Together with colleagues from three other institutions, Marlboro professors Amer Latif (religion) and William Edelglass (philosophy) have been awarded a $100,000 grant from the John Templeton Foundation to conduct research on religious understanding. Their cross-cultural inquiry will explore the interconnections between Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, and how the distinctive characteristics of religious understanding have responded to different time periods and contexts.
Amer and William will be focusing on Islam and Buddhism, respectively, collaborating with colleagues at Furman University, Johns Hopkins University, and the University of Hawaii over the next year. The project will culminate in a volume of their findings, shorter works sharing their work with a wider audience, and a weeklong workshop for advanced undergraduates held at Marlboro College in June 2015.
“Amer and I are very excited to collaborate with each other and our colleagues elsewhere on this grant, and also with our students here at Marlboro,” said William, pictured right. “We will be co-teaching a course in the fall that engages the themes of our research and are grateful to be able to share our work with our remarkable students.”
The thesis of their research is that the distinctiveness of religious understanding depends on the tension between “apophatic” and “kataphatic” discourses, generally referring to affirmation and denial.
“Kataphatic discourse speaks of God in positive terms, giving attributes to God that can be imagined, and in so doing affirms a certain similarity between God and creation,” said Amer. “Apophatic theological discourse, on the other hand, highlights the otherness of God, and points out the inability of reason and imagination to fully grasp the reality that is designated by the word god.”
By exploring the tension between apophatic and kataphatic discourses across specific religious traditions and through various historical periods, the collaborators plan to approach religious understanding from a uniquely cross-cultural perspective.