Pluralism is not enough.

In the throes of any struggle with diversity--whether religious, cultural, sexual or ecological--the mere affirmation of differences, of their reality and their rights, will be preferable to their denial. But the proliferation of difference under the protection of pluralism does not address the relations between the differences. Indeed the pluralism, as in the form of multiculturalism or interfaith dialogue, may stifle the very dynamism that gives rise to it. It may seal its specific plurality into a set of several self-enclosed unities. Concrete adjudications of difference within a warming and crowding planetarity push toward a more robust theory of the interconnectivity constitutive of a multiplicity.

For their part, a growing number of theologians are voicing commitment to a multiplicity conceived as an inherent value for any theory of deep relationality. They investigate theories of a many that does not equal several simple ones, but is rather comprised of a multiplicity of mutually enfolded differences. To move beyond the objectifying discourse of separate entities within bounded contexts, they often resort to experimental theopoetics. They may disclose an emergent theology of the manifold--as though the multiplicities comprising the universe unfold and enfold a divine multiplicity.

In Christianity the trinity has encrypted this insight, albeit trapped in the vestiges of a substance metaphysics that cannot "think the multiple as such" (Serres). Does any theology of the manifold need for its own fruition a theory of multiplicity--whose pli signifies "fold"-- as constitutive relationality? Do such theologies (and they will themselves be multiple) imply therefore a participatory rather than a separative pluralism? Through the philosophies of Whitehead and Deleuze, or in feminist and postcolonial theories, versions of such multiplicity seem already to be permeating emergent forms of religious thought.

If earlier movements of a liberal or progressive Christianity inevitably pitted themselves against the orthodoxies that restrained or repelled our multiplicity of voices, a theology of the manifold participates nonetheless in the whole contested history of doctrinal formation. This project therefore cannot be defined by a classical theistic construction of heresy; nor does it acquiesce in any single heterodoxy, formed as other to the sameness of orthodoxy. Therefore this colloquium will explore experimentally the figure of polydoxy. As a constructive methodological alternative, it supports neither the absolute of a reified orthodoxy nor the relativism of a mere many. Its manifold theology engages the internal multiplicity of the doctrinal heritage as well as its productive slippages and failures. It remains mindful of the toxic by-products of any doxic certainty. It attends to the semantics of doxa as "mere opinion", "appearance", "illusion", and "glory" inflecting the doxologies of Christian confession.

The constructive possibilities for such polydoxy are necessarily endless. In enfolding many teachings, from within and beyond the churches, it never presumes "right teaching" but seeks it, hoping to multiply right relations in thought and practice. The theopoetics of the manifold locates this colloquium at a tangled and promising juncture in religious thought and planetary life.



©2009 Drew University | Drew Transdisciplinary Theological Colloquium Series | Drew Theological School

Image, Reaching by Mary Hughes, used by permission.

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