“Why I Wrote Introducing World Religions: A Christian Engagement.”
Charles E. Farhadian
Far too few Christian colleges, universities, seminaries, and divinity schools offer courses in world religions, at a time when religions are resurging throughout the world. Most Christian college and seminary curricula are focused on Western approaches and the common three-part foci of theology, biblical studies, and history. But how will Christian educational institutions, the church, and NGOs prepare Christians for a future of work and witness if there is little or no teaching about the very religions that profoundly influence billions of people worldwide? This book needed to be written for several important reasons.
First, this is the right time for this book to have been written. Like good music or an important conversation, timing is key. The predictions about the demise of religion by scholars in the past century were absolutely wrong. (Well, actually, religion resurged and shifted along with secularism, giving rise to what Charles Taylor and Jürgen Habermas have called a “post-secular” condition, which affirms the burgeoning of both religion and secularism.) Recent history has witnessed the revitalization of nearly all major religions and spirituality, including in their most virulent fundamentalist forms. Religion has become a major player in social and political movements worldwide.
Moreover, the concomitant rise in secular fundamentalism that resists the role of religion in public life represents unique challenges to religious people of all persuasions. Travelers journeying outside of North America and Western Europe have seen the public display of religion in processions, marches, and other celebrations, where religious festivals provide meaning and build community throughout the year. But religion is not just “out there” beyond the West in the public square and in village life. Religion continues to shape our personal and corporate lives here in the West as well, for instance undergirding public discussions of ethical and moral debates about justice, abortion, human sexuality, and even taxes. This is the time we need an engaged perspective on world religions.
Second, my approach is to resist either extreme of exclusivism or relativism and instead pursue a dialogic encounter between Christianity and other religions, confident that in the act of creation the Triune God has left seeds of the truth in the world’s major religions and philosophies that can be fulfilled by the gospel. My hope is that Christians can approach the world of culture and religion with anticipation for what can be learned, without the fear of having to sacrifice Christian affirmations.
Third, the book is written from a particular perspective that avoids apology and instead exhibits an openness of Christianity to other religious traditions for the purpose of interrogating what’s familiar within Christianity as well as learning about other religions. I am not feigning objectivity. Knowledge of any kind is never purely objective. And it is a common pedagogical strategy that professors tell their students that they teach world religions objectively. My appeal is to Christian tradition for the resources of learning and living well with one another.
So this book provides a rejoinder to two false notions. The first is of an objective rationality that is often communicated by teachers of world religions in an attempt to remain impartial before their students. The second is a so-called postmodern approach that seeks to eliminate the grand, sacred narrative of our lives, when in reality most often a switch and bait of narratives occurs that substitutes a secular narrative for a Christian one as though the Christian story is worn out and outgrown by newer insights. That said, I intentionally write from a particular perspective, which aims to be broadly Christian, rather than needing to convince readers that I can be entirely neutral and detached. My view is that we can only talk and act from particular places and spaces rather than from a vantage point that claims to be above all history and culture, no matter how tempting that perspective may be today.
Charles E. Farhadian (PhD, Boston University) is professor of world religions and Christian mission at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California. He is the editor of Introducing World Christianity and Christian Worship Worldwide and coeditor of The Oxford Handbook of Religious Conversion. He has done fieldwork in Southeast Asia and the Pacific, where he has investigated themes of worship, social history, and nation making.
For more information on Introducing World Religions, click here.