Even though I have been saving my first “middle-hand path” post for something a bit more seminal and descriptive; an intuitive inclination lead me to a comment on a common social-narrative I have had to deal with since my starting-days in the academic field of Religious Studies; namely to rectify a confusion of referring to me as a Theologian due to my involvement in Religious Studies.
Contextually I would not say that this is necessarily a problem all Religious Studies scholars experience, and I hint that this is more the case in countries with lesser developed academic cultures or slow-progressive world-views. Okay, I guess I am peeved that after about 10 years, the ignorance generally still runs high in South Africa… and to make matters even more curious, the assumptions of my so-called Theological nature, come from Theologians, students of Theology, and people who don’t know that Religious Studies is a stand-alone (Human Sciences) field of research and practice – more a keen to Philosophy, Sociology, Anthropology, yada yada, with its own rich modern history.
This post is firstly a complaint (simply as a means to vent), and secondly to arouse some insight into difference, and thirdly to announce what I prefer to associate with (namely the Religiosophologist – which I will explain shortly).
First, my complaint. It is not once nor twice, that a person (be she/he – mostly ‘she’s’) delightfully considered me to a Theologian just because I responded to the “what do you study?” with a “Religious Studies” on which the reply often is “fantastic, you should join our mission… who is your missionary leader or with which cell group are you?”. If I were a blatant a-religionist I would not respond kindly to such assumptions (not to mention the blatant expectation that I will start brandishing Jerusalem-Cruiser sandals, a tucked plead shirt, and arms akimbo – with the ever present phantom Bible waiting to slip into the folds of my arms – naturally, I merely kid about these stereotypes). If anything, mostly from my supposed ‘Buddhist’ comportment, I listen to the person conversing over me, and respond with critical kindness. I think my role here is mostly to inject a sense of question behind the abject blind and often righteous purpose that drives most Theological attitudes (specifically pointing to Missionary science and Abrahamic-centred socio-cognitive paradigms). I do smile with sincerity when Theology scholars approach me with the honorific “Man of God” or “Child of Jesus” and some such lifted-titles. I do not take entire offence to such honors,,, after all, these are merely incited insights albeit ignorant of the person who I am and my own religious and secular history; I rather see such assumptions as a bit of divine-pride that lacks critical thinking and a broadening perception of the world lived in (really asking, where is the essence of your contemplative life at?)
Others who I come into conversation with, be it at a party, or inter-disciplinarily, also often have the assumption that I am a Theologian when asking me the cliché “what do you do?” and I respond with, “I am a Religious Studies scholar”. This has consequently lead me to suffix a few conditioned responses, like the negative particle “but I am not a theologian” or a more positive particle “I specialise in Contemplative Practices,,, Buddhism,,, Mysticism,,, the Occult,,,). At this point I reckon it needed to clarify that the science of Theology is not bound to Christianity (it has its Islamic and Judaic contingency) and does investigate phenomena of religious experience par excellence – but it is often and mostly done so from a Christo-centric worldview. Where Religious Studies or Religion Studies leans more toward the Humanities Qualitative/Quantitative approaches to the study of religion (be it from a philosophical, psychological, sociological,,, perspective) and it is by no means bound to Christianity or any Theological worldview.
So a response I have been playing around with more recently is something closer to a vocation I can resonate with. A technical neologism I have recently adapted is the word Religiosophologist, roughly constructed of ‘religio-‘ (as a recollective return to,,, or a bringing back over – which I associate with the practice/ritual of repetition), and -sophology (being the study of wisdom); together this word roughly translates as the study of religious wisdom – which may also indicate a favour to the practices that generate gnostic / mystic insight. Yet, from a Buddhist standpoint, my intention is not to get lost in flowery poetics, but to be elucidate the essence beneath the romantic appeal of the mystical and gnostic, later to be naturally born in the flowery poetics (simply as a means to communicate wisdom). I could have gone with Religiosopher or Religiosophist, but both these titles create too much of a fixed elevated identity, I feel that religiosophologist calls on a vocation, it is a process, and I am merely in communion with this process. Okay this said, when people hear me refer to myself in such an otherwise abstract amalgamation of words, I am often faced with looks of confusion or laissez faire. Naturally this can spin off into a bit more explanation – a responsibility I am willing to accept – one that comes with an intention to dispel ignorance – the responsibility of an educator – not to convince, but to guide towards an enlightenment and illumination. And, it becomes fairly straight forward to explain away the assumption of being accused of Theology, when you recognise your own “calling” into a meta-sphere of vast and differing (often seemingly contradictory) realities, that I basically chose to learn, contemplate, and integrate the wisdom found in religion – which is by no means designated to a Religious Birthday Suit – the birthday suit is fantastically naked, fresh, and salient without the often confusing additional layers of religiosity.
Taking on a beacon of difference (contra Theologian – and even that of the astute traditional Religious Studies scholar), the religiosophologist is also a pseudonym for the fantasy-fiction benched “wizard” (wise one, adviser). I have used this reference several times before, and it sits quite nicely in my being, but does not often taste of seriousness in the mouths of others,,, although they quickly notice that my own absurd-seriousness of the matter seems either like madness or a concerted presence of insight into a very different reality of reality. Here I take the stand that I acknowledge the limits of the philosophical world-views we hold to or use to picture our reality,,, it is simply not enough, and creates merely another layer of ignorance – which consequently clouds the means in which we communicate (directly) with each other and our lifeworlds. The insult of being called a Theologian is contextually bound to an ignorant assumption that I limit myself to a religious belief, but its compliment comes from a co-mutual acknowledgment that I do not bind myself to a life of mundanity or superficial things alone (but respect depth and the contemplative) – this is the challenge of opening perceptions along with one’s own and not believing that one’s answer is alone the answer… I guess, this is the foundation of a good spiritual-philosophical practice, to try and test even the perceptions we feel good with, and those we feel averted to.
Maybe this post becomes a call to reconsider what a Theologian supposedly is, the underlying constructs of the vocations we identify with, and simply to question / learn / listen a bit more widely before jumping to conclusions. In fact, what is a Theological practice (and any practice for that matter – be it political, economical, or even casual lifeworld interaction) if it does not bear a sincere contemplative practice – to churn on the choices we make around who we think we are, the thought-constructs that paint our perceptions, and impressive cloaks we bear to differentiate ourselves or associate ourselves. I do not necessarily have to use any vocational title to express my mode of being, but I have come to realise that as a means to communicate insight, a superficial linguistic offers a means to filter insight forming conditions in the world around us.
That’s it… please comment if you have some cents and sense to share.
Be blessed as you already are.