us a comprehensive word for, or a clear concept of, religion in the current Western sense....

in our Asian context, religion is life itself rather than a function of it." (107) As such, the idea of inserting "'the Christian religion minus European culture' into an 'Asian culture minus non-Christian religion'" is untenable. (108) Inculturation would therefore be wisely recast as "inreligionization," Pieris's intriguing neologism that entails "developing a new Asian identity within the idiom and the ethos of another metacosmic religion" such as Buddhism." (109) Pieris deployed this term to speak to the particular reality of Asian society, one in which metacosmic religions have already established deep roots and are therefore not easily dislodged, a fact evidenced by the relatively small proportion of Asian adherents that Christianity can claim. (110)

Indeed, one of Pieris's ultimate objectives has been to diagnose and then propose a solution to the problem of Christianity's meager presence in South Asia. In his view, previous mission efforts have not properly treated the religiosity and the poverty of the region. This brings us back to Pieris's leitmotif of the "twofold ascesis," Jesus' "double baptism." The first baptism expresses Jesus' commitment to Asian religions, for it entails an immersion (inculturation, inreligionization) into the streams of Asian religiosity. The second expresses Jesus' commitment to Asian poverty, for his death by crucifixion owes to his prophetic struggle against forced poverty. For Jesus Christ to become manifest in Asia, it is necessary for Christian communities "to step into the baptismal waters of Asian religion and to pass through passion and death on the cross of Asian poverty." (111) This entails "micro-ethical" commitments to become poor (as Jesus was) by vowing radical detachment from the forces of Mammon. This is the gnostic paradigm preeminently manifest in Asian religions like Buddhism. Recognizing, however, the principalities and powers through which Mammon operates requires a simultaneous agapeic commitment to fight for political and economic justice. (112) Voluntary poverty and opposition to forced poverty unite in Pieris's Asian theology of liberation. Gnosis and agape conjoin in Christianity's baptisms into "the Jordan of Asian religion" and "the Calvary of Asian poverty." (113) For Christianity to exist in Asia, what is needed is nothing short of what Jesus accomplished: multiple baptisms, multiple belongings.

Conclusion: Beyond "Core" Concerns

In this essay, I have attempted to present Pieris's theology in light of the theological problem of multiple religious belonging. Unlike Phan, Dupuis, Clooney, and Knitter, Pieris has offered no systematic treatment of it. My conclusion is that he need not, and perhaps (given his premises) could not. Plurality is so deeply ingrained in Asia, in Christianity, and in religion itself as to make the very notion of multiple religious belonging redundant. There is no other way to conceive of Christianity except as in dialogue with the religions that coconstitute it. To belong is already to multiply belong. The Christian identity is a multiple religious identity.

Though Pieris has not explicitly theorized multiple religious belonging, I have tried to show that his ample theological production is useful for interrogating two standing theories of it. First, Pieris has argued that the core experiences of non-Christian religions must be honored in the interreligious encounter. This can be understood in contrast to Phan's and Dupuis's proposal for multiple religious belonging in which Christianity holds asymmetrically superior status. Second, Pieris argues that the core of a religion is not quite descriptive of its complexity. This can be understood in contrast to Clooney's and Knitter's model of the believer of one tradition who crosses boundaries into another as if the two were fundamentally discrete entities. In both respects, Pieris has provided the sounder theological foundation upon which to construct a theory of multiple religious belonging. Ironically, Pieris accomplished this as the only one of the theologians considered to remain silent on the topic.

Indeed, the end for Pieris is not multiple belonging. He seems uninterested in describing himself as a Christian-Buddhist or Buddhist-Christian. Rather, his goal is to encounter a deeper understanding and engage in a richer (for him, meaning more liberationist) practice of Christianity. It seems that he would argue that he is and was all along nothing more than a Christian. (114) By expressing his primary allegiance to Christianity through the idiom of Buddhism, Pieris has seen himself not as drawing from Buddhism elements to add to Christianity but as capturing a component of Christianity that would otherwise be easily missed. The goal of interreligious dialogue and study, therefore, appears to be to allow for a more enriched form of Christian identity that is not a multiple religious identity as much as it is a description of the Christian core at its messiest, which is to say, at its truest.

