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18 March 2021

Unsettling Otherness – Theopoetics and the future of interreligious encounter

Online Mini Conference on Theopoetics and Interreligious Encounter

On February 26, the LSRS and the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam/Mennonite Seminary co-hosted an online conversation on the relevance of “theopoetics” for questions of interreligious encounter and relations. Under the title “Unsettling Otherness: Theopoetics and the future of interreligious encounter,” the mini conference brought together international scholars of renown: Catherine Keller (Drew University, USA), Laura Schmidt Roberts (Fresno Pacific University, USA), and Paul Hedges (S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Singapore). After a word of welcome by Jean Ehret (LSRS) and Fernando Enns (VU), the mini conference was moderated by Prof. Chris Doude van Troostwijk (LSRS/VU).

The event took place on the occasion of the publication of the new book Theopoetics and Religious Difference by Marius van Hoogstraten (VU), in which he argues that the “interreligious” is less clear-cut than is typically assumed but marked by an unruliness that can be a threat to settled certainties. However, this unruliness can also open radically new possibilities of togetherness. Van Hoogstraten therefore concludes that “theopoetics,” an approach or style in Anglophone theology that favors critical unknowing, poetic language, and a welcoming of the unexpected, is especially suited to enable the embrace this unruliness, and thus can prove especially salutary for understanding interreligious relations.

In the conversation that followed, the theopoetic emphasis on the affirmation of relations and the need for the practical work of building such relations was highlighted. Keller also argued for the need for interreligious relations to work together in the face of the impending climate catastrophe. Hedges suggested the need for some sense of fixed community and “home,” and wondered whether Van Hoogstraten’s style of theopoetics, which is especially influenced by deconstruction, may also be supplemented by a more affirmative understanding of identity. Schmidt Roberts stressed the importance of communal spirituality in underpinning the work of building relations.

The mini conference’s nature as an online event meant speakers and participants were able to join from vastly different time zones, ranging from the early morning in California to nearly midnight in Singapore. While somewhat unusual in this respect, it was a valuable opportunity to bring together scholars from such widely different contexts without further endangering the climate through air traffic. Still, the opportunity for a drink and dinner afterwards was sorely missed.

Dr. Marius van Hoogstraten, Mennonite Seminary / Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

Bibliographical information

Marius van Hoogstraten, Theopoetics and Religious Difference: The Unruliness of the Interreligious: A Dialogue with Richard Kearney, John D. Caputo, and Catherine Keller, Mohr Siebeck, 2020.

The main contributions of Keller, Schmidt Roberts, and Hedges, along with Van Hoogstraten’s introduction, can be watched here:

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