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Wilfred Cantwell Smith’s World Theology Essay

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In the name of Allah, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful. Transcendence is a universal theme of human history. Whether we name it or not, it has influenced and shaped the course of human lives always. Theology is an intellectual systemization of human comprehension of nature of transcendent reality. So, in every age the content of theology must vary because of being subjected to the evolution in comprehension of the transcendence and this does happen resulting into the emergence of various theological approaches.

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World theology of religion is also an outcome of this vibrant and dynamic process and Wilfred Cantwell Smith is one of the key-theologians contributions to this virgin field. This research paper is primarily concerned with the academic carrier of Cantwell Smith and his contribution to “theology of religion”. I have divided the paper into two chapters.

The first chapter is a brief overview of Smith’s biography, his writings and major ideas regarding different themes whereas the second chapter is an elaboration of his model of world theology as well as his contribution to Christian theology. So, this is an attempt to categorize Smith’s intellectual endeavors as well as to assimilate his innovative ideas. My basic sources, while writing, are Smith’s own writings and lectures. So, it is an endeavor to analyze and categorize Smith’s thoughts the way I perceived them to be. So, the paper would be surely subjected to intellectual and categorical errors and misunderstandings of what Smith originally meant to say. But I hope it to be a beneficial reading to comprehend the key-concepts and expect my mentor to guide me further in this regard. May Allah accept my effort and make it fruitful for Muslim Ummah (amin).

Chapter 1

Introduction to Wilfred Cantwell Smith

1 Biography

Wilfred Cantwell Smith is one of the renowned scholars of religious studies in the 20th century. His pieces of work are wide ranging from history to theology and from western religious studies to oriental languages and cultures. He was born in Toronto in 1916 and spent his early life there seeking early education from Upper Canada College Toronto. He earned his B.A Honors degree in 1938 in Oriental languages from Toronto University and traveled to Cambridge for a two year study program about theology and oriental languages at Westminster College. Afterwards he traveled to Lahore and spent four year teaching Indian and Islamic history at Forman Christian College as an employee of Canadian Overseas Missions Council.[1] Then, he joined Princeton University for obtaining Masters Degree in oriental languages in 1947 and earned his doctorate while conducting research on the same subject in 1948. In 1949, he was appointed as professor of Comparative Religions at McGill University Montreal and in1951 he was given the post of Director, Graduate Institute of Islamic studies.

Meanwhile, he traveled to India and spent a year there. In 1964 he was appointed as professor of World Religions at Harvard University and Director of the Centre for the study of World Religions. He served as professor of Religion at Dalhousie University in Halifax Canada from 1973 to 1978. In 1978, he took the post of professor of Comparative History of Religion and Chairman of a committee on the study of religion. So, this great scholar spent his whole life interacting with people of many faiths, insisting at the greatest universities of the world that it is not sufficient to be an armchair scholar. He produced his valuable ideas after the keen observation of the people embodying different faiths and worked for the awareness of common humanity. He passed away on 7th February 2000 leaving research works of lasting worth and quite a few original ideas and innovations to be considered by the religious scholars of the whole community.

2 Books and Research Articles

Cantwell smith is a prolific writer and remained engaged in conducting research about history, theology, study of religions particularly Islam, philosophy of religion Oriental languages and cultures, modern socio-cultural problems and many other fields. So, his publications are widely read and appreciated irrespective of the religious or regional boundaries. Though his medium of writing and articles is English but his valuable books have been translated in Arabic, French, German, Indonesian, Japanese, Spanish, Turkish and Urdu which denotes the popularity of his ideas and theories. He published almost 13 books and more than hundred articles.

Some of his books are “Modern Islam in India: A Social Analysis” (Lahore, Sh. M. Ashraf 1969), “Pakistan as an Islamic State”( Lahore, Sh. M. Ashraf 1951),”Islam in Modern History”(Princeton, Princeton University Press,1957),”The Faith of Other Men”(New York, New American Library, 1963), “The Meaning and End of Religion”( New York, New American Library, 1964), “Modernization of a Traditional Society”,(Bombay, Asia Publishing House 1965) “Questions of Religion Truth”( New York, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1967), “Religious Diversity”( New York, Harper and Row, 1976), “Belief and History”(Charlottesville, University Press of Virginia, 1977), “Faith and Belief”( Princeton, Princeton University Press,1979), “Towards a World Theology”(London, Macmillan, 1981) and “What is Scripture?”(London, SCM Press, 1993). A brief introduction to some of the above mentioned books is as follows.

