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College of Arts and Sciences

Boston College Symposia on Interreligious Dialogue

2009 event

Second Boston College Symposium on Interreligious Dialogue, September 25-27, 2009


Plenary Address (Friday, september 25)

Understanding the Religious Other: Western Hermeneutics and Interreligious Dialogue

David Tracy, University of Chicago

September 25, 2009, 4 p.m.
Heights Room, Corcoran Commons


Catherine Keller, Drew University

Mark Heim, Andover Newton Theological School


This paper will address the difficult question of whether modern Western hermeneutics (especially those of Gadamer and Ricoeur) are helpful as heuristic guides for interreligious dialogues. The claim will be that Gadamer's model of conversation is indeed a helpful one and that Ricoeur's addition of explanatory methods and hermeneutics of retrieval and suspicion are also relevant.  However, I will also claim that there are serious limits to the present hermeneutic models:  namely Gadamer's idea of "fusion of horizons" and Ricoeur's notion of "appropriation."  These hermeneutic claims must be faced with the question of radical otherness. This was central in the exchange between Gadamer and Derrida as well as Ricoeur and Levinas. Clearly radical otherness and difference are present in interreligious dialogues. The question of otherness and difference in a context of a revised hermeneutics will be posed as a possible heuristic tool for interreligious and intercultural dialogues.

View video of this event

Dover Symposium (Saturday and Sunday, september 26-27) 

(By invitation only)

Interreligious Hermeneutics

The dialogue between religions presents various hermeneutical challenges.  On a purely epistemological level, it involves the question of mutual understanding or the degree to which individuals belonging to one religion can grasp the meaning of symbols, teachings and practices of another.  This question has been at the heart of the insider-outsider debate in the study of religions.  But it may be asked anew in the context of interreligious dialogue where religious presuppositions tend to be more deliberately engaged in the process of understanding.  How do religious beliefs and commitments shape one’s selective engagement with and understanding of the religious other?  What is the role of empathy in interreligious dialogue?  And would imperfect understanding of the other necessarily impede constructive dialogue?

Interreligious hermeneutics may also address the dynamics and the ethics of interreligious borrowing, of the appropriation and reinterpretation of particular religious texts, teachings and practices within different religious contexts.  The goal of interreligious dialogue is mutual fecundation and growth.  But in the process of learning from other religious traditions, symbols, teachings or practices often undergo subtle or more pronounced semantic shifts.  Is this to be regarded as an inevitable part of any constructive dialogue between religions, or as an illegitimate form of domestication of the religious other?  These and other pressing questions within the domain of interreligious hermeneutics will be the focus of this symposium.


Saturday, September 26
Werner Jeanrond, University of Glasgow
Reza Shah-Kazemi, Institute of Ismaili Studies, London
Ramprasad Chakravarthi, University of Lancaster
John Keenan, Middlebury College
Charles Hallisey, Harvard University
Joseph Prabhu, California State University
Henk Vroom, University of Amsterdam

Sunday, September 27

John Maraldo, University of North Florida
Ibrahim Kalin, Georgetown University
Laurie Patton, Emory University
Joseph O’Leary, Sophia University
David Eckel, Boston University

Organizing Committee: Catherine Cornille, Richard Kearney, James Morris, John Makransky and Ruth Langer

Note: Papers from this event have been published in Interreligious Hermeneutics, Catherine Cornille and Christopher Conway, eds. [Wipf & Stock Publishers, Eugene, OR, 2010)


Photos from the 2009 event in Dover

Symposia on Interreligious Dialogue

Werner Jeanrond, Anthony Godzieba, John Makransky, and Joseph Lumbard

Symposia on Interreligious Dialogue

Joseph O'Leary, John Maraldo, and Mark Heim

Symposia on Interreligious Dialogue

Richard Kearney and David Tracy

Symposia on Interreligious Dialogue

Laurie Patton speaking

Symposia on Interreligious Dialogue

Reza Shah-Kazemi and John Makransky

Symposia on Interreligious Dialogue

Catherine Cornille, John Keenan, and Perry Schmidt-Lenkel

Symposia on Interreligious Dialogue

Marianne Moyaert and Bagus Laksana

Symposia on Interreligious Dialogue

Catherine Cornille, Francis Clooney, Richard Kearney, and Joseph Prabhu

Symposia on Interreligious Dialogue

John Makransky, Charles Hallisey, Werner Jeanrond, and Glenn Willis