Religious Hybridity and Christian Identity

Religious Hybridity and Christian Identity


[music playing]>>DEAN THOMAS STEGMAN, S.J.:
Good evening, everyone, and welcome to tonight’s
presentation, entitled “Religious Hybridity
and Christian Identity.” It’s my pleasure
and privilege to get to introduce our speaker,
Professor Catherine Cornille. Dr. Cornille is the
Newton College Alumnae Chair of Western
Culture and professor of comparative theology
here at Boston College. She obtained her PhD from
the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium, where
she also taught for 10 years. She has been teaching full time
at Boston College since 2005, so she must have started
when she was a teenager, and was chair of the Theology
Department from 2010 to 2016. So she has also paid
for her sins, right? No, actually, there’s wonderful
colleagues in the department. I shouldn’t have said that. Her teaching and research
focus on theoretical questions in theology of religions,
comparative theology, and interreligious dialogue. Dr. Cornille has
authored or edited 16 books in the area of
interreligious dialogue. I’m not going to
name all of them, but some of her prominent titles
include The Im-possibility of Interreligious Dialogue,
published in 2008, Interreligious
Hermeneutics in 2010, Interreligious Dialogue
and Cultural Change, 2012, The Wiley-Blackwell Companion to
Interreligious Dialogue, 2013, Women and Interreligious
Dialogue, 2013– I think you’re picking
up on a theme, right?– Christianity Between
Secularity and Plurality in 2015, and finally,
Meaning and Method in Comparative Theology,
published this year. She’s also the founding editor
in chief of the book series Christian Commentaries on
Non-Christian Sacred Texts. An accomplished teacher
and prolific scholar, a great friend to the STM’s
Continuing Ed program, and also add to the Boston College
EF board, on which she served for a number of years. Please join me in
giving a warm welcome to Dr. Catherine Cornille. [applause]>>DR. CATHERINE CORNILLE:
Thank you very much, Tom, and thank you all for coming
out on this first fall day or evening. It’s a great pleasure
to be with you tonight, and to speak about a topic that
has really been of interest to me for a very long time. One of the first books
that was published on the topic of multiple
religious belonging, I think, is a volume that I
edited in 2002 called Many Mansions?: Multiple
Religious Belonging and Christian Identity. It’s a volume that I
edited, because I had just come from Europe, and I had
just organized a conference on the topic of multiple
belonging in Europe. And I realized that
there was really nothing in the English
language on the topic. And so I pulled together some
of the most interesting scholars who had something
to say on the topic, and that gave birth
to this volume, which currently in all
the publications on multiple religious
belonging, religious hybridity, continues to be
quoted quite a bit. So I’m quite happy
and proud about that. So that was 2002. And since then, there’s been
a flood of publications, articles, and books on the
topic of religious hybridity, multiple religious belonging. And I have a few for show
and tell on the table in the back of the room. But just the latest one
has the telling title, When One Religion Isn’t
Enough, by Duane Bidwell. That was published last year. So this is a topic that’s become
very important and prominent, I think, in the area of
interreligious dialogue and interreligious engagement,
and just theology in general. Because the phenomenon is
becoming so widespread. Indeed, as religious
identities are shifting, people are being exposed to
all these different options of religious beliefs
and religious practice. It’s all readily available
right here around us. People can go to Buddhist
centers, to Hindu centers, to Jewish centers,
to Muslim centers. They can study these religions
in classes or online. So it’s not surprising that this
is becoming a more widespread phenomenon, as
people are absorbing all of this information
and making it their own to a certain extent. So what we see is really a kind
of shift in religious identity as people are exposed to all
these different religions. And with this has also developed
a whole new nomenclature about how to call
this phenomenon. So I started calling it
multiple religious belonging. Actually, in my early work, I
was quite critical about it. You will see that I
have become more nuanced as time has gone on. But people call it multiple
religious identification, multiple religious
bonds, multiple religious participation,
spiritual fluidity, religious flexibility,
and so forth. So there’s a whole
set of names that are used to refer
to that phenomenon that I think call
also for nuancing, and we’ll go into
that in a minute. But what all of these
phenomena have in common is a certain focus
on the individual as the source of religious
truth and authority, and what I call a
de-traditioning. So people are moving
away, or the bonds to religious traditions
are loosening, and people are basing
their religious identity on their own individual
process of discernment. So that’s what all
this phenomenon, or all these different
names of phenomena have in common, so
individualization of religion, and de-traditioning. What’s necessary, I
think, at this point in the development is to
create some differentiation between all of these different
phenomena that are developing. Another name that is used is
spiritual, but not religious. That’s also a very common name. It has acquired
the acronym SBNR, and people talk about SBNRs. So there are “nones,” and SBNRs,
and multiple belongers, and so on. And so all of these
categories tend to be put in the same basket. What I would want to do
first in this presentation is make some
distinctions between all of these different types of
religious de-traditioning and identification. So this phenomenon
may seem to be new. But for those of you who were
alive in the ’60s– most of us, I think, here– we will remember also
the New Age movement. And sometimes this
whole phenomenon is considered as a kind of
New Age gone mainstream. That’s what some
scholars have said about this phenomenon of SBNR. And it can go even further back
to the theosophical tradition of the late 19th,
early 20th century. So it is new in its
spread, I think, but it’s not new
as a phenomenon. When people are exposed to
different religious traditions, it seems irresistible for them
to make their own combination of different traditions. So first of all, I want
to make a distinction here and make clear that what
I am talking about tonight is religious hybrids,
meaning people who claim to belong to
more than one religion, so dual belongers or
multiple belongers, so people who still
want to or claim to or aim to belong to two
religious traditions. And that’s different from
the “nones” or the SBNRs who don’t care about belonging
to any religious tradition anymore. I think it’s important
to make this distinction to see how we can
relate to that, or evaluate that from
a Christian theological perspective. So these people
claim to believe, or aim to belong
to two traditions, and believe that it’s
possible to belong to more than one religious tradition. So that’s the
