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Comparative theology generally begins from a study of texts, scriptural texts that have been canonized, and commentaries on these texts—as well as philosophical, theological and mystical treatises. Though this textual focus gives us access to some of the most subtle and nuanced reasonings developed in various traditions, I am concerned that this textual focus may limit our understanding of religion, and I am convinced that broadening the scope of comparative theology beyond texts will also contribute to the theological creativity of this approach. I hypothesize that, depending on the sort of source from which we theologize, different questions will come to mind relating to different theological problems. Indeed, turning to material and ritual practices, in addition to textual sources, will reveal aspects of the divine that remain invisible when one stays within the limits of textual study. I do not, in any way, want to turn this into an either/or story in which reading texts is placed over against engaging ritual and material practices. What I envision is a complementarity between textual and ritual comparison, not a privileging of one over the other.
After decades of optimism, interreligious dialogue is now confronted with a considerable amount of skepticism. In theology, this skepticism is primarily being fed by the cultural-linguistic theory of religion. This theory seems to be in keeping with what the Babel narrative has always said: people belonging to different “language” communities can do no more than babble at one another. The author asks, first of all, whether the story of Babel indeed affirms the cultural-linguistic argument for the end of interreligious dialogue. After showing that there are theological and exegetical reasons to doubt the classical interpretation of the Babel narrative, the author demonstrates how a renewed hermeneutic of this story actually challenges the cultural-linguistic discourse concerning the incommensurability of religions. Indeed, she argues, ultimately, the Babel story is not a narrative about the end of communication, but about its beginning.
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