Summer Seminars on Theologies of Religious Pluralism and Comparative Theology
The AAR is the leading scholarly and professional organization for the study of religion in North America. As an umbrella organization, it brings together scholars of and from every religious tradition. It also welcomes the widest range of methodologies for the study of religion ranging from ethnographic and social scientific methods, history, and phenomenology of religion as well as theological methods. The AAR indicates its openness to theological engagements with religion in its mission statement, which reads in part, “Within a context of free inquiry and critical examination, the Academy welcomes all disciplined reflection on religion — both from within and outside of communities of belief and practice — and seeks to enhance its broad public understanding.”
The AAR’s openness to theological methods for the study of religion has been longstanding. In order to deepen and give structural expression to this commitment, in 2006 the AAR created the Theological Education Steering Committee and charged that committee as follows: “The Theological Education Steering Committee meets the scholarly and professional needs of theological educators by creating programs and services that bring theological studies into the wider conversation of the Academy and enriches the work of theological educators.”
A key feature of that wider conversation within the Academy is the reality of religious diversity. Perhaps the greatest strength of the AAR is that it is host to the study of every one of the world’s religious traditions. Moreover, that study routinely includes both insiders and outsiders. That strength neatly matches a profound need felt by theological educators, especially within seminaries and divinity schools, but more broadly still to understand better the meaning of religious diversity for persons standing within particular traditions. For theological educators who are often training students for religious leadership and ministry, the question of religious diversity must be taken up as a question of faith, that is to say as a properly theological question. What is the meaning of my neighbor’s faith for mine?
Addressing this question is a vital challenge for the formation of students in theological education. But many institutions of theological education lack theological educators whose scholarly expertise is rooted in TRP and comparative theology. Moreover, although religious diversity is growing within such institutions, when there is a conversation about religious diversity, that conversation is itself, more often than not, a monoreligious conversation rather than an interreligious one. Persons from a given religious tradition speak about religious neighbors but do not speak with those religious neighbors. As a result, there is insufficient awareness that the question of religious diversity is a shared challenge with which every religious tradition and community is currently struggling. The need for robust interreligious conversation and the need for first-rate scholarship and teaching about religious diversity remain pressing. The AAR is uniquely positioned to meet these needs.