Petter Ochs “Comparative Religious Traditions”
Ochs in this brief but very interesting paper provides suggestion of what a post-modern approach to religious studies might be like and offers to me a lot of hope that my view of approaching the inquiry of religious traditions is not singular. I have been very perplexed by the as Ochs calls it “colonial” approach in religious studies of observing religions and traditions in a sometimes disrespectful way. Starting with an atheist approach we observe practices from the perspective that they are simple sociological phenomena. I tend to approach religious beliefs and practices with deep curiosity and my inquiry in any and every tradition I come in contact with centers around the idea and concept of how this tradition is teaching the concepts of God, the soul, life after death (if applicable) and what spiritual experiences and advancements it offers to these people it attracts. I come from a perspective that there is something out there, the name of which seems irrelevant to me. I do like to say that if the word “God” for some reason carries a heaviness to it we can call it bubblegum, and I have a very interesting client who once told me there is a bubblegum called “Big Bubble” and he would like to use that to refer to God and asked me to use it as well, which of course I happily obliged.
Ochs in this paper suggests that we use the tools of scientific inquiry, a practice of thick description, comparison and reflection of how we have come to these [traditions of religious practices that we study] as a way to in fact study was has traditionally been called theology, ie these traditions. He proposes that religious studies can form a platform for an impartial space where dialogue between religions can be opened: (1) provide a dialogue forum, (2) desist from comparison, (3) provide more courses that highlight how academic inquiry serves these, and (4) consider the complex relations of the Abrahamic traditions. It is time to leave the heavy colonialist background to the past.