Michael Amaladoss – « Peoples’ Theology in multireligious communities »

Culture or Religion

A distinction that may be interesting when we approach such wisdom traditions in Asia and elsewhere, is that they may be more cultural than religious. For example, in the Bible the wisdom books have a special status when compared to the historical and prophetic books.  They are not as revelatory as the prophetic and historical books.  As I have said earlier, some of the material in the wisdom books may have been borrowed from other religio-cultural communities in the Middle East.  The Jews had a special revelation. But they did not need to abandon the wisdom tradition that is a patrimony which they share with other communities in the same cultural area.  When reading and interpreting them they may be influenced by the historical revealed material. But they have an authoritative standing on their own.  

In the Tamil Indian tradition, for example, to which I belong, some of the earliest literature are not particularly religious. They speak about love and war, social relationships and moral principles of life. They are not particularly Hindu or Jain or Buddhist.  A noted ethical work like Tirukkural (which I have quoted above) is not particularly religious. It is pure wisdom literature. We do not know the religious affiliation of the author. For that very reason he belongs to people of all religions.  The Upanishads, for example, are more philosophical than religious.  Some later Upanishads mention Shiva. But the earlier ones are deeply, but merely, reflective. Using modern terminology, we can say that they are more spiritual rather than religious. The advantage of such texts is that they can be adopted and used in multi-religious contexts.  Most peoples in the world have proverbs and stories that belong to their cultural rather than their religious tradition. Sometimes, they may even be longer epics that have more an ethical and mythical than a religious significance. Such wisdom literature can be considered a-religious or supra religious or cultural.                    

Interreligious collaboration

Before the Second Vatican Council the focus of mission was presenting the Church as the only way to salvation and ‘converting’ people to Christianity. The Council recognized good and holy elements also in other religions and promoted interreligious dialogue.  In the beginning such dialogue was seen as a preparation for mission and the focus was on intellectuals meeting together in the process of discovering the truth about God. In the recent years there has been a shift towards a search for justice, peace and harmony in society and to see how the different religions, inspired by their own perspectives and drawing from their own resources, can collaborate in promoting such common goals.  There is a recognition that in the contemporary world religions have also justified division and violence. In this context there is a search for mutual understanding, tolerance and acceptance leading to celebrating differences in a religiously pluralistic community. Interreligious celebration of socio-religious festivals and coming together to pray on the occasion of social conflicts or natural catastrophes are also found helpful. Such collaboration supposes the recognition of shared social and spiritual values that the different religions can promote together, whatever their differences at a strictly religious level.  One can consider this interreligious theologizing. A commitment to one God and to a need to build community based on common values like freedom, mutual respect and economic and social justice is normally accepted by all.

From the Church to the Kingdom

A positive appreciation of other religions as facilitating salvific divine-human encounter has led the Asian bishops and theologians to refocus the goal of mission, not as the Church, but as the Kingdom of God with the Church as its symbol and servant. The Council had already said: “The Church, endowed with the gifts of her founder and faithfully observing his precepts of charity, humility and self-denial, receives the mission of proclaiming and establishing among all peoples the kingdom of Christ and of God, and she is, on earth, the seed and the beginning of that kingdom.”[19]  St. John Paul II continued:

The Church is the sacrament of salvation for all mankind, and her activity is not limited only to those who accept her message.  She is a dynamic force in mankind’s journey toward the eschatological Kingdom, and is the sign and promoter of Gospel values (GS 39).  The Church contributes to mankind’s pilgrimage of conversion to God’s plan through her witness and through such activities as dialogue, human promotion, commitment to justice and peace, education and the care of the sick, and aid to the poor and to children.[20]

The Indonesian bishops voice briefly the Asian view: “Since in all religions and traditional religious beliefs the values of God’s Reign are found as fruits of the Spirit, to the extent that there is good will they all strive towards the coming of the Kingdom.”[21] It is common today in Asia to consider the members of the various religions as co-pilgrims marching towards the Kingdom of God.

By moving our focus from the Church to the Kingdom we are shifting our attention from a small institution to the wide universe under God, which includes not only the humans but also creation. The Church as the symbol and servant of the Kingdom does have a privileged place, but it is a humble one of being a servant.  It can only contemplate the universe in which God the Creator, the Word the Creator-Redeemer and the life-giving Spirit are present and active. It does not claim any role of mediation.  It respects the freedom of people and the work of God in them. All that it can claim is the special eye that its own experience in Christ is giving it.  But this eye is seeing, not itself, but “God all in all” (1 Cor 15:28), embracing all peoples, their cultures and religions. So talking of ‘People of God’ we move from a Christian to a human perspective. When the Church was identifying itself with the Kingdom it may have been tempted to downsize the Kingdom within its own limited space and perspective. Within the Church itself the ministers may have been occupying the centre.  Now the people are in the forefront. With their wisdom given to them by the Spirit and sharpened by the Gospel, they embrace all things and all peoples.

[19] Lumen Gentium, 5.

[20] The Mission of the Redeemer, 20. 

[21] Peter PHAN (ed), The Asian Synod. Texts and Commentaries. Maryknoll: Orbis Press, 2002p.26.


Michael Amaladoss, S.J., is the Director of the Institute of Dialogue with Cultures and Religions, a research institute recognized by the University of Madras, India. He has an STD from Paris and has taught in many theological centres in India, Asia, Europe and the USA. He has edited 9 books and is the author of 34 books and 480 articles. His main interests are Indian, interreligious and intercultural theology and South Indian Classical Music.

Address: Jesuit Residence, Loyola College, Nungambakkam, Chennai – 600054, India.