phenomenon that I will be looking at this evening. Within this phenomenon of
religious hybridity or dual belonging, I think we
still can make all kinds of further differentiations. One that I make is between
involuntary and voluntary dual belonging or
multiple belonging. So the phenomenon may
be new in the West, but in Asia, people
have belonged to multiple religious
traditions, maybe in China since the 9th century,
and in Japan, probably since the 6th century. So people belong to
different religions that have shaped the
culture in particular ways. So in China, Buddhism has
become the religion of funerals. Daoism is the religion
of life and spirituality. Confucianism is
the religion that governs people’s ethical life. So these different
religions have taken on different
functions in society, and have contented
themselves with just filling in particular needs
in the lives of believers. So the Chinese belong
to Chinese culture that is shaped by multiple
religious traditions. So there, it’s not really
a matter of choice, it’s a matter of
involuntary belonging to these different
religions because they happen to be Chinese. The same in Japanese
culture, where people are Shinto and
Buddhist, and maybe Christian also when
they get married. And when they get
sick, they maybe belong to a new
religious tradition. So in those
contexts, they belong to the culture that is shaped by
different religious traditions. So that’s one form of
involuntary dual belonging. Another form would
be when one is born in a family where
mother is Christian, and the father is Jewish, for
example, or a family where parents adhere to different
religious traditions and leave the child
the flexibility or the option to come
with them to the church and the synagogue,
and maybe decide for themselves at a certain
point in their life. So this is another form of
involuntary dual belonging, where you belong to your family
unit that is defined by two different religious traditions. Over against that, then, is the
voluntary multiple belonging, where people themselves
choose to adhere to another religious
tradition in addition to their primary tradition. Within that category, you
can make another distinction between temporary and
permanent double belonging. So those of you who are
familiar with India, or many other
cultures, in fact– when people are in situations
of despair or disease, or any other human need, they
may go to a particular temple or shrine where that need is
addressed in a particularly successful way. So in India, for example, there
are many Christian churches that Hindus also visit when they
have particular needs that they believe that Jesus can
address, needs for health, or needs for success
or what have you. So people will always visit
religious temples and shrines that they believe have
particular miraculous powers, and can address
the need that they have at a particular moment. But what you see in that case
of multiple identification or belonging is that
the belonging only lasts as long as the
problem is there. So usually, when
the problem is over, people go back to their
primary belonging. But the phenomenon we
will be looking at tonight is people who claim to
permanently and voluntarily belong to two
religious traditions. And there you can still
make a distinction, I think, between what I call
soft dual belonging and hard dual belonging,
or partial dual belonging and full dual belonging. So the soft, or the
partial, dual belonging are people who still
have a primary identity within a particular religion,
and who integrate elements from another religious
tradition as it fits within their
primary identification. So that would be the
soft dual identification. The hard dual
identification or belonging would be people who have lost
any primary identification. So they may go to one religion
or identify with one religion, and use that religion as
normative in certain cases, and use the other religion
as normative in other cases, but go back and forth, like
standing between two religions without either one
being dominant. So that would be
hard dual belonging, or full dual belonging. So what I will talk
about today are people who are between
the partial or the soft and the hard dual belonging. And that takes various forms. The most common form,
I think, in the West is Christians who also
identify as Buddhists. I think this is the most
common type of dual belonging. But there are many Jews who
also identify as Buddhist. And there’s even an
acronym for that, JewBus. [laughter] I have always
wondered why there’s no acronym for Christians who
also identify with Buddhism, and that would be ChriBu. [laughter] I think it’s obvious why
that name hasn’t stuck. But there’s mention
sometimes of Chrislam, so people who are Christian
and Muslim at the same time. So you have all these
different combinations of religions that
are taking place, and that are causing shift
in religious identity. So tonight, I will focus
mostly on Christian Buddhist dual belonging. Because as I said, it’s
the most common one, and I think the one that also,
from a Christian point of view, is most interesting and calls
for some kind of reflection from a Christian
theological perspective. But much of what I
say tonight I think would also be
applicable to Christians who say they also identify
with parts of Hinduism or any of the Asian religions. So first, what is the appeal
of these Asian religions, and particularly
Buddhism for Christians? Of course, this is a
highly personal matter. And as I said before,
that is the definition of dual belongers,
that they come to the question from a very
individual and personal perspective. But I think there are certain
commonalities between Buddhist Christian dual
belongers that are not so hard to get a
hold of, I think, when you look at the
tendency of Christians to also practice and believe
in aspects of Buddhism. First, I think Buddhism offers
a very clear, recognizable analysis of the reality of
suffering and dissatisfaction that people experience in the
Western consumerist materialist context. So Buddhism is very clear
and very straightforward in its analysis of human
suffering and dissatisfaction, and I think most Westerners
identify with that very quickly. So the first noble truth
is life is suffering, meaning life is basically
dissatisfaction, and dissatisfaction is
caused by selfish desires and by our ignorance. So this is very easy to access
or to understand, and even identify with, I think, from a
Western consumerist materialist perspective. Secondly, I think
Buddhism has developed a very sophisticated
understanding of the human mind. Buddhism is a religion
that has focused entirely on understanding how
desire emerges in the mind, and how to control
the mind, and how to control different desires. So Buddhism started in the 5th
century before the Common Era. For centuries, Buddhism has
focused all of its effort to understand how desire
arises in the mind, and how it can be controlled. So it has a very sophisticated
and subtle understanding of the human mind that I
think also speaks to people in contemporary contexts. Thirdly, I think it has
developed very clear or very ready spiritual therapies
that people can readily access without any
need for conversion, or for sophisticated
