Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Heuristic and protective

The Asian theology course is starting out fascinating - though I may well be enjoying the heavily methodological way it's begun more than the others in attendance. What we're getting is hard-won knowledge forged from the invaluable but frequently contrived and often frustrating experience of the (Western-based and -initiated) inter-religious dialogue, something understandably foreign to Chinese students!

Before the engagement of Yang Wang-Ming and Karl Barth which will be the main illustration of the possibility of Confucian-Christian dialogue, the instructor explained that he's trying to do which he calls "confuciology." Already Monday he argued that theology may be appropriate for logos-based Western Christianity but not East Asian societies (hence his proposal for a theo-dao). Today he argued that confuciology is a "heuristic device" to allow Dao-based traditions to hold their own in dialogue with the systematic blunderbusses of Christian theology - "heuristic" as Confucianism is no less suspicious than Daoism is of systems and systematizing. Nevertheless, he argues, in the absence of something like a grammar of Confucian tradition, discussion will inevitably be structured around Christian categories - fatal for dao-based forms of "radical humanization."

His "confuciology" is thus not only "heuristic" but "protective":

In terms of George Lindbeck, confuciology is "to give a normative explication of the meaning" which Confucianism has for East Asian people as their cultural-linguistic matrix. If theology is a thick description of the intratextuality of the Christian faith, confuciology is that of the Confucian faith. Confuciology describes intelligibly and thickly the stories of the Confucian ethico-religious persuasions within their own contexts. Analogous to theology (at least similar to Barthian-Reformed and liberation theologies), being secondary to the faith itself, confuciology explicates rule of the game for understanding the cultural-linguistic matrix. It prevents an eclectic and fragmentary reading whose dangerous decontexualization jeopardizes and violates the integrity and inner coherence of the Confucian intratextuality. Hence, confuciology is a protective device to tell Confucian stories authentically and thickly in their own structures.

I'm not sure that this can be done, or is done entirely successfully by our visitor, but I confess to being very taken by the Fragestellung. It seems more aware of the necessity as well as the necessary pitfalls of interreligious dialogue than much that I've encountered. I'm eager to see what he builds on this necessarily heuristic foundation - and to see how the ideas play with his Chinese (indeed, it emerges, his first "Asian") audience.

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