Journal Article

Comparing Professors Smith and Tillich: A Response to Jonathan Z. Smith's “Tillich(’s) Remains”

John J. Thatamanil

in Journal of the American Academy of Religion

Published on behalf of American Academy of Religion

Volume 78, issue 4, pages 1171-1181
Published in print December 2010 | ISSN: 0002-7189
Published online December 2010 | e-ISSN: 1477-4585 | DOI:
Comparing Professors Smith and Tillich: A Response to Jonathan Z. Smith's “Tillich(’s) Remains”

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In “Tillich(’s) Remains,” Smith offers a shrewd reading of how a loose Tillichianism permeates AAR deployments of the category religion. In so doing, Smith continues his meticulous labors in tracing how we—and here the “we” in question are AAR scholars and perhaps even North American scholars of religion more generally—have come to think of religion as we now do. Smith in fact shares with Tillich an appreciation for the significance of history for the study of religion, and a keen sense of the limitations of phenomenology. This kinship should remind religionists that there is little reason to insist on an artificial and nonporous wall of separation between theology and religious studies. Furthermore, while theological activity can profit when subjected to anthropological scrutiny and secular critique, theology can make possible what theory of religion cannot. A theologically invested reading of other traditions—one that robustly engages the truth claims of those traditions—will take them more seriously than an instrumental reading of those traditions performed in service of building and refining extrinsic and non-native theories and categories. Such a theological approach can thereby destabilize positions of power and privilege that theoreticians grant themselves. For example, a theologically interested reading of the history of religions makes it possible for us to hear the ideas of Asian thinkers as important in their own right, able to talk back as peers and co-equal interlocutors, and not merely as objects of our theoretical and ethnographic gaze. In this way scholarship can learn from both Smith and Tillich.

Journal Article.  3952 words. 

Subjects: Religious Studies

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