Productively challenging though Pieris's insights are, questions remain. Exactly what did Pieris mean when he has insisted on a "core-to-core" dialogue, if the religions are, at their cores, already multiply constructed? What work does the concept of core do other than evoke an ahistorical, supra-cultural essence? In light of Christianity's gnostic "core" of agape and Buddhism's agapeic "core" of gnosis, does the term not lose its meaning and render his argument inconsistent? The retention of the idea of distinct cores seems plausible on the grounds that the religions are, after all, different. However, I wonder whether it might be better to avoid gesturing, as the word "core" does, to primordial differences that adhere in some metaphysical form.

My preference is to grant even greater historical specificity to the idea of a core than Pieris already has by treating the ascription of a particular core to a particular religious tradition as a problem to be investigated, not a taken-for-granted certainty. How did we ever come to speak of this religion having this core and that religion having that core? What are the conditions of possibility that allowed for a discourse of cores in the first place? The genealogical method, as presented by Michel Foucault, offers language with which to explore such questions. This method is premised on a distinction between Ursprung and Entstehung, both of which translate from German as "origin." Following Nietzsche, Foucault has rejected Ursprung, whose sense of origin amounts to "an attempt to capture the exact essence of things, their purest possibilities, and their carefully protected identities." (115) Its deficiency is its presumption of a timeless essential origin. It fails to acknowledge that truth--rather than simply waiting to be discovered--is a historical product that comes into being as the result of a struggle of forces, "the hazardous play of dominations." The sense of origin entailed here is better captured by Entstehung, "which designates emergence, the moment of arising." (116) Here, what we call "truth" is not continuous but contentious and contingent, the ever-changing product of fluctuating power relations.

Pieris already is well aware of the multiplicities entailed in the notion of tradition. I suggest, nevertheless, that abandoning his insistence on a "core-to-core dialogue" can further his project by forcing him to account for the factors that go into constructing cores in the first place. To be fair, Pieris has stated that the level of core experience is only one of three at which interreligious dialogue occurs. The second level--collective memory--enables the core experience to be transmitted to future generations. The third level--interpretation--makes the core experience meaningful and accessible in given historical contexts. (117) In arguing that all three levels must be in play, Pieris is aware that the core of a religion is inaccessible except through discourse (collective memory) and power (interpretation). The Foucauldian question, however, goes beyond access to ask whether any core experience even obtains outside the discursive and political fields that produce them. Defining interpretation not as "the slow exposure of the meaning hidden in an origin" (akin to Pieris's view of interpretation) but as "the violent or surreptitious appropriation of a system of rules," (118) Foucault has enabled a more comprehensive appraisal of the conditions for the possibility of not only such things as interreligious dialogue (119) but also, more fundamentally, of the very idea of religious cores.

Analyses of power are crucial for the study of religion, because the normalizing and universalizing of modern Western categories often transpire without a reckoning of the authorizing role of Western imperial power. (120) Religions then are assumed to be autonomous, traditions bounded, cores singular, and identities unitary. Where such assumptions prevail as, for example, in the Western academy, theologians like Dupuis, Phan, Clooney, and Knitter perform a laudable service in advocating ways to overcome resulting tendencies toward isolationism and tribalism. Yet, in much of the world, as historians and ethnographers have amply shown, most people mix practices and beliefs eclectically in accord with shifting situational needs and without regard for where one belief "system" ends and another begins. (121) Where in the non-Western world purification and the erection of well-defined borders have become important, this has been shown to owe (though by no means only or always) to the transmission via missionaries and other modernizers of Enlightenment ideas about proper religion, as in the "Protestantization" of Buddhism. (122) A genealogy of religion, of tradition, and of "core" can help to denaturalize the assumptions of early modern European intellectual history and clear the space for alternate configurations of identity, of belonging, and of religiosity itself.

