Date of Award

Spring 2008

Document Type

Dissertation - Restricted

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Rossi, Philip

Second Advisor

Omar, Irfan

Third Advisor

Taylor, Richard


For roughly the past fifty years, Christian theologians have mainly understood the task of encountering and understanding religious others in terms of one or more types of theologies of religion: attempts to explain how God allows for, creates, relates to, and/or participates in the situation of religious diversity. These theologies typically take God as their starting point, and then extrapolate their perspectives on the Divine Nature onto the human condition. When confronted with the actual data of the lives and experiences of diverse religious people, this type of theological approach has come up short. There have been various attempts to articulate theologies from the "bottom up," that is, beginning with the givens of the human situation and extrapolating these data into interpretations of Divine messages, Divine relationships with humans, or other sorts of Divine-human interactions resulting in the de facto religious diversity, but taking the human aspect of religion as primary has largely been the province of the social sciences. In the past two decades, theologians have increasingly adopted social science methodologies as a means of overcoming the impasse they have encountered in theologies of religions. This is the origin, aim, and means of the types of theologies I discuss here under their given name: comparative theologies. It is the purpose of this project to show the ways in which two of the first and most active comparative theologians, James Fredericks and Francis X. Clooney, have enjoyed success in pointing a way beyond the theologies of religions impasse, but that their methodologies, as currently employed, are incomplete if they are to finally succeed in moving theological conversations forward. l argue that since these theologies begin with the situation of human diversity, a fuller articulation of what it means to be human is among the first elements necessary for comparative theologies to move upward and onward. Articulating such an anthropological context requires a more robust conceptual language. l will make a case that the philosopher Charles Taylor provides just such a language, and that his work is fitting and helpful to the projects of these comparative theologians on a number of levels. Taylor's own anthropological reflections start from the same place: a need to articulate an understanding that more fully encompasses the actual situational data of human lives. He also addresses many of Clooney and Fredericks' theological concerns: pointing out the disposition towards religiosity that seems to be universal to human beings and the unique possibilities particular religious traditions present by virtue of their historicity. Along with the comparative theologians, Taylor argues in favor of the importance of particular religious orientations. The depth and detail of his conceptual language reveals a more structured means of proceeding, a means better suited to addressing not only the particular situations of interreligious encounters, but also to mediating between them while embracing and celebrating their unique characteristics. Comparative theologians hint at more than simply a promising direction in theologies of religions. Their methods indicate a way of understanding religion that can potentially move beyond tolerance, acceptance, and understanding. Taylor's language enhances and expands the methodological and, ultimately, spiritual reach of these theologies. I offer this project as a demonstration of some of the possibilities a conversation between Taylor, Fredericks, and Clooney holds for theologies of religions.



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