2016 Archive

AAR 2016 San Antonio, TX


Theology Without Walls Group
Theme: The Human Predicament

Each religion offers its own diagnosis of the human predicament – e.g., sin, defined variously — and then its own solution – e.g., salvation, defined variously. This panel will focus on the predicament.

*Is there only one predicament, and is it the same for every human being?
*Can one borrow insights into the predicament from another tradition, or is the semantics of a predicament term so culture-bound that it cannot be meaningfully used by someone outside its home context?
*Are there sufficient common terms and common ground for this topic to be open to intelligible debate across traditions?
*Is insight into the predicament limited to religious thinkers, or are contributions from philosophers such as Plato, Spinoza, and Sartre; or psychologists like Freud and Jung; or novelists like Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, etc., also relevant?
*Is it a topic we can illuminate based on our own life experience?


Christopher Denny, Saint John’s University
Michelle Voss Roberts, Wake Forest University
John Thatamanil, Union Theological Seminary
Wesley J. Wildman, Boston University
Jerry L. Martin, University of Colorado, Presiding


Theology Without Walls Group
Theme: The Spiritual Life and the Personal or Transpersonal Reality

Jerry L. Martin, University of Colorado, Presiding

Different religions – and different theologies within the religions — take different positions on whether reality is ultimately personal, transpersonal, both, or neither, and on what these alternatives mean. The answers may imply different forms of spiritual life.

*Are there sufficient common terms and common ground for this topic to be open to intelligible debate across traditions?
*What are the experiences or considerations that, apart from leaning on specific theological doctrines within a tradition, that lead us toward one answer or the other?
*What thinkers or conversations contribute to this issue?
*What are the implications of the answer we give for living in relation to the divine reality?

Hyo-Dong Lee, Drew University
Jeffery D. Long, Elizabethtown College
Robert C. Neville, Boston University
Kurt Anders Richardson, McMaster University

Theology Without Walls Group
Theme: Planning Meeting
Jerry L. Martin, University of Colorado, Presiding


Planning Meeting
Discussion of current activities regarding transreligious theology and consideration of possible future Theology Without Walls projects.

John Thatamanil, Union Theological Seminary
Report on Publication Projects

Kurt Anders Richardson, McMaster University
Report on Related Activities

Jeanine Diller, University of Toledo
Report on Models of God and on Interfaith Activities

Christopher Denny, Saint John’s University

AAR 2016 Notes

Attached are Christopher Denny’s very helpful notes on the Theology Without Walls planning meeting at the San Antonio AAR. Please post suggestions for topics and any other ideas you would like to share, as a comment on this posting. I look forward to hearing from you.

Theology without Walls Planning Meeting

Presiding: Jerry L. Martin, University of Colorado

Present: Christopher Denny, St. John’s University (rapporteur); Joyce Konigsburg, Duquesne University; Nadya Pohran, University of Cambridge; Anthony Watson, Woodberry Forest School; Kurt Anders Richardson, McMaster University; Jeanine Diller, University of Toledo; John Thatamanil, Union Theological Seminar; Jeffrey Long, Elizabethtown College; Marc Pugliese, Saint Leo University; Doug King, Presence International; Bonnie Glass-Coffin, Utah State University; Abigail Martin, Brooklyn College;

  1. The meeting began at 4:00 pm with introductions.
  1. Reports
  1. Jeanine Diller, University of Toledo

       Report on Models of God and on Interfaith Activities

A second edition of Models of God and Alternative Ultimate Realities, edited by Jeanine Diller and Asa Kasher, is coming out soon. An online version of the book will be published by Springer. A $24.95 “My Copy” version of the book is available for people who work at libraries at institutions that have a relationship with Springer. An electronic version is free and free downloads are available through library databases. Gaps in the existing edition call for filling gaps in Islam and eastern traditions, and a call for section editors and writers has been made. Contributions on multiple religious belonging are also planned.

