Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Hauerwas’ Theory of Interfaith Dialogue

I'm reading through Stanley Hauerwas' The State of the University. On pp. 58-59, he retells an encounter with a process theologian in Arkansas who was unimpressed with Hauerwas' stress on Christian particularism. The process theologian observed that Hauerwas had no theory that would enable Christians to talk with Buddhists. Hauerwas responded:

I, however, apologized for being deficient of such theory, but asked, "How many Buddhists do you have here in Conway? Moreover, if you want to talk with them what good will a theory do you? I assume that if you want to talk with Buddhists, you would just go talk with them. You might begin by asking, for example, 'What in the world are you guys doing in Conway?'" I then suggested I suspected that the real challenge in Conway was not talking with Buddhists, but trying to talk with Christian fundamentalists. We should also ask whether we have anything interesting enough the Buddhist would even want to talk about with us.

This is a great example of the refreshing humor I'm beginning to find in Hauerwas, but he also makes a great point. It's less important to have a theory about how interfaith dialog can happen than to just go talk to each other. Hauerwas is very clear that this does not mean giving up on one's Christian (or Buddhist) beliefs, nor does it mean that we must engage in the sort of sloppy thinking that leads to proclamations like, "All roads lead to God." And it certainly doesn't mean that we don't try to convince the other person of the correctness of our views. It just means that we should talk, talk hospitably and respectfully, and that worry about the theory is a secondary concern.

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