Clooney was right to have noted, in his review of Pieris's Love Meets Wisdom, that Pieris "is impatient with the 'theoretical' study of religions predominant in the West and seems rather uneasy with the rational and verbal sides of religion." (123) Yet, this bespeaks not a "weakness" as much as an existential mode of being-in-the-world suggestive of how the vast majority of human beings pre-reflectively and pragmatically approach issues such as religious belonging and practice. That "multiple religious belonging" does not register conceptually with Pieris is not surprising, given the foreignness to his thinking of the ideas that religion occupies an autonomous sphere and that each tradition exists independently of others. In fact, it does not register for many who would be classified, only under a certain intellectualist vantage point, as multiple belongers. Despite or, better, because lacking an explicit treatment of multiple religious belonging, Pieris has provided a compelling platform for understanding such people--people as unremarkably hybrid as he is.

* The author wishes to thank Patrick Provost-Smith, Francis Clooney, Michelle Voss Roberts, Brad Bannon, Shanta Premawardhana, and J.E.S. 's peer reviewers for their thoughtful comments at various stages of this essay's development.

(1) Peter C. Phan, Being Religious Interreligiously: Asian Perspectives on Interfaith Dialogue (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2004), pp. 70-71; Michelle Voss Roberts, "Religious Belonging and the Multiple," Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 26 (Spring, 2010): 47; Elisabeth J. Harris, "Double Belonging in Sri Lanka: Illusion or Liberating Path?" in Catherine Cornille, ed., Many Mansions? Multiple Religious Belonging and Christian Identity, Faith Meets Faith Series (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2002), pp. 85-89; Jacques Dupuis, "Christianity and Religions: Complementarity and Convergence," in Cornille, Many Mansions? pp. 72-73.

(2) Voss Roberts, "Religious Belonging and the Multiple," pp. 47 and 60-61.

(3) The quotation paraphrases S. Mark Helm when he distinguished the works of Asian theologians Raimon Panikkar, Aloysius Pieris, and Stanley Samartha from the less tenable positions of Western pluralist theologians (S. Mark Heim, Salvations: Truth and Difference in Religion [Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1995], p. 8).

(4) Jacques Dupuis, Toward a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1997), pp. 133-143.

(5) Dupuis, "Christianity and Religions," p. 65.

(6) Dupuis, Toward a Christian Theology, pp. 248-250.

(7) Ibid., pp. 358-384.

(8) Dupuis, "Christianity and Religions," pp. 62 and 69-74.

(9) Phan, Being Religious Interreligiously, p. 61.

(10) Ibid., pp. 64-66.

(11) Dupuis, "Christianity and Religions," p. 66.

(12) Ibid., pp. 61-62.

(13) Phan, Being Religious Interreligiously, p. 66.

(14) Ibid., pp. 86; also see p. 101.

(15) Dupuis's fullest explanation of "mutual asymmetrical complementarity" appears in Jacques Dupuis, Christianity and the Religions: From Confrontation to Dialogue, tr. Phillip Berryman (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books; London: Dartman, Longman and Todd, 2002), pp. 255-258.

(16) Phan, Being Religious Interreligiously, p. 67.

(17) Dupuis, "Christianity and Religions," pp. 69-72.

(18) Paul F. Knitter, Introducing Theologies of Religions (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2002), p. 103.

(19) Phan, Being Religious Interreligiously, p. 65.

(20) See Helm, Salvations.

(21) Roger Haight, Jesus. Symbol of God (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1999), p. 403.

(22) Phan, Being Religious Interreligiously, p. 69.

(23) Ibid., p. 72.

(24) Dupuis, Christianity and the Religions, p. 257.