  1. John Thatamanil, Union Theological Seminary

Report on Publication Projects

There is a risk from journal pieces, as we could become cognoscenti. Our fields are book driven except for analytic concentrations within the field. This needs to change. A response from respondents to previously published TWW work could test our project and give us visibility. TWW needs to be distinguished from comparative theology.   People like Frank Clooney, Catherine Cornille, Paul Hedges, and others were suggested as scholarly interlocutors for this proposal. Jeffery Long suggested that the relationship between comparative theology and TWW be a theme for next year’s TWW AAR sessions; there was support from others present for this proposal. Chris Denny suggested that institutional affiliation also be considered alongside a CT-TWW panel. Joyce Konigsburg also raised the issue of identifying the walls that TWW alludes to in its project. Kurt Richardson proposed consideration of an “eschatology without walls” for panel consideration.

Respectfully Submitted,

Christopher Denny, Saint John’s University

Clooney’s Paradigm

 At the San Antonio meeting of the American Academy of Religion (Nov 17-21, 2016), I heard the following story.

At some recent confab, Clooney was challenged by a number of younger theologians. He is, of course, defender and exemplar of the two-tradition (and usually two-text) way of doing comparative theology. At issue was his insistence that the insights gained by reading parallel texts in another tradition must be brought back to one’s “home” tradition. Comparative theology must remain confessional theology – in his case, Catholic theology.

The younger theologians are said to have protested: We cannot do theology that way. We do not have a “home” tradition in that sense. We have many “homes,” or none. Some of us have multiple belonging. Some of us are seekers drawing on multiple sources of insight. We theologize in an interreligious world.

Yes, many of us do. However, even as we search beyond confessional boundaries, which I believe we must, we should recognize several important achievements of the Clooney paradigm.

First, the paradigm enables the theologian to make good use of insights from other traditions without unsettling the theologian’s religious identity and earnest commitments. In my own view, Theology Without Walls is compatible with adhering to a confession and maintaining one’s religious identity. Whatever divine voice one encounters in other traditions, it surely the same divine reality, even if not in the same vocal register, as one encounters in one’s own. Whatever truth your faith now provides will remain as part of a larger understanding. Your confessional theology might even expand sufficiently to give full articulation to insights from other traditions. We can theologize “without walls,” as I recommend, or you can radically expand the walls. Or carefully and judiciously expand them, which Clooney’s paradigm permits.

Second, in the Western academy, theologians are scholars, not monks or gurus. They must produce “contributions to scholarship.” What they write must be subject to scholarly standards. The Clooney paradigm provides a template, exemplified in his many books and in dissertations he has directed. There are well-known scholarly standards for demonstrating competence with regard to the thinkers and texts from the traditions compared. Theology Without Walls does not offer a template (and may well remain uncongenial to doing so). Without a template, the relevant scholarly standards may vary from one work to another. This remains a challenge, though a manageable one, for TWW.

Third, the Clooney paradigm is not just a scholarly model, or even just a way of doing richer theology. Comparative reading is itself a spiritual discipline. It is a form of lectio divina, of the prayerful reading of the scriptures. The meticulous care with which Clooney insists on entering into the second tradition is, in my understanding and perhaps his, a way to hear the divine voice in its texts. He is not trying to pluck ideas out, but to listen attentively. Hence the tender care with which he explicates passages. Returning to the “home” text allows one to hear the divine voice there, but in a slightly different register. I don’t know if Clooney ever explains it in exactly these terms, but this is surely its most spiritually sensitive use. So understood, as an instrument for divine attunement, it is available to TWW theologians as well.

As we break out of the mold of “exclusivist” theology, it would be a shame to think that there is “only one right way” to theologize beyond the boundaries. For some of us, the Clooney paradigm would distort our starting-point, limit our search, and prevent us from understanding the divine reality as fully as possible. But, for many theologians, the Clooney paradigm will be the right fit. As my folks used to say, find your row and hoe it!

Jerry Martin


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