Mattaman McKearnee
March 11, 2010
Graduate School Decision Update (Revised)
March 12, 2010

Many of you are sick and tired of hearing me rant about ecumenism.

Sorry, I’m not quite done yet.

I’ve uncovered a problem lately with how people term “interreligious dialogue.” I would rather not use this particular phrase, mostly because it’s a mouthful. Couldn’t “ecumenism” work just as well in its place?

So I thought when preparing my applications to Harvard and Yale. My understanding of ecumenism was simply dialogue—from Christian denomination to denomination, or among vastly different world religions. I have since been theologically slapped.

You see, there’s a difference between ecumenism and pluralism. I’ve stumbled across other terms (like henofideism, but we won’t get into that), though I’m starting to wonder if we’re over-complicating things. Isn’t dialogue dialogue?

Ecumenism, or in Greek, οἰκουμένη, literally means, “the inhabited world.” The implication of oneness here is exactly what I’m after, hence my rabid voicing of dialogue modes and methods in my statements of purpose for Harvard and Yale. But in the academic sphere, if nowhere else, ecumenism doesn’t fit everything.

Pluralism, given great attention by the eminent John Hicks in the late ’80s, has come to exist in contrast to ecumenism. Christian denominations have appropriated the Greek “inhabited world,” while pluralism recognizes the potential truth in all the world’s religions.

But let me be clear about this: Not a one of these terms, as used today, suggests we should endeavor to experience religions across definitions. Pluralism seems to suggest an observation of the manifold forms of religion (necessary, but not far enough), while ecumenism keeps us in the Christian fold.

The reason I chose the word “ecumenism,” while possibly anathema to detailed- and definition-oriented academics, was because of its original meaning: “the inhabited world.” The implication here is that all are involved, not only in the practice of religion, but in the practice of dialogue.

Admittedly, I have yet to read Hick’s “Interpretation of Religion.” That’s my next task, after I process a stack of essays on ethics and morality across religions. Still, I have glimpsed what it’s about, and I am familiar enough with the academic voice to know how it’s being absorbed and used by academics.

Ironically, my model for dialogue, while most certainly not perfect, demands a sensitivity to the expressions of faith in language. How fitting that the start of that conversation begins with what we call this whole business: Interrelgious dialogue? Pluralism? Ecumenism?

For now, I’ll continue to use “interreligious dialogue,” not because it’s particular catchy, but because it sets itself as different from academic pluralism and limited Christian ecumenism. It doesn’t erase the problem, though: We’re getting too caught up in language here, aren’t we?

1 Comment

  1. Jake says:

    If you make it complicated, none will listen.

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