(25) However, Dupuis, despite claiming an interest in the specifics of non-Christian religions, failed to let them inform his project in anything more than superficial fashion. See Francis X. Clooney, Hindu God, Christian God: How Reason Helps Break Down the Boundaries between Religions (Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press, 2001), pp. 22-23.

(26) Phan, Being Religious Interreligiously, p. 74.

(27) Aloysius Pieris, Love Meets Wisdom: A Christian Experience of Buddhism, Faith Meets Faith Series (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1988), p. 3.

(28) Ibid.

(29) See n. 15 above; David J. Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1991), p. 489; Stephen B. Bevans and Roger P. Schroeder, Constants in Context: A Theology of Mission for Today (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2004), pp. 348-395.

(30) Aloysius Pieris, "The Buddha and the Christ: Mediators of Liberation," in John Hick and Paul F. Knitter, eds., The Myth of Christian Uniqueness: Toward a Pluralistic Theology of Religions (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1987), p. 171.

(31) Aloysius Pieris, Fire and Water: Basic Issues in Asian Buddhism and Christianity (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1996), p. 154.

(32) Ibid., p. 101.

(33) Ibid., p. 102.

(34) Pieris, "The Buddha and the Christ," p. 173.

(35) Ibid.

(36) Pieris, Fire and Water, p. 155.

(37) Ibid., p. 156; emphasis in original.

(38) Ibid., p. 161.

(39) Pieris, Love Meets Wisdom, p. 110; emphases in original.

(40) Ibid

(41) Ibid., p. 111.

(42) Ibid.

(43) Ibid., p. 10.

(44) Dupuis, "Christianity and Religions," p. 72.

(45) Aloysius Pieris, "Christ Beyond Dogma: Doing Christology in the Context of the Religions and the Poor," Louvain Studies 25 (Fall, 2000): 219.

(46) Pieris, "The Buddha and the Christ," pp. 174-175.

(47) Francis X. Clooney, Theology after Vedanta: An Experiment in Comparative Theology (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1993), pp. 4-10 and 153.

(48) For Clooney's own brief summaries of his major works, see Francis X. Clooney, Comparative Theology: Deep Learning across Religious Borders (Chichester, W. Sussex, U.K., and Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010), pp. 20-21.

(49) For Knitter's own concise introduction to and appreciative critiques of comparative theology, see Knitter, Introducing Theologies, pp. 171-237.

(50) Paul F. Knitter, Without Buddha I Could Not Be a Christian (Oxford, U.K.: Oneworld, 2009), p. 44. On friendship and the interpersonal dimensions of interreligious engagement, see James L. Fredericks, Faith among Faiths: Christian Theology and Non-Christian Religions (New York: Paulist Press, 1999), pp. 173-177.

(51) Francis X. Clooney, "Neither Here nor There: Crossing Boundaries, Becoming Insiders, Remaining

Catholic," in Jose Ignacio Cabezon and Sheila Greeve Davaney, eds., Identity and the Politics of Scholarship in the Study of Religion (New York and London: Routledge, 2004), pp. 99-111. Knitter, Without Buddha, pp. xiii and 8, e.g.

(52) Knitter, Without Buddha, p. xiii.

(53) Clooney, Comparative Theology, p. 151.

(54) Francis X. Clooney, "God for Us: Multiple Religious Identities as a Human and Divine Prospect," in Cornille, Many Mansions? p. 58.

(55) Ibid., p. 57.

(56) Knitter, Without Buddha, p. 216.

(57) The following paragraphs build on critical questions about the conception of tradition in comparative theology that I first heard raised by Thomas A. Lewis and Patrick Provost-Smith in their separate papers presented under the title "Conceptions of Tradition and the Comparative Project" at a meeting of the Society for Comparative Theology, Boston, MA, April 26, 2005. This meeting was convened and hosted by Clooney.

