Learning from other faith traditions

This is a discussion for those that see themselves as situated within a faith tradition, and have encountered other traditions in a constructive way.

I am interested in dialogue on this because I situate myself within a Christian tradition (liberal anglo catholic ...ish), But have recently been deeply engaged with Rumi’s poetry. It’s rooted in Islam (of which I know very little) but I really connect with the poems in a contemplative way, which I didn’t quite expect. I’ve also been reading Belden Lane’s work recently, and found his engagement with a wide range of religious and spiritual traditions to be really imaginative and stimulating.

So I’m interested in hearing whether others have similar experiences, including perhaps topics such as:

* Instances of drawing on other traditions (which may be from the same religion or another one), and what you learned / how it helped with spiritual growth.
* Whether you encountered any tensions in this learning, such as concerns about cultural appropriation or a sense of detachment from your ‘roots’.
* Whether you have a habit of seeking out new spiritual insights from other traditions, and how you do this.

Comments

  • ECraigRECraigR Shipmate
    I’m Anglo-Catholic as well and try to read broadly around in religion. Much of this exploration has resulted in what I’d say are beliefs and practices informed by other traditions, although I try to make sure that I keep focused on Christ.

    I went through a period where I was deeply interested in Islam and many of its prayer practices I adopted or used to inform my own, such as the practice of prayer. I’ve probably spent the most time with Buddhism and Judaism, though. Buddhism has been instrumental in my meditative and contemplative practices. I practice contemplative prayer as described by Keating and Co. but my practice and theology of it has been informed by Buddhist writings. In my estimation Buddhism does not jive well with Christianity, but a dialogue between the two is fruitful.

    Similarly with Judaism, the rabbinic practice of reading scripture has been influential in my own practices. Although a lot of these practices are present in the Church Fathers writings on scripture, I’ve found Judaic thought on the matter to be quite influential in my own thinking.

    You didn’t explicitly mention this, but those of non-faith or anti-faith have also been influential. I’ve spent copious amounts of time with Freud, Marx, and Nietzsche (the UnHoly Trinity) and have found the challenges afforded by these three thinkers, and others, as instrumental in my development. This all being said, there’s been quite a few points of tension, but that’s part of the process of growth, I figure.
  • I've had encounters with other Christian traditions - Chalcedonian and non-Chalcedonian Orthodoxy, Anglicanism and Reformed Protestant traditions. My background is childhood Catholicism - beastly careless - personal disintegration - reformed Protestant - Anglican/Catholic - Catholic.

    My encounter with Reformed Protestantism taught me about being Christian in the world, and the value of an activist congregation. My encounter with Anglicanism and Reformed Protestantism taught me more about varieties of modern communal worship and the rich heritage of English hymnody.

    My encounter with Orthodoxy taught me about prayer and ages-old worship. It taught me about varieties of prayer, praying the hours and contemplative prayer. In doing so it pointed me back to all the things in my tradition which we share with Orthodoxy, really all those things. I think I needed to see them from another angle to appreciate them in Catholic practice. Indeed that applies to Christian activism as well, very much a part of Catholicism, and something Jesuits are famous for in this country.

    Catholicism in Australia for me seemed to have a crust of sectarianism, wrapped up in the prejudice we perceived ourselves to suffer both as Catholics in a Protestant empire and as Irishmen in an English state. I lap that victimhood up when I allow myself to do it, but as an adult I can't stand it in church. Admittedly its rare these days, even if you are hyper-sensitive. These days my problems are with doctrinal matters around gender and sexuality, as well as the Bishops'appalling neglect when dealing with peophile clergy and their victims.

    My encounter with other Christian traditions, many with similar problems, enabled me to see that there was value in my own, and enabled me to reconcile myself to its manifest inadequacies, enough at least to attend church roughly monthly at a church in the city, and think about but never quite make it to church in my town.

