Even the Pagans Do That

Among the Gentiles
Greco-Roman Religion and Christianity
Luke Timothy Johnson
Yale University Press, $32.50, 460 pp.

At a recent meeting at Harvard Divinity School, I had occasion to give a general introduction to comparative theology, my field of study. I stressed the importance of belonging to a tradition and community, precisely as we strive to learn from another religion: the trick is to learn to think creatively across boundaries, yet within the bounds of belonging and believing in a specific way. A student came up to me afterward and thanked me for my presentation. She added, indicating the seriousness of her intent, that she would need to think through the communal and theological roots of her own religious tradition—paganism. We did not talk for long but, having met other pagan students in the Cambridge area, I quickly recognized that she is committed to a revival of ancient connectedness with nature, the cultivation of the energies of male and female creativity and sexuality, and the worship of deities who are immanent, gendered, and material. At the same time, she sees that this pagan tradition needs to refine its boundaries and distinctiveness in relation to other religions. So perhaps she and other young believers today indeed have much in common.

But paganism? Most theological reflection on dialogue focuses on relations among Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, the three religions taken to be Abrahamic and monotheistic—that is, nonpagan. Except in the most conservative circles, Christian dialogues with Hinduism and Buddhism also honor those religions as not-...

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About the Author

Francis X. Clooney, SJ, is Parkman Professor of Divinity at Harvard Divinity School.