(58) Clooney, "Neither Here nor There," p. 109. See also Clooney, Comparative Theology, pp. 157-160. A parallel may be drawn with Edward Said's description of the political and intellectual exile who suffers profound insecurity but is yet uniquely able to see and unsettle orthodoxies dogmatically maintained (Edward W. Said, "Intellectual Exile: Expatriates and Marginals," in Edward W. Said, Representations of the Intellectual, The 1993 Reith Lectures [New York: Vintage Books, 1994], pp. 47-64).

(59) Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory (Notre Dame, IN.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981), p. 222.

(60) Thomas A. Lewis, "On the Limits of Narrative: Communities in Pluralistic Society," Journal of Religion 86 (January, 2006): 55-80.

(61) Ibid., p. 75.

(62) This iteration of the idea appears in Clooney, Comparative Theology, p. 11.

(63) Wilfred Cantwell Smith, The Meaning and End of Religion (San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row, 1963), p. 18.

(64) Jonathan Z. Smith, Relating Religion: Essays in the Study of Religion (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), p. 171.

(65) Talal Asad, Genealogies of Religion: Discipline and Reasons of Power in Christianity and Islam (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993), p. 42.

(66) Ibid., pp. 43-48; Webb Keane, Christian Moderns: Freedom and Fetish in the Mission Encounter (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2007), pp. 59-112.

(67) Jeffrey Carlson, "Responses," Buddhist-Christian Studies, vol. 23 (2003), pp. 78-79. See also his enticing suggestion that recognition of the internally split nature of all religious identities and traditions--one's own as well as that of others--may reduce the "otherness" of the other, thereby promoting a form of solidarity built around the commonality not of ultimate truth but of "syncretic selves" (Jeffrey Carlson, "'Syncretistic Religiosity': The Significance of This Tautology," J.E.S. 29 (Winter, 1992): 34.

(68) Jeannine Hill Fletcher, Monopoly on Salvation? A Feminist Approach to Religious Pluralism (New York and London: Continuum, 2005), p. 99.

(69) Voss Roberts, "Religious Belonging and the Multiple," pp. 58-59.

(70) Homi K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture (London and New York: Routledge, 1994), p. 28.

(71) Judith Butler, Giving an Account of Oneself (New York: Fordham University Press, 2005); and Julia Kristeva, Strangers to Ourselves (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991).

(72) Voss Roberts, "Religious Belonging and the Multiple," p. 60.

(73) Hill Fletcher, Monopoly on Salvation? chap. 4. Complementary to the varied insights presented in this paragraph, I would also note, from within contemporary theology, the Latino/a concept of mestizaje, which locates identity and experience betwixt and between, at the borderlands far removed from what are imagined to be stable and unified centers. See Virgilio Elizondo, The Future is Mestizo." Life Where Cultures Meet, rev. ed. (Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado, 2000); Gloria Anzaldua, Borderlands: The New Mestiza = La Frontera (San Francisco, CA: Aunt Lute Books, 1987); and Devaka Premawardhana, "Between Logocentrism and Lococentrism: Alambrista Challenges to Traditional Theology," Harvard Theological Review 101 (October, 2008): 399-416.

(74) Clooney, "God for Us," p. 57.

(75) Clooney, Comparative Theology, p. 80.

(76) Ibid., pp. 111-112.

(77) Aloysius Pieris, "Cross-Scripture Reading in Buddhist-Christian Dialogue: A Search for the Right Method," in Philip L. Wickeri, ed., Scripture, Community, and Mission: Essays in Honor of D. Preman Niles (Hong Kong: Christian Conference of Asia, 2002), p. 234.

(78) Ibid., p. 244.

(79) They include the following: "it draws what we learn from another tradition back into the realm of our own"; it "deepen[s] our repertoire of theological ideas"; and it reveals "that our tradition is not the only one that is reasonable, committed, or open to God" (Clooney, Comparative Theology, pp. 16, 113, and 156, respectively).