    I have had brushes with Judaism and Islam too, through personal encounters and reading. With Islam, I try to read to get insight, as an academic rather than spiritual pursuit. Judaism is different, perhaps because of how I felt when I visited Jerusalem, perhaps because of my encounters with the Holocaust, perhaps because of my encounters with the Jewish community in Melbourne. Judaism is so 'other' and yet so familiar too, for example in the way people act at Synagogue and at Church, the rhythms of worship. I feel I might have unfinished business there.
  • tclunetclune Shipmate
    Cameron wrote: »
    This is a discussion for those that see themselves as situated within a faith tradition, and have encountered other traditions in a constructive way.
    I may be reading too much into "in a constructive way," but I imagine that your concern is to differentiate engagement from cultural appropriation. If so, I can appreciate the worry in at least one sense -- it has taken me a lifetime to formulate an understanding of my own faith, and my efforts are far from complete. People from different (or no) faith traditions who think that they understand my faith because they saw a special on TV once drive me crazy.
    For the most part, I shy away from other faith traditions because I assume that their traditions run as deep as mine. However, there is one sense in which I delve into another tradition without guilt -- when I approach that tradition as historical precedent to my own. For example, I feel quite free to immerse myself in Judaism -- not as a Jew -- but as a member of a faith that began in that stream and separated later. In that sense, I see Judaism as part of who I am, and feel free to explore our common history. I feel something similar with Catholicism and Orthodoxy. But I am considerably more circumspect when I approach, say, Hinduism or Buddhism.
  • CameronCameron Shipmate
    ECraigR wrote: »
    I’m Anglo-Catholic as well and try to read broadly around in religion. Much of this exploration has resulted in what I’d say are beliefs and practices informed by other traditions, although I try to make sure that I keep focused on Christ.
    [snip]

    That’s helpful, thank you - I think the adoption of new practices while maintaining a Christian focus is zone of exploration that I am wandering into. As you mention later, sometimes this is straightforward and sometimes a more complex dialogue.
    ECraigR wrote: »
    I went through a period where I was deeply interested in Islam and many of its prayer practices I adopted or used to inform my own, such as the practice of prayer.

    I find this intriguing - might you say more, if you are comfortable doing so?
    Simon Toad wrote: »
    I've had encounters with other Christian traditions - Chalcedonian and non-Chalcedonian Orthodoxy, Anglicanism and Reformed Protestant traditions. My background is childhood Catholicism - beastly careless - personal disintegration - reformed Protestant - Anglican/Catholic - Catholic.
    [snip]
    Judaism is so 'other' and yet so familiar too, for example in the way people act at Synagogue and at Church, the rhythms of worship. I feel I might have unfinished business there.

    Thanks for sharing your journey - I have to confess I have never been to a synagogue during worship, so I probably have a host of assumptions there.
    tclune wrote: »
    I may be reading too much into "in a constructive way," but I imagine that your concern is to differentiate engagement from cultural appropriation. If so, I can appreciate the worry in at least one sense -- it has taken me a lifetime to formulate an understanding of my own faith, and my efforts are far from complete. People from different (or no) faith traditions who think that they understand my faith because they saw a special on TV once drive me crazy.
    [snip]
    Yes, cultural appropriation is a concern; but to be honest I was also concerned not to open up a right/wrong argument between those from different faith traditions (and/or non-faith traditions). I thought an ‘appreciative inquiry’ frame might help to prevent that.

    Nevertheless I do very much agree with the problem of assumed understanding after little experience and your caution when engaging with traditions that seem more culturally distant. When I was starting out on my career (it feels like about 100 years ago...) I shared a rented house in west London with Hindu friends for a couple of years. I got the chance to participate in some traditions, but I do not feel that I understood them.
  • MoyessaMoyessa Shipmate
    I love to see this kind of open-mindedness. I recently became aware of an Islamic reception & discussion with the photographer of the Shroud of Turin, Barry Schworz.

    It was beautiful to see what I perceive as "Christian spirit" between both "sides".
    It really was not about "sides", but about open-ness to the glory of God.
  • One of the things I like about the Ship is the number of views expressed which differ from my own. Considering an alternative makes me think more about what I do believe which either leads to affirming it with reason or changing my mind completely or (usually) something in between. If I do disagree with someone working out why is an important part of developing my own beliefs. I sincerely hope that I am open-minded enough for this to be true every time although I suspect that I fall down sometimes.

    Beyond the Ship it's the same whenever I come across anyone who sees something differently to me. This can be professionally, spiritually, morally, politically or anything else. Again my thoughts/beliefs are re-enforced or changed.