philosophical and theological understanding. People are in need or
searching for experience, and for a sense of
wholeness and well-being that Buddhist therapies can
offer people and have developed many different
types of therapies that people can practice,
depending on their personality and their inclinations. So in Buddhism, you
have Zen Buddhism that is very
iconoclastic, where it’s all about sort of
sitting in meditation, staring at a white wall. Or else you have
Tibetan Buddhism, with all of its
iconography and its images. So very different types of
therapies and techniques that people with
different inclinations or different interests
can easily access and take advantage of. And so I think that’s
also one of the reasons why Buddhism in particular
is so appealing. People are really searching
for spiritual techniques and practices that have an
immediate spiritual effect that they experience
immediately. And Buddhism has that
to offer, I think. By the way, Hinduism also in
most religious traditions, but there’s something
about Buddhist practice that’s very readily
available and people turn to. And then finally, I
think, as I said before, in order to practice
Buddhism, there’s no requirement for any faith
in any transcendental reality or personal God or gods. So the faith element
in Buddhism is– I won’t say absent, but not
quite as central as in many other religious traditions. So it’s really a spiritually
therapeutic tradition that people have
identified with, and have access to very readily. And all of these
elements, I think, explain the popularity of Buddhism
and certain forms of Hinduism, I think, also in the West. Now how do people who practice
Buddhism and Christianity, though– how do they bring
those two traditions together? How do they make sense of
the possibility of practicing those two religious traditions? There are various ways in which
scholars and practitioners have given legitimacy
to this practice. And in the back,
I have a few books that talk about belonging to
Buddhism and Christianity, and explain sort
of the rationale that different people
have for this possibility. But in the first
place, most of them will argue that there is really
only one transcendent reality, and that different religions
are different reflections of that transcendent
reality, and that they all come from and aim towards
the same transcendent experience and goal. So they’re all oriented towards
the one ultimate reality, and so different
religions can be combined, because
they’re ultimately going to the same place. That’s an approach called
monocentric pluralism. So they all go to the
same central goal, but they all have their
different practices. Many scholars also emphasize
that really, Christianity and Buddhism have a significant
amount of teachings in common. So both traditions
emphasize the idea that the cause of suffering and
evil is in our selfish desires. So that is really the origin
of all evil in the world, that we identify with
our selfish desires, and pursue those desires
at the expense of what we are ultimately
called to do and to be. So that’s one commonality that
Buddhism and Christianity have. Another would be that
delusion is the ultimate cause of all selfish desires. So there are certain
ways of understanding evil in the world that
are similar in Buddhism and in Christianity. Some scholars will
argue that really, the idea of a
creator God has a lot in common with the Buddhist
idea of dependent origination. I can’t really elaborate
on that right now, because it would
lead us too far. But often it’s said that the
idea of a personal creator God is in conflict with
Buddhist teachings. But some scholars have found
ways to reconcile the two, and to say that they really
have, in the end, a lot in common. The ultimate goal of
salvation and liberation may be more similar, also, than
they’re often made out to be. That’s another way of
arguing for the similarity between the two traditions. So some scholars really
emphasize the similarities between the two
traditions, which make it possible to belong
to both at the same time. Others go another
track and say well, the two religions are
really complementary. Each religion emphasizes
particular aspects of human spiritual
need and desires. So Christianity,
for example, will be the religion of social
justice and social change. And that’s really
what Christianity has become specialized
in, whereas Buddhism is a religion of
inner transformation. And so the two religions
really need one another. The idea of inner transformation
and reaching one’s own personal enlightenment needs
the Christian understanding of commitment to social change
and liberation of the poor, and so forth. Whereas the Christian
understanding of liberation of the
poor and social change needs the Buddhist idea
of inner transformation, or else our commitment
to social change will always be tainted by
our own selfish desires, and so forth. So this is another way of
saying, well, the two religions are really complementary. One fits neatly into
the other, and they can both be practiced in a way
that help one another attain the ultimate good in life. Still, others will focus on
the fact that loving Buddhism and loving Christianity
is like loving two parents or loving two children. And when that’s
advanced as an argument, it’s usually against my critique
of multiple identification. When I have written
about it, I’ve talked about
religious belonging, and use the spousal
metaphor to talk about belonging as being
a complete surrender and commitment to one
particular religious path. And so I’ve used the analogy
of commitment to a spouse. And so critics of my
approach will say no, multiple belonging is
like loving two parents or loving two children. You can love them both
equally and at the same time, and there’s no conflict
between one another. To which I would respond that
children and parents don’t expect that full
surrender of oneself to themselves,
whereas a spouse does, just like a religion does. So I don’t know if the analogy
of two children and two parents really works in this case. But you see that people
who practice this are all looking for ways in
which they can make sense of it and they can give it some
theological coherence. Many people who practice
multiple belonging are not so interested in
theological or logical coherence. It just works. So if it works, it’s true. And that’s the way multiple
belonging has often been experienced,
whether in Asia, or nowadays also in the West. And that’s really
where many people are. And people do form their
own private synthesis of how the two
religions work for them, and how they cohere
in their own mind. And they don’t have
to make sense of it and argue in a official capacity
that the two religions belong together. One of the characteristics, as
I said, of religious hybridity is that people just
make their own synthesis and their own way
of understanding how the two religions cohere. So that’s how I think it’s
lived and rationalized and experienced. And now I want to go
a little bit deeper in what I think is the problem
of multiple religious belonging or dual religious belonging,
and also what the promise is. So first I’ll start with
what the problem is. In the first place,
I think on a purely theoretical or