(80) Knitter, Without Buddha, p. 14. Clooney, meanwhile, explicitly downplays (although does not rule out) the historical dimension when he writes, "Comparison forges a link which was not previously there, a link which (usually) cannot be justified on the basis of historical connections." Clooney, Theology after Vedanta, p. 154.

(81) Aloysius Pieris, An Asian Theology of Liberation, Faith Meets Faith Series (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1988), p. 98; emphasis added.

(82) Ibid., p. 59.

(83) Pieris, Love Meets Wisdom, p. 11.

(84) Ibid.

(85) Edward Said, Orientalism (New York: Vintage Books, 1978).

(86) Pieris, Love Meets Wisdom, p. 10.

(87) Ibid., p. 12.

(88) In sections on "The 'Agapeic Gnosis' of Christians" and "The 'Gnostic Agape' of Buddhists," Pieris developed this argument in great depth. (ibid., pp. 114-119).

(89) Ibid., p. 12.

(90) Ibid.

(91) Ibid., pp. 12 and 85. Citing Pieris, Knitter also developed parallels between karuna and agape (Knitter, Without Buddha, pp. 43-45, 202-205).

(92) Pieris, Love Meets Wisdom, p. 113.

(93) Ibid., p. 119.

(94) E.g, in Mysticism of Service, which is pitched less as a historical or theological than as a devotional text, Pieris wrote in the foreword: "I am of the opinion that before studying and appropriating non-Christian spiritualities into the practice of Christian prayer, a follower of Jesus must be rooted and grounded in Christ in the manner revealed to us in the life and praxis of the first Christian communities. The Scriptures give a sufficient glimpse into this spirituality. Hence I limit my discussion to the strictly Christian tradition" (Aloysius Pieris, Mysticism of Service: A Short Treatise on Spirituality with a Paulme-Ignatian Focus on the Prayer-Life of Christian Activists [Gonawala-Kelaniya, Sri Lanka: Tulana Research Center, 2000], p. iii). I will have more to say about Pieris's sense of Christian rootedness in the conclusion.

(95) Aloysius Pieris, "Spirituality as Mindfulness: The Biblical and the Buddhist Versions," in Patrick Gnanapragasam and Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, eds., Negotiating Borders: Theological Explorations in the Global Era: Essays in Honor of Prof. Felix Wilfred (Delhi: Indian Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2008), p. 185.

(96) Pieris, Fire and Water, p. 155.

(97) Ibid., p. 159; emphasis added.

(98) Ibid., p. 158; emphasis added.

(99) Richard Kearney, On Paul Ricoeur: The Owl of Minerva (Aldershot, Hants, U.K., and Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing, 2004), p. 8.; emphasis in original.

(100) See Harris, "Double Belonging," pp. 88-89.

(101) Clooney, Comparative Theology, pp. 67-68. See Phan's critique of the textualist proclivities in comparative theology in Peter Phan, In Our Own Tongues: Perspectives from Asia on Mission and Inculturation (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2003), pp. 171-172.

(102) Pieris, An Asian Theology, p. 98.

(103) See James L. Cox, From Primitive to Indigenous: The Academic Study of Indigenous Religions (Aldershot, Hants, U.K.; and Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publications, 2007).

(104) Pieris, An Asian Theology, p. 99.

(105) Ibid.

(106) Ibid., p. 52.

(107) Ibid., p. 90.

(108) Ibid., p. 52.

(109) Pieris, Fire and Water, p. 67. In a much different context, Galician theologian AndrOs Tones Queiruga has promoted a similar concept with similar meaning: "inreligionacion" (Andres Torres Queiruga, "El dialogo de las religiones en el mundo actual," in Joaquim Gomis, ed., El Concilio Vaticano III: Como lo imaginan 17 cristianos [Bilbao: Desclee de Brouwer, 2001], pp. 67-84).