    So I welcome any opportunity to see another view. And I am reminded that the other person's opinion is as valid to them as mine is to me and the way to get on is not to bash them on the head with my own views but to live my beliefs and let them live theirs.

    Please feel free to disagree with me.
  • MoyessaMoyessa Shipmate
    The Rogue wrote: »
    One of the things I like about the Ship is the number of views expressed which differ from my own. Considering an alternative makes me think more about what I do believe which either leads to affirming it with reason or changing my mind completely or (usually) something in between. If I do disagree with someone working out why is an important part of developing my own beliefs. I sincerely hope that I am open-minded enough for this to be true every time although I suspect that I fall down sometimes.

    Beyond the Ship it's the same whenever I come across anyone who sees something differently to me. This can be professionally, spiritually, morally, politically or anything else. Again my thoughts/beliefs are re-enforced or changed.

    So I welcome any opportunity to see another view. And I am reminded that the other person's opinion is as valid to them as mine is to me and the way to get on is not to bash them on the head with my own views but to live my beliefs and let them live theirs.

    Please feel free to disagree with me.

    Sounds very healthy to me. I agree totally.
  • Christianity, at its roots, was constantly in dialogue with other faith traditions. The worldview we see in Paul is informed by Hellenistic religion in general where Judaism, Greek paganism, and other traditions were interacting for a while. Then as the Church fathers turn to explanations of the faith, they increasingly mine concepts from Neoplatonism and stoicism. St Gregory of Nyssa calls this "plundering the Egyptians' wealth" (in reference to Exodus). St Basil the Great delivered an oration on Greek literature, exhorting Christians to profit from critical readings of pagan texts.

    While there are important differences between Buddhism and Christianity, I find that Buddhist concepts such as non-self and impermanence can be helpful supplements to thinking apophatically about theology and also recognizing the inconsequentiality of many things we erroneously hold dear. The allegory of Indra's Net prepared me to better understanding the sublime meditations of St Maximus the Confessor on the interpenetration of all phenomena and similar thoughts by Thomas Traherne. The Pure Land school's understanding of "other power" salvation, combined with Buddha nature, helps me understand better Christian ideas of salvation by faith, recapitulational Christology, etc.

    Overall learning about other religions is a lot like learning the grammar of a foreign language, in that it can help you better understanding how your own language works.
  • Regarding cultural appropriation, I generally regard it as a pretty ridiculous concept. There are exceptions- for instance, white rock musicians getting filthy rich from music created by black musicians who remain in obscurity. But borrowing and mixing cultural expressions is what humans do. Buddhism was seen as pretty weird when it first arrived in China.
  • CameronCameron Shipmate
    I think the definition of the concept of cultural appropriation on the (inevitable) wikipedia page holds water:

    “...cultural appropriation differs from acculturation, assimilation, or equal cultural exchange in that this appropriation is a form of colonialism: cultural elements are copied from a minority culture by members of a dominant culture, and these elements are used outside of their original cultural context—sometimes even against the expressly stated wishes of members of the originating culture.”

    The issue, as defined, is a current concern for indigenous peoples in (for example): Australia, New Zealand, North America.

  • Again, I can see instances where there is an oppressive colonial context to it. Like white rock stars profiting off of black music, there are clearly instances where white appropriation of aboriginal culture reflects an underlying oppression. When we are talking about non-Christian religions, though, we are generally talking about very widespread traditions that are open to sharing their ideas and practices with others with varying degrees of missionary zeal. And the problem with "expressly stated wishes of members" is that in any large group the wishes of members will widely vary. A couple years ago there was a minor controversy over a white American teen who wore a qipao prom dress. Some Chinese-Americans saw it on social media and got all worked up about the "cultural appropriation" ("My culture is not your prom dress!") But then a bunch of Chinese in the PRC chimed in and said they thought it was awesome, and pointed out that Chinese culture has always had the attitude that others should imitate it. (And of course the qipao actually comes from Manchu culture).
  • Chinese in China are not subject to the same oppressions that the east Asians in the west are. So the view is different in the east and the west.
    There is nothing ridiculous about the concept of cultural appropriation. Cultures exchange with each other, appropriation is when the exchange is far from even. Not a difficult concept.
  • SirPalomidesSirPalomides Shipmate
    edited November 11
    A white girl wearing qipao to a prom is not thereby oppressing anyone or benefiting from anyone's oppression. It is fitting for the barbarians to mimic civilized customs.
  • lilbuddha wrote: »
    Chinese in China are not subject to the same oppressions that the east Asians in the west are. So the view is different in the east and the west.
    There is nothing ridiculous about the concept of cultural appropriation. Cultures exchange with each other, appropriation is when the exchange is far from even. Not a difficult concept.

