Searching for the Common Thread within Religions

Knitter, Paul

In conversations about religion and the manyness of religions, one often hears, in general as well as scholarly discussions, remarks about what all the religions have in common. It is generally taken for granted that despite the evident, often flamboyant, diversity of religions, there is something that they all share, or something that holds them together in what even scrupulous historians of religions call "family resemblances." The image of a "common thread" (or threads) is often used to suggest that if we look closely and carefully enough, we will find something that is understood to have a unifying quality. But when it comes to stating more precisely just what that common thread is--or even where we can find it or how we can search for it--conversations usually become vague or contradictory. In the reflections that follow, I will review why such conversations about the common thread within all religions bog down, why the search for such a common thread can be frustrating, even futile, i will first review what I think are failed attempts at locating that common thread and how those failed attempts have led many people to give up the search for what is common to all religions. Then, in the second and principal part of my reflections, I will outline how the search for what the religions have in. common is being renewed today. I will show that the search, as complex and frustrating as it is, is also very important and rewarding, especially in light of the discussions on globalization in this issue of ReVision.


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Union Theological Seminary
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April 19, 2012