RELIGIOUS DIVERSITY by Wilfred Cantwell Smith


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Canadian historian of religion Smith, distinguished teacher at McGill, Harvard, and now Dalhousie, specializes in Islam but has made his mark by asking the sorts of probing questions about how best to study religion that animate the essays collected here (previously published over the last nineteen years). For him, ""religions"" are not discrete entities susceptible of scientifically objective study, but the diverse forms of faith lived by concrete persons in response to differing cumulative traditions (of laws, texts, rituals, etc.). After affirming religious pluralism, what matters most is to seek out the actual experience which the symbols provoke and the labels fallibly designate, the meaning the tradition takes on in the processes of personal living. Thus Smith gives unique priority to face-to-face dialogue, demanding that the participant be able to assent to what the observer says of his religious way; in fact, the concrete complexity of human religiousness, as manifested in various streams, is the object par excellence of comparative-religions study. Typically, Smith poses a fresh question (at the time of writing, at least)--e.g., can Christians properly proclaim exclusive salvation through Christ in a religiously plural world?--and inventively explores all its facets so as to break the hold of outmoded thinking and gain access to the lived reality. Students certainly could do well to pursue the comparative study of religion in the generous spirit of these essays.

Pub Date: Oct. 27th, 1976
Publisher: Harper & Row