theological level, even though scholars will
say that all religions cohere in their ultimate
reality, that is only possible if the concreteness
of religious traditions is somewhat minimalized. So, two religions never
fully and seamlessly overlap with one another. There are always somewhere
conflicting claims to truth or
conflicting practices if you take religion
seriously in their own self-understanding. So if you pick and choose
from different religions, then you can see
how they cohere. But if you want to fully
belong to two religions, you will always run into certain
irreconcilable truth claims. And I mean, it’s always obvious
with religions that are very closely related, like
Judaism and Christianity– is Jesus the Messiah or is
Jesus not the Messiah?– or of Christianity and Islam– is Jesus the incarnation of
God or is Jesus a prophet?– and so on. So you can see it
clearly in religions that have come
out of each other, and that are in direct
opposition to each other. But between Buddhism
and Christianity, there are also
irreconcilable differences between the two traditions. And you can say, is there
a personal creator God who continues to exist
in a relationship with an eternal soul or self? That would be the
Christian perspective. Or is there no self? Is there no eternal self? And is the self just a
continuously changing reality that ultimately
dissipates or disappears once nirvana has been reached? It’s either one or the other. You have to believe
in one or the other in order to fully adhere to
Buddhism or to Christianity. The same with the question
of the uniqueness of Jesus. Is Jesus really the full
and final revelation of God, who through his
death and Resurrection has brought redemption and
salvation for all of humanity? This is, of course, at the
heart of Christian faith. But there is no place
in Buddhist teaching or in Buddhist
philosophy to affirm a once and for all unique
salvific event in history. So this makes no
sense from a Buddhist philosophical perspective. So just on a pure philosophical
theological logical perspective, the two religions
really cannot be reconciled. And I think it’s very
clear in the elements that I have lifted up– is there a self or is there no
self, is there a personal God or is there no God,
is Jesus the Savior or is it impossible to think
of one person in history saving the world once and
for all?– these are fundamental irreconcilable
theological contradictions between the two traditions,
that from a logical perspective, I would say, make it impossible
to be both fully Christian and fully Buddhist
at the same time. So that’s on a
theological level. On a practical level, the image
that is often used in this area is like when you are
chasing two rabbits, you may end up catching none. So if you are pursuing
the ultimate Buddhist aim and the ultimate Christian
aim at the same time, that would lead you to a sort
of personal spiritual division or split in your own
personality, where you ultimately
don’t attain either of those ultimate
religious goals. That’s at least if you
believe that those goals are really different, ultimately. So you can’t pursue both
of them at the same time unless you believe that they
are completely the same. My perspective on this is
that every religious tradition ultimately expects a moment
of complete surrender from members. Whether it’s Christianity,
Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, each
religious tradition has this expectation that believers
or members of their tradition will surrender
completely to whatever is presented as the path and
the goal of religious life. And that complete
surrender– you can say that the demand
for exclusive belonging of religions is often seen as a
kind of jealous possessiveness on the part of religion. But I see it more as a kind
of spiritual requirement. Every religious tradition
emphasizes the need to overcome your ego,
to overcome yourself in order to attain
the highest goal. And the requirement of
complete surrender, I think has to do with that expectation
of surrender of self, and surrender of ego on a
particular spiritual path. And I think if we look at
it in the perspective of how the people in religions
who pursue that highest goal in the most intense way– who would be maybe, the
monks, Buddhist monks, Christian monks. They have devoted
themselves undividedly and entirely to a
particular religious path, and surrendered their
whole will and ego to a particular religious path. And that is what is necessary. And so my fear is that the
idea of multiple belonging always creates a certain
restraint, almost, from a believer to fully
go in a particular path, to fully give oneself to a
particular religious tradition. And with that
restraint, comes also the inability of letting
go of the ego or the self. So that may be a
little bit abstract, but I think it
resonates with how the spiritual practices of
different religious traditions are also organized. And then in the
third place, I think, a problem on an institutional
level of religious hybridity is that religious hybridity
creates a certain lack of involvement or investment
or commitment to a community, to a set of practices that are
all part of religious identity. So a colleague of mine has
talked about multiple religious belonging in the context
of this the spiritual shift of our times, where religion
is not about ritual. It’s not about institutions. It’s not about doctrines. It’s about spirituality
and spiritual experience, and so on. And with that spiritual
shift comes also a devaluation of
ritual practices, and a devaluation
of institutions, and a devaluation of
community and everything that is part of
religious traditions. So, I think dual
belongers still try to practice within more than
one religious tradition. But in the end, they cannot
fully give themselves and fully invest themselves in developing
a particular religious tradition, or in the continuity
of a particular religious tradition when they are
torn between two religious identities that they feel have
to be addressed in their own person. So the idea of really
committing oneself to developing the theological
self-understanding of a tradition, or the social
structure of a particular tradition or what have you– I think dual belongers tend
to, just for practical reasons, not be able to invest
that much in it. And because belonging
is understood just purely in the
spiritual sense, they’re maybe not quite as
inclined to give themselves to the continuity
of a tradition, and to the social context of a
particular religious tradition. So dual belonging,
in that sense, I think is problematic
on a theological level, on a practical level, and
on an institutional level. However, I don’t think
that’s the last word about dual belonging. So I have severe reservations
about dual belonging, mainly about what
I have introduced as hard dual belonging,
or full dual belonging, people for whom neither
religion is dominant anymore, who have to decide for
themselves where they go and which religion they
believe in on which topics. So that’s the kind of
hard dual belonging. However, I think dual belonging
or multiple belonging, and even spiritual
but not religious– SBNR’s– have something
important to say to Christianity
