While reading a very good advanced master thesis by Joke Lambelin, presented at the K.U.Leuven Faculty of Theology, I started wondering about the theological groundwork that can be provided to lend support to intercultural and comparative approaches, as represented by Volker Küster and Frans Wijsen on the one side, and Francis X. Clooney on the other side. Obviously, here we deal with dynamic processes, in which theology provides a heuristic more than a hermeneutic, the latter being too static to unfold identities that are faithful by being on the move. The core insight of both intercultural and comparative theologies (in the case of Christian contexts) is that the encounter with difference is crucial to the understanding and construction of one’s own religious and theological identity (it may be more interesting to speak about the relationship between rootedness [cf. Simone Weil] and interaction, in which the former is permanently uprooted and on the move in conversations and interactions with others). The holy ground on which Christians become Christians, is constituted by the encounters with the others.
Such heuristic and dynamic perspectives may seem unsettling to many, as we tend to look for strong and fixed identities that give us security and root us in solid ground. It is helpful to realize that, in a tension between faithfulness and creativity amidst a myriad of interactions, our identities (plural) are often on the move and shifting. Identity is a verb (with an active, a passive and a deponent mode, reflecting its core feature of interaction). Identity is, therefore, history and requires narratives to be discussed and studied. Identity is the result of (un)conscious decisions and personal or common discernment processes.
Of course, one will have to look for the theological grounds that allow – in our case, amongst Christians – to take this view on identity and to trust that the histories of identity building, expressed in shared narratives and discernment processes, are crucial to our being and becoming Christians. From a Christian perspective, this is the place where we have to speak about the interwoven dynamics of the Incarnation and the Trinity (I will use the abbreviation Tr-In). One biblical story (the encounter of Jesus of Nazaret with the Syro-Phoenician woman) and a 20th century Flemish Jesuit mystic (Egied van Broeckhoven) .
Egied van Broeckhoven, who experiences friendship with others as the place for the encounter also with God, combines a desire for incarnation (moving into the world of the factory workers) with a deep sense of economic Trinity in the encounter with the others (in his friendships he participates in and experiences the very relationships of and in the TriUne God). Jesus, when encountering the Syro-Phoenician woman who comes to plead with him for the healing of her daughter, at first refuses harshly, telling the woman that we usually do not invite dogs at our table. But he is shocked, so to say, out of his prejudices by the answer of the woman: “the dogs are allowed to eat the crumbles that fall from the table”. One can read this encounter in a trinitarian perspective (I think): Recognizing in the woman the face of the challenging Father, Jesus responds as who he is, the Son, and so reveals the Spirit, in the woman, in himself, and in the healing of the daughter.
I think it will still need some time before Christian and Roman Catholic theologians in particular, reach the point of being able to theologically unfold the roots of intercultural and comparative theologies. This theological adventure, however, is crucial to our times as this will also be one of the paths on which to address contemporary worldwide challenges as globalization, violence and environmental crisis.