Kurt Anders Richardson, Boston University
General Editor, Journal for Scriptural Reasoning
The Journal for the Society of Scriptural Reasoning has begun to appear after six years of the AAR-based society after which it is named. As convener of that society but immensely indebted to its extraordinary scholars and theologians, it has been the greatest joy of my practice of theology, the `joyful science’—as Barth wrested this expression from Nietzsche—to participate with fellow theologians of the Abrahamic communities of faith in the common task of pondering the living traditions. As `scriptural reasoners’ we have come to express what we are after in the following statement offered to the society a few years ago:
A network of Jewish, Christian and Muslim scholars promoting religious readings of their scriptures within the Academy. We work with an understanding that the Abrahamic religions share a common habitus : the reading of scripture—however diverse our traditions and theologies. This scriptural reasoning network functions to draw theology and religion scholars into an interfacing conversation where the richness and depths of the diverse readings can be better uncovered and made more explicit. A unique kind of religious reasoning has begun to emerge: a `voicing’ out of the reading/hearing of the divine voice of scripture.
What is particularly unique about this habitus is the full religiousness of it without abandoning the scholarly rules of the academy at least as we see them. Various modes of theology have always been practiced within the academy, but in the modern era, only after a great deal of bracketing out of religious experience and commitment. A number of movements very recently have attempted to open theology back up as a vital discipline practiced within the academy, but still, or so we sense, not fully reflective of religious perception. This is where scriptural reasoning endeavors to make its contribution.
Witnessing, together with so many in the academy, the demise of the secularist theses which once announced the demise of religion in the evolution of culture or at least, that the best interests of public life and the academy are served by the categorical bracketing out of religious commitment, the Society is endeavoring to fulfill at least a couple very important goals: 1) to encourage the continuing but ancient practice of the intellectual interpretive tradition of the Abrahamic religions within the academic setting and 2) to demonstrate to the Abrahamic religions that the academy can afford a place for them to do theology on their own terms while listening respectfully to the theologizing of their colleagues from one or the other of the traditions. Now there is no doubt that scriptural reasoning could be practiced much more broadly, there could be a society that is virtually unbounded with respect to its inclusion of all scripture- based religions and their interpretive traditions. In our case, however, it is believed that a kind of `abrahamic project’ has some unique advantages and performs some unique services which can be achieved only with this specific arrangement: Jewish, Christian and Muslim theologians doing their theology not so much for the other as with regard to the other. It is as if we are allowed to `over-hear’ each other as we expound upon holy lives, holy subjects and holy texts that are often quite familiar to all of us. Indeed, we are left with a conviction in the form of a question: How can some of our respective theologizing at some point not include this type? Of course the theologies of the Abrahamic religions have always been doing this at a distance from each another, now we in the society are attempting it in closer proximity and are beginning to reap the benefit of greater sophistication in interpretation, and indeed, greater mutual sensitivity.
This second issue of the Journal for Scriptural Reasoning offers a breakthrough in the interpretive practice of the society: a hermeneutic of scriptural reasoning. Meta-reflection naturally arises from this habitus of interpretation. The Society is producing an emergent tradition of scripture interpretation, but how is it doing so? As above, `scriptural reasoning’ is characterized by a mutual engagement of theologians from these religions with respect to holy lives, holy subjects, holy texts, the Holy God, whose testimonies are embodied in each of the respective scriptures. That the history of interpretation within each of these separate traditions reveals centuries of acute awareness of the other two traditions, and indeed, of interpretations of the Other goes hardly without saying. Indeed, there have been historic encounters throughout the history of these three traditions. Very early `SSR-like’ interactions appeared, as in that presented in the The Epistle of Barnabas, Dialogue with Trypho , the dialogues of Raimondo Lull, or the dialogues of Imam Ali. In many of the theological encounters there are at least three moments of religious reasoning: the interpretive moment where rival claims concerning the great prophets and their writings are discussed; the critical moment when a rival revelation is argued for by one of the participants; and a hermeneutical moment when common philosophical issues regarding the practice of interpretation and its relationship to the world is discussed. In this issue, we begin to concentrate on this last point: the hermeneutics of scriptural reasoning. This is what our colleague, Peter Ochs has done masterfully in the core article of this issue `The Rules of Scriptural Reasoning’ . His critically rich insights have engendered much further reflection from a number of eminent colleagues. We invite you into this first of what we hope will be regular issues that place hermeneutical reflection next to scriptural reasoning.
One of the contentions of Ochs’ article is that scriptural reasoning arose out of the failures of the projects of modernity: the attempted bracketing out of the religious to advance social harmony attended the perpetration of the worst kinds of social collapse and human suffering. A profound healing is required and rigorous attention to scripture is one way in which this healing can take place. To the extent that the modern tragedy is rooted in this cultural travesty, the healing cannot come through pre-critical or critical hermeneutics. Indeed, these were the hermeneutical standpoints that failed so miserably in the last century. Traditional forms of rationality, pre-modern and modern, failed to bring restraint of the horrific powers that brought the tragedies and have failed to bring the requisite healing in their aftermath. Peter’s article instead represents a search for modes of rationality that can furnish this restraint and supply the healing which are so necessary to human flourishing. The failures of rational intellect before the passions of modernity require a corrective and Peter’s is a unique contribution toward this end.
Correctives in human life and practice of course are never one-time events; some new fruitful branching of the cultural dialectic of intellection and action is required. At this time, each of our respective religions is beset with a burden of religious renewal and correction. Within Islam, it is now necessary to distinguish between `true Islam’ , a religion of peace, from that which, for the overwhelming majority of global Islam, is not so true, radically violent practice in the name of Islam. Judaism or Christianity, each in its own way, wherever it touches the political and the powerful, is struggling to distinguish the true from that which is not. A great deal in the way of correction and healing is at stake and we are all taking this burden with much greater seriousness. Indeed, in the near future, the society will be dealing with matters of the political readings of the Abrahamic scriptures. In order to bear the burden fruitfully, we will require something like the critical modification of religious reasoning, rather than the critical self-elimination of the religious self. Indeed, we will require nothing short of listening to the voice of God in scripture. What scriptural reasoning attempts to do is to take the substantiation that comes from all reflective acts and de-centers them from the self in order to receive the self as it more truly is, a being on the way, where the dynamics of life admit no center. Indeed, the center that is lacking is God, but since no one or no community can stand in that place, it remains empty for God’s sake. In order to do this continuously, the society affords some space and collegiality where the reflective self becomes a reader and a discussant together with other readers, of immensely rich texts whose practical limits are temporal and spatial but whose horizons and God are boundless. When the human becomes de-centered, it becomes de-divinized, and necessarily so. The best that we can do is to exercise the mercy of self-correction and healing. The scriptures become markers of the de-divinization of the human. They are the bounded set whose greatest passion is to break this boundary and to break in on the boundaries of the self and the community it constitutes, to circumscribe, correct and heal them. When this happens to any one or hopefully all of the Abrahamic communities, perhaps whatever they have received from God as they know God, will become a matter of mutual giving and receiving in healing.
© 2002, Society for Scriptural Reasoning