and to the Church. I think they represent an
important critical mirror for the Church, both in
terms of what is lacking– what is it that people need
to find in other religions that they are not
finding in Christianity? So on a critical level,
they represent, I think, an important mirror
for Christianity. But also on a positive, more
constructive level, sometimes I think we’ve come to the point
where we’re surprised that they still want to belong
to Christianity, and what is it that Christianity
has to offer that they still want to identify with and
believe in and so forth. So both on a critical and
on a constructive level, I think dual belongers, or
multiple belongings, or SBNRs, do have something important
to say to Christianity. On a critical level, I would
say no religion is perfect. Every religion
develops in the course of history in one or
the other direction, and maybe minimalizes
or neglects certain aspects of
its own potential or its own possibilities
that other religions have developed more fully. So clearly, this is
the case with people who feel the need to pursue
their own spiritual life and thirst by looking
outside of Christianity. They are lacking something. There is something
missing in Christianity that they are looking for in
other religious traditions. And I think this is an important
moment of confrontation for Christianity. What is it that we
are not offering that people are looking for? And clearly, some of the
things that I have said that are appealing for
people in Buddhism, sort of spiritual therapies,
the emphasis on experience– so these traditions
are really about the spiritual development,
and experiencing the deepest self or the divine
within oneself, or however it’s called. So that level of
experience, I think, is very central to
those traditions. And that’s really what
people are thirsting for, are looking for in
these traditions. They’re looking
for therapies that can make them experience
something divine. But they’re also looking
for direction sometimes. So the idea of
spiritual techniques, but also spiritual
direction, I think, is something that
maybe we have neglected a little bit or a lot
in the Church, at least with regard to
lay men and women. I mean, our whole spiritual
tradition is so incredibly rich, but it’s mostly
developed behind the walls of monasteries, of
which our average lay people know very little. And so I think
this confrontation with the need for
the spiritual life that people are
looking for outside can lead us to
turn back and look at how we can provide for
that within our own tradition. There’s certainly plenty
of spiritual riches in the Christian tradition
that we can draw from. So what this can
do is just reawaken or renew certain aspects
of the Christian tradition that maybe we have
neglected for too long, and that people are
really thirsting for. So what this critical
element can do is both help us recover elements
from our own tradition that are there, but
maybe also lead us to genuinely learn from the
other religious traditions. Maybe Buddhism
really has something to teach Christianity. Maybe Hinduism really has
something to teach, or maybe Sufism or Judaism. Maybe these religions have
developed certain things that have not been
developed in Christianity in the course of its history,
and that Christianity can really learn
from and integrate without it being
in contradiction with its self-understanding. So the kind of
learning doesn’t have to be one where one is going
back and forth on two feet between religious traditions. One can be firmly planted
within a religious tradition and learn plenty from
other religious traditions. So I think that’s very
clearly the case already in all kinds of Christian
Zen, Christian yoga. Now there’s Jesuit yoga,
also, I understand. [laughter] So what’s that? [inaudible] It’s not Christian. [inaudible] So there are all kinds
of ways, I think, in which religions can
learn from one another, and learn from elements that
have been more fully developed in other religious traditions. We don’t just have to claim
that, oh yeah, we already have it all, and
we’ll just recover it. There’s plenty of new
things to learn, I think, from other religious traditions. And this is what
we do, actually– just to put in a plug
for our department. In the Department of Theology
here at Boston College, we have an area of
comparative theology, where theologians– these
are all PhD students who are doing exactly that
kind of work, of engaging other religious traditions
in a constructive way to see what
Christianity can learn from other religious traditions,
that can broaden, deepen, and enhance its own
theological self-understanding. So this is, I think, a
very exciting promise for the future. And then secondly,
as I said, it also is a moment to think
about why is it that people who are
dual belongers still want to belong to Christianity? Is it just out of nostalgia
for their own past? Because make no mistake,
most dual belongings are Christians who have
integrated elements from Buddhism. They’re much less Buddhists
who integrate elements from Christianity. But maybe it’s a nostalgia
for their childhood or for their past,
or is there something that they don’t
want to sacrifice by also learning from Buddhism? Is there something
about Christianity that is distinctive
and genuinely unique that they don’t want to give
up in this kind of commitment to other religious traditions? And if you look at
scholars who claim to belong to multiple
religions, like Paul Knitter– his book, Without Buddha I
Would Not Be a Christian– he argues here for him, it’s
really the social teaching of the Church and
of Christianity that for him, is unequaled in
any other religious tradition and that he would not
give up for anything, that he is firmly committed to. No other religious
tradition, he would argue, has developed a social
commitment, or a commitment to the poor and to the
needy, to the hungry, and so forth, as
has Christianity. And that’s something
that he does not want to sacrifice in his
interest in Buddhism. So the social teaching
of the Church, I think, is an area that is
definitely to be looked into, and further developed
and emphasized in our engagement with
other religious traditions. Sometimes as Christians, we’re
often very shy in dialogue with other religious traditions. And we always talk
about what we can learn from other religious
traditions, and so on. But I think the
time has come now also in interreligious
dialogue where we can also affirm what riches
Christianity brings to other religious
traditions that they may not have developed with
as much sophistication as Christianity has in
the course of its history. So I think that’s
definitely an element. Again, it’s a very
personal matter why Christians who are
engaged with Buddhism also want to remain Christian. For some, maybe it’s
the Christian teaching on forgiveness of sins and mercy
of God, or the love of God. There may be any
number of reasons. For some, it’s a matter of
community and solidarity that’s so central
to Christianity. There’s plenty of
reasons why Christians would want to remain Christian
also in the tradition. But those are some
of the elements that usually come
up in discussions on multiple belonging. So by way of conclusion, what
