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WCC Book presentation at European Academy of Religion explores multiple religious belonging

WCC Book presentation at European Academy of Religion explores multiple religious belonging

Rev. Dr Peniel Rajkumar, Dr Stephen Brown and Joaquim Fernández. Photo: WCC

11 March 2019

Religions are often thought of as distinct and competing traditions, but the phenomenon of people belonging to multiple religious traditions is widespread, according to a World Council of Churches (WCC) publication presented during the European Academy of Religion in Bologna, Italy.

“For much of human history, societies are simultaneously informed by many traditions,” Rev. Dr Peniel Rajkumar, WCC programme coordinator for interreligious dialogue and cooperation, told a session at the 3-7 March academy, a major gathering of religion specialists in Europe.

Rajkumar was presenting the WCC publication, Many yet One? Multiple Religious Belonging.

This explores the reality of “religious hybridity” because of such factors as cultural inheritance, family circumstances or explicit choice.

The book contains contributions arising from the work of the WCC programme on interreligious dialogue and cooperation, and poses the question whether modes of multiple religious belonging can be embraced, “not as problems to be solved, but as proliferating sites of divine encounter.”

Despite a tacit acknowledgement that religious hybridity is intrinsic to most of the received and practised Christian faith, there is often “an overwhelming insistence on rigidity and singularity of religious identifications and affiliations,” Rajkumar told the “author meets critique” session.

This, he said, poses problems to those who out of necessity, upbringing or choice find spiritual and ritual sustenance in other religious traditions alongside Christianity, “and openly acknowledge that they have been ‘faithed’ by drinking deeply from the wells of different religious and spiritual traditions.”

The volume seeks to offer a theologically sound, experientially grounded and pastorally sensitive approach, from the perspective of world Christianities, a post-colonial approach, and in giving attention to the experiences of the marginalized.

“Against a dominant perspective that religiousness requires exclusiveness, a global perspective helps understand that religions are fluid entities which have flown into and out of each other,” Rajkumar told the session, chaired by Dr Stephen Brown, editor of the WCC quarterly, The Ecumenical Review.

Responding to Rajkumar’s presentation, Joaquim Fernández from Barcelona, said that terms such as “identity” and “belonging” are ambiguous and in need of clarification.

“The term identity involves a nexus of elements that are intrapersonal, interpersonal, cultural and even metaphysical, which are defined somewhat differently,” said Fernandez.

Christian identity is not a fixed and definitive experience nor a fixed and definitive doctrine, said Fernandez, referring to the insights of the Roman Catholic scholar Raimon Panikkar, whose father was an Indian Hindu and mother a Catalan Roman Catholic.

“Our neighbour’s religion not only challenges but even may enrich our own, and, in some cases, may be truly assimilated and integrated to our beliefs and in our own being,” he said.

Many yet One? Multiple Religious Belonging, ed. Peniel Jesudason Rufus Rajkumar and Joseph Prabhakar Dayam, 288 pp., Geneva: WCC Publications, 2016, ISBN 978-2-8254-1669-3.

Download the table of contents, introduction and chapter 1 (pdf)

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