Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Barth Conference Day 3: Mid-day Update

I missed Katherine Sonderegger’s session this morning because I was at my son’s 9-month doctor visit, but it must have been good since the Q & A went about 15 minutes over the allotted time. So, her paper will be something in particular to look forward to when the volume from this conference finally hits the shelves. The second session this morning was by Richard Fox Young, a professor of the history of religions here at Princeton Theological Seminary, and opened with some personal reflections on his early interaction with Barth’s thought. Some of this reflection centered on Young’s time in India, where an Irish Presbyterian rekindled his interest in Barth. In general, Young seems to see some development in Barth on the topic of religion, contrasting what Barth had to say in §17 with some later statements in Barth’s Gesprache (part of the Gesamtausgabe). For a fuller account you will, as with Sonderegger, want to consult the published volume when it becomes available.

Young distributed a handout with a number of quotes reflecting on Barth from a number of personages with which he engaged. Here are the first two, which form a nice pair. The first is an anecdote from a Sri Lankan Tamil thinker, and the second explains what Barth was on about in this anecdote, although not addressing this episode in particular (at least as far as I know).

Daniel Thambirajah Niles, “Karl Barth—A Personal Memory,” The Journal of South East Asia Theology 11 (Autumn, 1969): 10-11.
I can recall one item of conversation in this first meeting [in Basel, 1935] which may be of some interest. Barth talked to me about our Christian communities in Asia living in the midst of men of other faith. In the course of the conversation, he said, “Other religions are just unbelief.” I remember replying with the question, “How many Hindus, Dr. Barth, have you met?” He answered, “No one.” I said, “How then do you know that Hinduism is unbelief?” He said, “A priori.” I simply shook my head and smiled.
David Lochhead, The Dialogical Imperative: A Christian Reflection on Interfaith Encounter (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1988): 34.
Barth’s judgment is not about Hinduism but about ‘Religion.’ It applies to Christianity as much as it does to Hinduism and has nothing to do with whether or not there are godly or saintly individuals who are Christians, Hindus, Muslims, or anything else. The point is not an empirical one but a theological judgment about all human activity.

2 comments:

dguretzki said...

Thanks for the updates, Travis. I wish I could be there, but other priorities in life have prevented me this year.
David Guretzki

WTM said...

David,

It would be great to have you here, but of course there are any number of things that could take priority over a Barth Conference. ;-) The conference isn't as big this year as the past couple years, but its still a good size and we've been having some good conversations.

Coincidently, I saw that your Barth and the filioque volume is to be published soon. Congratz! I'm looking forward to reading it.