I have tried to point out is that the reality
of religious hybridity is, I think, an
ambivalent reality. It’s not something that can
be so easily brushed away. It’s also not something that
can be uncritically affirmed. I think it’s an
ambivalent reality. On the one hand,
it may detract from genuine and full identification
with a particular religious tradition. And so as a result, it may stunt
the spiritual and religious development. On the other hand, it may be
a source of genuine enrichment and renewal for
religious traditions. I think, we may sort of– like I tended to
do in the beginning when I dealt with this
phenomenon of multiple belonging– sort of
brush it away as a kind of self-interested
pursuit of individuals who refuse to surrender to any
particular religious tradition. So we may sort of
minimalize its importance. Or we may recognize
the potential of this reality for genuine
religious development and growth. And I think in particular, the
people that I have referred to as soft multiple belongers–
so Christian people who are genuinely committed
to the Church, but also sensitive to what
other religious traditions have to offer– I think in these people, there
is a huge promise and potential for learning and for
development within the Church. So I look forward to our
discussion, and thank you. [applause] I’m sure the discussions
are really interesting. I wish I could listen
in on all of them. [interposing voices] I have been asked to
field the questions. And I’ve been asked
also for you to wait until the microphone gets to you
before asking the questions so that it can also be recorded. So Tom? [interposing voices]>>PARTICIPANT:
Catherine, thank you for a wonderful presentation. I’m amazed at people who
can belong to more than one. I mean, I find it a full
time job just to belong– [laughter] –even to belong poorly
to one tradition. And it’s almost
like– you talked about having two
wives or two husbands. I find one a lot of work. [laughter] It’s enough. I’d hate a second one. But my question
is developmental. When do we begin to
introduce young people, even by way of the enrichment,
by way of ecumenism and their own outlook on life– when do we begin to introduce
them to other traditions? I often think of
John:14, where Jesus says “in my father’s house,
there are many mansions.” So there are many homes
within God’s family. And yet he goes on
and says, “but I am preparing a home for you.” In other words, do we need
a home within God’s family first before– in other words, do we
need to be grounded in the particular in order
to reach out safely and well into the universal, or
else do we just end up confused by the whole thing? Or if I could put
it very concretely, a religion curriculum that
I’ve created for high schools, I deliberately put the
book on world religions, as it’s often called,
into the second semester of the senior year, hoping
that in the previous 3 and 1/2 years, they
might have been grounded in their own Catholic
or Christian tradition. Maybe then– or
maybe not even then, maybe that’s too
soon– in other words, if we start rambling away from
our own tradition too soon developmentally,
are there hazards there that really we’d be
ill-advised to encourage? I’m just wondering
what you think of that?>>DR. CORNILLE: No, I’m sure
you’ve thought about that much more than I have. But just on a logical
level, I think– so the confrontation
with religious diversity is always a shock for
any religious believer. Because every religion presents
itself as the ultimate, the highest, the
best, and so forth. And then you’re
confronted with the fact– wait a minute, there are all
these other religions that say the same for
themselves, so how can I stand by my
conviction or by what I have been taught, that my
religion is the only, the best, the highest and so forth? So this is the
challenge of relativism that is very real in
the contemporary world, and very difficult to navigate. Is it easier, in
fact, first to know that there are
different religions, and then to choose and then
to fully commit oneself? That’s your question. I’m just repeating the
question in a different way. Because I don’t know
what the final answer is. Or do you need indeed
this foundation? But then is the risk
that after the foundation is given or laid, that
then the confrontation with other religions
is so disorienting that one loses that foundation? So I see possibilities
and dangers in both. I don’t think that there is
an easy answer to the question of when the right time is. I think more urgent is to
present one’s own religion in a way that it doesn’t
get so disoriented when the confrontation with
other religions happens. So I think there
is a lot of work, as you know better than I
do, in terms of how we teach our children their faith,
or how we bring them up in a faith in a way
that can integrate that confrontation with
other religious traditions. I think that’s where
the more urgent work is to be done in the way
Christianity is presented. So that would be my response. To the idea of having
more than one spouse, I won’t address that one. [laughter] But for most people
who are dual belongers, their argument will be
well, nobody necessarily fully identifies with
one religious tradition. I mean, we all disagree
with certain aspects of our own religious
tradition also. So the idea of complete and
fully and undivided submission to one religious
tradition is just unrealistic in the contemporary
world, where there are all different layers
or different levels of belonging and identifying
with a tradition. And so since there is
imperfect belonging, there should be
multiple belonging. So to my thinking,
that doesn’t make any sense, for the reasons
that I have given before.>>PARTICIPANT: Thank
you, Catherine. As always, wonderful
presentation. I found one thing
very interesting that you said about the
spiritual shift in society, that people are
no longer looking for ritual practices and
the rituals that they need, but rather distance
themselves from them. Well, I wonder how that
fits within their search for certain ritual practices
in other religions? So usually, what we see is
they have a desire to do yoga, or to do a meditation. And so I wonder how these two
phenomena relate to each other. I wonder if you can
say more about that?>>DR. CORNILLE: It’s,
I think, obvious that the kinds of rituals that
they are looking for outside of Christianity are rituals
that are very meditative, contemplative, that are not
sort of ritual performance necessarily within a
community, or in accordance with the sacraments
of a tradition or so. What people are looking for
are the types of ritual– if you can call them rituals– that are sort of geared
towards inner experience. So whether it’s the
bodily ritual of yoga, or the meditation that
comes with Buddhism, that’s really what people
are looking for, rather than sort of the
performance of rituals according to a particular
rhythm or schedule that is given by a
tradition and that one has to observe because one
belongs to the tradition. People want to be free to do
yoga when they want to do yoga, to meditate when they
want to meditate, and just to do it in terms of their
own spiritual fulfillment. And if it doesn’t give
the spiritual fulfillment, or if it doesn’t
