Vigil, José María (ed.): Toward a Planetary Theology. (Along the Many Paths of God, Vol. V), Dunamis Publishers / Montreal 2010, 198 pp.

The Spanish-Panamanian liberation theologian VIGIL has now presented the last volume of a global publication project. Together with the Theological Commission of the Ecumenical Association of the theologians of the Third World (EATWOT), he has published since 2003, five volumes in which representatives of Latin American liberation theology, of the theology of religious pluralism and, ultimately, of other religions, entered into a dialogue on behalf of the double challenge of theology from the current reality, namely the “many poor” and the “many religions” (KNITTER).

The fifth and final volume of the series “Along the Many Paths of God” heades now for the question (without answering it), if, ultimately, it is possible to design a theology, by ways of the dialogue of religions, which would transcend the boundaries of religious communities, as a theology to be used by all religions (and non-believers as well) and – by the way – enable religions to contribute to resolving the urgent issues facing humanity, such as war, hunger, injustice, environmental destruction.

The 20 authors give very different answers to this question. The possibility of such a “planetary” or “trans-religious” or “inter-faith” theology (the question of naming is discussed extensively) is negated by some of the authors although they are very open to the dialogue and cooperation between religions. It is because of the fundamental epistemological issues that an unconditional ‘yes’ to this theology is not so easy. Agenor BRIGHENTI argues that all religious experience is unique, done within a certain context and a culture and so cannot be universalized in the theological science. Michael AMALADOSS and Raimon PANIKKAR share similar views. Edmund Kee-Fook CHIA warns that there such a planetary theology might be a new tool of the hegemony of a (western) minority. For Irfan A. OMAR, a muslim, “diversity always rules unity” (109) and not vice versa, otherwise a universal theology could claim to be the theology of a new universal religion. Faustino TEIXEIRA refers to the incommunicable character of mystical experience: Although similarities may be identified, spiritual experiences of all religions, are available only from the inside. With these and similar arguments some of the authors reject the project of a universal theology or agree with it, if it would not run at the expense of the legitimate and valuable pluralism of religious experiences.

VIGIL, Paul KNITTER, and other authors argue, on the other hand, that the planetary theology they propose, will not replace particular theologies and religious experiences. Especially KNITTER is looking for similarities and relationships in religions that allow them to unite and strengthen the impulses of the individual communities for the good of humanity. Other authors present the fact of religious experience at the centre of their interest (Richard RENSHAW), or refer – as K.L. SESHAGIRI RAO from Hindu perspective – that the religions are only different perspectives to point to the one inaccessible and ineffable mystery.

Only a few authors address the real situation of the world and the lives of the poor to deal from their perspective with the question of religions. Aloysius PIERIS writes that it is not important to convert members of other religions, but to convert unjust social structures. Teresa OKURE requires that a universal theology will create the conditions that every human being can be granted his or her own religion, but above all, that we meet all people with solidarity and fraternity.

In this way, this project does not lose its roots in liberation theology. Although the authors do not concur on the possibility of a planetary theology, they show great agreement that religions should (and can) be learning from each other, and that they must work to ensure that tolerance and justice, and not exclusion and absoluteness, will determine the coming together of religions. This way they can actually make a contribution for the good of humankind. The arrangement of contributions in the book – alphabetically by the name of the author – makes clear that it does not present opposed positions, but a number of people coming together in conversation and in common search.

The book, which was originally published in Spanish, offers fascinating reading for anyone dealing with hermeneutical and epistemological questions of interreligious dialogue. Also you will find abundant material for the discussion of the contribution of Religions to peace and justice. Finally, in the volume are discussed some very fundamental issues for the development of theology in the future.

A free digital version of the book is available here