Thinking More About Double-Religious Belonging

I’m here at the American Academy of Religion annual meeting, which is really stimulating and very interesting.  I’m exhausted tonight [an introvert can only function in an extroverted shell for so long!], but I wanted to write a quick post about my presentation this morning.  My panel was on the concept of dual religious belonging [two panelists discussed Christian/Buddhist religious belonging, and the other two discussed Jewish/Buddhist religious belonging]. I was looking at the misinterpretation of Shin Buddhism by Christians, including Barth–did you know that he described “Yodo Shin” [no, Jodo isn’t spelled with a “Y,” but that’s how Barth spelled it] as the best “heathen” parallel to Christianity?  He also characterized it as “Japanese Protestantism.” 

Anyway, one of the comments from the audience suggested using religious “participation” rather than “belonging:”  Richard Payne had pointed out that for Buddhists, “belonging” doesn’t carry the same soteriological import that it does for Christians, and therefore doesn’t seem to function as an identifying category in the same way. So, the suggestion was that we might talk about people “participating” in different religious rituals, for example, but that such participation might not necessarily impact one’s religious identity as such. As a Christian, I’m not really sure that works–I think it IS an identity question for us.

We all agreed that we are trying to put language and a framework around a phenomenon that is pretty slippery, and, in many ways, still functions primarily as a sociological category:  individuals describing their own understanding of their personal religiosity, rather than as some kind of “third alternative” to which one might aim or aspire.  In the end, I argued for an “Other-infused” single belonging [like a “Buddhist-infused” Christianity]–where one retains one’s primary religious identity, but acknowledges [and even celebrates] the way in which that identity has been shaped, changed and transformed by one’s encounter with another religious tradition.  Somehow, that feels more desirable to me.

Still thinking about it all…..

2 thoughts on “Thinking More About Double-Religious Belonging

  1. The alternative to “participation” that I was intending to offer at that point in the discussion is “modes of engagement.” A person may engage a religious tradition in indefinitely many modalities—from the non-observant Jew (offered in the discussion as demonstrating the limits of “participation”) to the Buddhist practitioner in extended retreat whose entire existence is actively engaging in their practice.
    It seems to me that much of the difficulty that we were attempting to address terminologically follows from a bad metaphor, the metaphor “religion is a container.” This metaphor entails the imagery that one is either inside or out, making “in-between-ness” at the least awkward. The pervasive character of this metaphor makes it invisible, and leads to the judgments (and judgmental attitudes) about belonging. The characterization of Buddhism as “not exclusive” indicates that this metaphor is not at work, while emphases on exclusivity of religious identity suggest that the metaphor is at work, and that the container is thought to have very definite walls.
    The notion of modes of engagement requires an additional proviso. It should not be taken to imply the metaphysical status of a singular entity (“the religious tradition”) with which people engage. There is only the engaging, which is an ongoing process, and the subject and object exist in a dialectic. The object engaged only exists as a consequence of its being engaged by someone. In each instance the object is different, and is determined by the mode of engagement.
    thank you for the discussion, Richard


  2. I was thinking about the Anglican Church as a Christian example of “participation” versus “belonging.” After Henry VIII and before Elizabeth, the Catholics and Protestants in England could not agree on theology or governance or anything. But they came to a living arrangement with the Book of Common Prayer. So the side to which you “belonged” was not as important as the “participation” of everybody saying the approved prayers with the approved words. And the concept has a lot of appeal. I think it is good that we keep working ecumenically to find common translations and common words to memorize so we are all, in a literal sense, on the same page.


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