have any effect– part of this is also
that religion has become very sort of functional. It has to work, or it
has to have an effect, or it’s not true. So we’ve come to, I
think, that tendency also in religious identity. So the rituals that
are pursued are sort of contemplative rituals. And so that’s part of
that spiritual shift that I talked about also.>>PARTICIPANT: Thanks. Catherine, I’d like
to second his motion first, that your presentation
was not only marvelously comprehensive– it
covered the spectrum– but was also very succinct. And now I’d like to get
your reaction if I could piggyback on Tom’s question. And that’s this. From my own experience,
there may be an answer from your talk for the very fine
question that Tom put to you, and that’s this. As a boy growing up in Brooklyn,
New York and the Catskill Mountains, I had a lot
of non-Christian friends, especially Jewish. And I very quickly
learned that if a guy was going to become bar
mitzvah or a gal was going to become
bat mitzvah, they would invite me to synagogue. But when I was to be
confirmed, many of them let me know that I
shouldn’t invite, because they would
feel uncomfortable in a Catholic Church. That’s a learning process
for a very young man about how different religions
perceive one another, and what’s possible. It strikes me,
therefore, in answer to Tom’s question, that we
might say in this environment– not everyone grows
up in a big city, but everyone does grow up in
a more or less cosmopolitan environment. And it may be the case
long before they’ve had the benefit of
Tom’s curriculum, they’ve already been exposed
to all these other faiths, and the penchant for going
toward soft rather than hard is already there,
and it’s growing. So it might be the
case that we could ask, as instructors,
each of our students the following question. Have you engaged people
from other faiths? Have they engaged you? If they have, whether
you’re 12, or 15, or 20, what did you learn
from them already? And what were you able
to share with them? And the latter question
will compel our students to say, what do I really
hold, and what do I really understand? What have I experienced? What have I appropriated to
myself from my own faith? So just by the
process of dialogue, they do grow in
their own faith, even as they engage
their friends, which is the best way to engage. What would you think of that?>>DR. CORNILLE: I think
it’s a wonderful proposal. I think there’s very few
occasions where you become more compelled to know your
tradition than when you are in relation with somebody else. And so then you suddenly
want to learn more about your own
tradition, because you realize how little you know. And religions are indeed
so infinitely rich, and we can never
know everything. But it really would
pressure you indeed or encourage you to learn
more about your own tradition and see what you can share. So I think it’s a wonderful
suggestion, thank you.>>PARTICIPANT: Merci bien.>>DR. CORNILLE: Rachel?>>PARTICIPANT:
Thanks, Catherine. I also really
appreciated how organized you were in what you presented. Because I feel like
sometimes, people can be rambling and
not quite clear. And I felt like I could
easily make an outline of what you were saying. The thing that kept
coming up for me, and what came up in our
little mini discussion, was the way in which, when we
look at developmental models of faith– so looking at like James
Fowler’s developmental models– a lot of what you
described in these desires for individualistic things and
a desire for leaving a tradition is really that transition from
stage three to stage four, where you go from seeing
something external– for those of you who are not
familiar with this, something external is a
hierarchical structure, being what defines
your faith and what defines your religious
belonging– to something that’s more internally focused. And I just wondered if you’d
thought about that in this way, within the conversation
of religious hybridity, and then also how we might look
at this is actually a phenomena that is a result of more
people getting to stage four in their faith
tradition over time, and what that can tell us about
what we as a Church need to be doing to ensure that people
can get to the next stage eventually, or if potentially
that this interreligious part of things– sorry, I’m
constructing a question as I speak– but if religious hybridity is
actually the pathway forward?>>DR. CORNILLE: So what
would be beyond stage four?>>PARTICIPANT: Does someone
who knows more about– Tom, great! [laughter]>>OTHER PARTICIPANT:
Well stage– this is Kohlberg or Fowler and
so on, developmental stages– stage three is kind of a
conventional faith, where you just believe it all
because your mom and dad were Jewish or Catholic or
Christian or something. Stage four is when you begin
to make up your own mind about where to belong. But the belonging of
stage four is usually– at least the
developmentalists say– pretty extreme. Either they believe it
all or reject it all. Young people who are very
conservative in their faith and young people who
have walked away– what did you call them?– The spiritual but not
religious, or the “nones.” So that is either/or
at stage four. Where at stage five,
you begin to embrace paradox and ambiguity. You begin to see the
shortcomings of your own faith. And yet you’re still
willing for a greater good. Perhaps you find more
there to attract you then that distracts you
or drives you away. And so you continue to belong
because of the Eucharist or something, even though you
have all kinds of complaints about the Church. That’s stage five. Then Fowler talks about
stage six, which I really don’t want to reach. Because it’s like Gandhi, and
Dorothy Day, and Mother Teresa, and people like that. So I’ll be happy at stage five. A lot of stage six
people get shot. They get executed, for example. But it is when you can embrace
a universal faith, at least, that’s how the developmental or
when you can be deeply grounded in your own
particular tradition, and yet be enriched
by exposure to and access to other
traditions, but yet you know where your home is. You have a particular grounding. And without that, I
think you can get lost. You can ramble away from home,
but not know your way home unless you have the grounding
in that particular religion. So that’d be stage six.>>PARITICPANT: In
that case, then I guess I was talking
more about stage five as being the space in which
perhaps religious hybridity isn’t a necessary component.>>DR. CORNILLE: Is it necessary? Yeah. Yeah, I think in fact,
in the world today, it’s very difficult
to be ignorant of other religious tradition. And if you are a genuine
spiritual seeker, you will recognize the beauty
in other religious traditions also, and if you become
a mature believer, you will be able to
integrate the beauty of other religious traditions
without compromising your primary religious identity. So I think there’s probably
a continuum from stage four, where you integrated in a
mature way, to stage six, when you are sort of
transcendent, almost. So it also sounds a little
bit like this continuum goes from a religious identity
to almost a sort of sense of pluralism of all religious
traditions, which is also not where I want to go