(110) Pieris, An Asian Theology, p. 55.

(111) Ibid., p. 63.

(112) Pieris, Love Meets Wisdom, pp. 90-91.

(113) Pieris, An Asian Theology, p. 63.

(114) Elizabeth Harris similarly concluded about Pieris's "double belonging" that, in fact, his rootedness in and primary allegiance to Christianity never waned, even as he came to conceive and express that Christianity in Buddhist terms (Harris. "Double Belonging," p. 90).

(115) Michel Foucault, "Nietzsche, Genealogy, History," in Michel Foucault, Aesthetics. Method, and Epistemology: Essential Works of Foucault, 1954-1984, vol. 2, ed. James D. Faubion, tr. Robert Hurley et al. (New York: The New Press, 1994), p. 371.

(116) Ibid., p. 376; emphasis in original.

(117) Pieris, Love Meets Wisdom, pp. 119-121.

(118) Foucault, "Nietzsche, Genealogy, History," p. 378.

(119) See Henrique Pinto, Foucault, Christianity, and Interfaith Dialogue (London and New York: Routledge, 2003).

(120) Asad, Genealogies of Religion, pp. 1-24.

(121) A sampling of such studies, selected from diverse regions and "religions," includes: Roger Bastide, The African Religions of Brazil: Toward a Sociology of the Interpenetration of Civilizations, tr. Helen Sebba (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978); Jean Comaroff, Body of Power, Spirit of Resistance: The Culture and History of a South African People (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985); Michael Lambek, Knowledge and Practice in Mayotte: Local Discourses of Islam, Sorcery, and Spirit Possession (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1993); Birgit Meyer, Translating the Devil: Religion and Modernity among the Ewe in Ghana (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1999); Gananath Obeyesekere, Medusa's Hair: Personal Symbols and Religious Experience (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984). For more, see the references in Voss Roberts, "Religious Belonging and the Multiple," pp. 50-52; and in Hill Fletcher, Monopoly on Salvation? pp. 98-99.

(122) Keane, Christian Moderns; Jean and John L. Comaroff, Of Revelation and Revolution: Christianity. Colonialism, and Consciousness m South Africa, vol. 1 (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1991), chap. 6; and Richard Gombrich and Gananath Obeyesekere, Buddhism Transformed. Religious Change in Sri Lanka (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1988).

(123) Francis X. Clooney, review of Love Meets Wisdom: A Christian Experience of Buddhism, by Aloysius Pieris, Theological Studies 50 (June, 1989): 410.

Devaka Premawardhana is a Ph.D. candidate (expected in 2014) in religion and anthropology at Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. He received his A.M. in the Study of Religion from Harvard in 2010 and holds an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School and a B.A. in history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Since 2008, he has been a tutorial instructor/thesis adviser/teaching fellow at Harvard. He was a visiting lecturer in Brazil at Faculdade Batista Brasileira, Salvador (2006-07), and at Seminario Teologico Batista do Nordeste, Feira de Santana (2005-07). He has done field research in Sri Lanka, Brazil, and Mozambique. His articles have appeared in journals in Korea, Brazil, and the U.S., and as chapters in Religiao, Utopia e Sociedade: Dialogos com Martin Luther King e Richard Shaull, ed. Alianca de Batistas do Brasil (Editora Livro, 2009), and in The World's Religions after September 11, vol. 3: The Interfaith Dimension, ed. Arvind Sharma (Praeger, 2009). He has presented papers at conferences in Brazil, Canada, and the U.S. He has a grant for dissertation fieldwork in 2011 from the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research and has held several other grants and fellowships. He served as a research assistant to Harvey Cox at Harvard Divinity School, 2003-05, and 2007-09; as a communications intern for Social Action Ministries of the Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance, Boston, 2002-03; as a resident advisor at the University of North Carolina, 2000-02; and as a religious outreach intern for the Interfaith Alliance, Washington, DC, in 2000.
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