    A Chinese person said to me that it is a great honour to see a non-Chinese person choosing to wear traditional clothing and taking delight in its beauty.

    You might think the concept is easy, but not everyone sees it the same. Where some see a lopsided cultural exchange, others see an innocent appreciation of other people's cultural clothing because it looks good.
  • CameronCameron Shipmate
    On the subject of equal exchange and a bit closer to the initial post, I have just stumbled upon a subtle piece on the UK Jesuit website, entitled Can a Muslim and Christian pray together?

    It concludes that:

    “One should not hinder a Christian who is exploring with Muslims the togetherness in prayer. And, conversely, one should not impede a Muslim who is exploring this self-same togetherness in prayer with Christians.”

    The whole short piece is worth a read, I think - it does not overlook difference yet builds on commonalities.

  • Cameron wrote: »
    I think the definition of the concept of cultural appropriation on the (inevitable) wikipedia page holds water:

    “...cultural appropriation differs from acculturation, assimilation, or equal cultural exchange in that this appropriation is a form of colonialism: cultural elements are copied from a minority culture by members of a dominant culture, and these elements are used outside of their original cultural context—sometimes even against the expressly stated wishes of members of the originating culture.”

    The issue, as defined, is a current concern for indigenous peoples in (for example): Australia, New Zealand, North America.

    If I might give an admittedly simplistic example of what I think the difference is between assimilation and appropriation. Assimilation is when a white Australian understands that Uluru is a sacred site. Appropriation is when a white Australian ignores the wishes of the aboriginal people and climbs up it.
  • GalilitGalilit Shipmate
    It was (hopefully) a "one-off" but apparently there was a massive prayer meeting in Christchurch's Hagley Park after the mosque massacres with "thousands" attending - presumably Christians, Muslims, others, and nones. A friend was there and said it was amazing praying the rosary next to a Muslim woman on her mat.
    I'd have loved it!
  • If one accepts that atheism (as opposed to agnosticism) is a belief/faith and has a history/tradition, then I suppose my encounter with Numenism counts.

    Numenism is a variety of animism (the differences are significant but not particularly important) and is something of a New-Age belief, albeit it's also at the heart of Shinto.

    It hasn't altered my practise at all (I have none) but it has given me a way of understanding what I feel when in beautiful parts of nature. Those feelings of peace and awe tend to be contrary to the materialism of atheist belief and while numenism makes no rational sense I've concluded that I don't have to take a wholly rational approach to understanding my surroundings and my response to them. I also take something from Shinto's reverence for nature and natural forms and its emphasis on doing things slowly.

    Along the way it's also made me realise that atheism includes a much greater breadth of belief than I ever thought and is not a good descriptor of belief.

    Is it cultural appropriation? Well, I don't have my own Torii or any rituals from Shinto or anything else and since Shinto and Numenism are grounded in nature and nature is everywhere it's more of a shared perspective.
  • There are still some Torii in Taiwan from when Japan occupied them and tried to make the inhabitants Japanese.
  • There are still some Torii in Taiwan from when Japan occupied them and tried to make the inhabitants Japanese.

    Interesting. I didn't know Taiwan was a Japanese colony. It has to be said that Shinto hasn't always made the Japanese behave well but I suppose their colonial activities were only what the rest of us practised.
  • CameronCameron Shipmate
    @Colin Smith

    Thank you for the comments on numenism. It seems to describe impressions I sometimes have too, and your account of it is (it seems to me) both thoughtfully reflective and thought-provoking. I mean the latter point particularly in relation to elements of belief that may be shared (perhaps in different terms) quite widely, and thus not necessarily distinctive to a particular culture.
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