with this discussion. I think the ambiguity
or the paradox of SBNR and hybrid belonging
is that the people who are multiple belongers or
“nones” rely on the religions that they reject in the end. So that’s the internal
ambiguity or the paradox. They don’t want to really
follow a particular religion in its full self-understanding,
but they depend on it to formulate their
own kind of synthesis of different
religious traditions. And so the problem for me
is really the continuity of these rich traditions. These rich traditions
will only continue if we have people who
do dedicate themselves to continuing its sophisticated
theological tradition, and adjusting its
spiritual practices, and so on, so as to
make it appealing. But you have to have
people who really want to contribute to
one particular tradition, I think, in order
for that to happen. And in order for the “nones”–
there will always be “nones”– but then they can
profit from any number of religious traditions. But if there are
no more traditions, which in the most
radical sense of SBNRs and “nones” and
hard dual belongers, that’s really the end of
religion as we know it. And then what do we have to
replace that kind of richness that we have developed
in the course of history? So that’s my main concern. I mean, it’s maybe a
little hypothetical. But we have to, I think, already
anticipate what might happen. Dave?>>PARTICIPANT: Excuse me. Thank you. That was a lot of clarification. And the questions have been
clarifying for me as well. But I guess my worry
about your critique is that I think a lot of
us have gone soft, right? We’re soft. We don’t even have to
be a hybrid to be soft. We once upon a
time may have made a kind of spousal contribution
of ourselves to the tradition, and have come to
have reservations about the extent
of that, learned in part from our students,
and in my own case, from my children
and grandchildren. And I wonder about that. I wonder about the
implication of what you said for
solidarity, that is, it’s not just the
spiritual not religious, a spiritual ideal that
lies beyond them all. But it has to do, I think,
a little bit at least, with the unity of
the human family. What are the implications of
your critique for our desire to be at one with everybody? And that may have seemed like
a kind of crazy dream once. The sixes– they only
get for a few people. But is that unity
of human family not increasingly not
just a spiritual ideal, but maybe even a
moral imperative that’s right in front of us?>>DR. CORNILLE: Thank you. And David, it’s a
very rich question that I think I would have
to develop in great detail. But I think when I emphasize
sort of the singular belonging, it’s never at the exclusion
of truth and beauty and other religious
traditions, and the idea that we do all share a common
spiritual desire and thirst, and a desire for peace
and harmony in the world. So I think we have
to, first of all, recognize that all
religious traditions have that sort of common thirst for
peace and unity and harmony. And we can recognize
that in each other. Secondly, I think for
that to be possible, though, religions
have to develop a certain degree of humility,
theological humility, institutional humility,
ethical humility, in terms of how far they have gone
in terms of achieving their own religious goals. And I think that humility
itself is already almost a sufficient condition to
be open and generous and loving towards people from other
religious traditions who are also searching for
the good and the holy. So if we recognize that our
institutions are fallible, our doctrines are not complete,
our rituals are maybe limited, all of that
recognition, I think, opens us up to recognizing
other religious traditions. So I think we can belong
to one religious tradition and have the
humility to recognize the importance and the beauty
of other religious traditions. It’s not either I
belong to one religion, all the others are
false, they all have to be converted
to my religion. I think you can belong
to one tradition and be open to the
others, as I have said, and create a sense
of solidarity. I mean, there’s nothing that
leads to better interreligious dialogue than working together
in solidarity for the poor, for the hungry, for
liberation in various forms. So that is, I think,
the best gateway into interreligious
harmony and understanding. And I think you can fully belong
to one religious tradition and also have that
kind of openness or focus on the
humanity of others, and the brotherhood and
sisterhood of all believers.>>PARTICIPANT: Thank you. I have a quick thought
and then a question. In the 1960s, in the Charlestown
parish, I went to CCD class. And Father Smith,
the parish priest, introduced world religions
when I was a freshman. It was utterly fascinating. So maybe that’s the
time to introduce it. We enjoyed it. My question– as I talk with
my friends in various cities, Boston, suburbs, different
states, the phenomena that seems to come
up is that a number a significant number
of our kids who have been steeped in
the Catholic tradition and education simply
have rejected the Church. And it is quite a phenomena. I’m not saying it’s accurate. But I’ve noticed for several
years, this keeps coming up. So if there’s a church or
a spiritual tradition they lean towards, it is Buddhism. But we’re talking about
blended religions, if you will, or dual belongers. But I think, at
least, as I said, in my experiences a
pretty wholesale rejection of Catholicism, and a lot
of what comes with it. And that’s certainly a concern. Do you have any thoughts? Thank you. [laughter]>>DR. CORNILLE: If I
had an answer to that– I see it, of course,
in our students. I mean, we see it
in our students. It really went from, I
think, sort of openness– in my courses– to other religious
traditions to now almost a complete indifference. And 10 years ago, when
I would ask my students, how many of you believe that
all religions are equally true? 80%. Now when I ask them, they
haven’t even thought about it. They haven’t even
considered the question. So that I find really
exciting, in the sense that they know so little. I mean, many have
rejected it, and many have rejected it for very good
reasons, and I respect it. But what I find so sad is
that what they have rejected is just such a minute and
almost insignificant part of what the tradition
of the Church is, and what it has to offer. And it’s the fault of
the Church, of course. I don’t blame them. But if they knew
a little bit more about the richness
of the tradition, and if it was introduced to
them in a way that made sense– now I can teach my students,
and they all start from scratch. And I can wake them
up, and they really are excited and interested
in what I have to teach them. I mean, the questions
don’t go away. I think we are going through
a very difficult period in the Church, where as I
said, people have rejected it for very good reasons. But the religious thirst, the
spiritual thirst of people will always be
there, and always be there to be nourished in a way. And I am, for one, excited about
the possibility of nourishing that in the right way. So thank you very much. [applause] [music playing]

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