Self-identity in comparative theology: The functional importance of Charles Taylor's concept of the self for a theology of religions

Richard Joseph Hanson, Marquette University


This project aims at demonstrating the importance of Charles Taylor's conceptual language, particularly his reflections concerning human self-identity, to the comparative theological work of Francis X. Clooney and James Fredericks. I argue that Taylor is important to these comparative theologians not only as a methodological resource in helping to better understand the multiplicity of religious contexts, but also as a theological resource in pointing out the means and mode of human beings' religious self-understanding. I begin by discussing the projects of Fredericks and Clooney: the context of their work in the academy, its place in the debates concerning theologies of religions, its potential to overcome the impasse these debates have encountered, and its further potential as a genuinely promising approach for appreciating and living a particular faith in a situation of religious diversity. I take care to show the places where this work has yet to articulate some of its basic presuppositions, the way in which these theologians themselves perceive and admit its incompleteness, and the importance of questions concerning human nature in coming to such an articulation. The next chapter discusses the particulars of Taylor's anthropology--it sketches his overall approach to understanding the human, and hints at some of the theological importance of his views. Taylor's reflections on this question are vast and immense, and the chapter is offered as a means of situating Taylor's views separately from those of the comparative theologians. The third chapter brings Taylor properly into conversation with Clooney and Fredericks. I discuss the anthropological questions raised by the comparative theologians against the backdrop of Taylor's reflections, and then move into the theological considerations this conversation raises. This is not intended as a thorough or complete systematic treatment, but rather a guide to the potentially fruitful directions engaging Taylor's concepts offer to comparative theologians. Comparative theologians are concerned with praxis: no systematic reflections take place in their work without first discussing actual data culled from religious traditions, and then bringing these traditions into conversation. The fourth chapter provides an example of how the conversation from the third chapter helps to fill out this comparative work by using an example. The example I have chosen is a comparison between the Muslim and Christian traditions--specifically, poems written by the medieval mystics Ibn `Arabi (Muslim) and Meister Eckhart (Christian). The fifth and final chapter begins with further reflections on the comparative example from the fourth, and then moves into some of the possible challenges and difficulties associated with reading Taylor alongside the comparative theologians. After suggesting a number of such potential problems and responses to them, I then conclude with some more general implications of the helpfulness of Taylor's anthropological concepts for the two comparative theologians, and for theologies of religions.

Recommended Citation

Hanson, Richard Joseph, "Self-identity in comparative theology: The functional importance of Charles Taylor's concept of the self for a theology of religions" (2008). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI3306510.