1 “Islam in Modern History”

This book is basically dealing with the evolution of Islamic faith through historical phases and the challenges faced by Islamic faith and community in modern age. It is a politico-economical social study of Islam. The book is divided into eight chapters including introduction, Islam in history, The Arabs: Islamic crisis, Turkey: Islamic reformation, Pakistan: Islamic state, India: Islamic involvement, other areas and conclusion. This book concludes with the assertion that Muslims themselves are responsible for temporal and spiritual earthly manifestation of Islam[2].

2 “On Understanding Islam”

It is comprised of a collection of Smith’s essays edited by Waardenburg. It is divided into two parts: the first part deals with Islamics internally whereas the second half is concerned with Islamic involvement with the world around. The book is comprised of four parts and sixteen chapters. First two parts talk about Islamic faith and shariah and their mutual relationship whereas the last two parts deal with Muslim-Hindu and Muslim-Christian interactions.[3]

3 “Faith and Belief”

In this book, Smith is dealing with faith and belief as comparativist student of religious history and trying to elucidate that faith and belief are not intertwined at all. The book consists of seven chapters including introduction, Buddhist, Islamic, Hindu and Christian instances of faith, explanation of the word “belief” and conclusion with proving faith to be generically human and describing the intellectual dimension of faith.

4 “The Meaning and End of Religion”

Smith asserts in this piece of writing that religious communities are not contra posed ideological entities and he illustrates the concept with historical evidences and examples from different cultures and traditions. The book starts with an introduction to the thesis statement and proceeds to prove “religion” to be a modern western intellectual product and then the concept of religion is analyzed in different cultures. Then, Smith presents the issue of Islamic faith-cumulative tradition dichotomy. In the end, he concludes with the assertion that traditional theology needs to be revised in a “real novel” way.

5 “Towards a World Theology”

The book is dealing with the history of religion in historical, academic and theological contexts. Historical part takes individual and collective religious life in consideration with reference to the chronological order. The second part is concerned with the academic and rational history of religion and elaborates the role of self-consciousness in the attainment of humane knowledge. The last part argues whether a theology of ‘comparative religion’ is possible to be constructed within the premises of a certain tradition i-e Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism.

6 “What is Scripture?”

This book is significant in the context of propounding the scriptural theology as an avenue to the global theology and identifying scriptures to be far beyond than mere texts. Smith has presented the issues in the introduction very clearly and illustrated them with examples. Then he proceeds to elaborate the concept of scripture in historical perspective. Furthermore, he clarifies his opinion with the illuminating example of Quran and also comes up with instances from Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Chinese and Western traditions. Conclusively, he elucidates the delicate and influential role of scripture on human life i-e as a mediator and world-view shaping entity. This was a brief over view of some significant and valuable writings of Cantwell Smith. The common element of all his works is the provoking thought and thrust for construction of a society worth living for people of all faiths and traditions.

3 Major Ideas

Smith’s basic concern during his long academic and intellectual carrier has been to give a vision of a harmonious, truly religiously diverse and culturally pluralistic world. The inter-faith communication and establishment of peace and justice are the vibrant themes of his prestigious works upon the diverse disciplines of religious studies, theology and Islamic tradition particularly. In his divergent writings, he emerges to be a historian and scholar of religion, a specialist of different traditions, a philosopher of religion criticizing and innovating religio-philosophical connotations of the terms, a devout missiologist and theologian of Christian tradition, a leading figure in interfaith communication and an intellectual critic of modern university research activities. Another point worthy to be noted, while dealing with Smith’s writings is, that his commitment to Christian church and missionary ambitions is never undermined throughout his career.

Here is a brief overview of Smith’s contribution to different fields:-

1 History of Religion

The basic concern of Cantwell Smith in this field is to highlight the coherent elements in the history of religious traditions in order to promote mutual comprehensibility. His anguish resulted from the catastrophe of 1947 India-Pakistan partition pushed him to pursue the History of Religion with a passionate concern for intercommunication in order to improve inter religious relationship. Following are the main ideas propounded by Smith while dealing with History of Religion: 1) History is primarily a human activity and by analyzing the past events in an unbiased way, it is possible to determine the next time of development in a better way.[4] 2) Doctrine and observation both agree that faith and history are closely related but religious dimension and other factors are interwoven and interdependent in history. [5] 3) Human history of religion is a diverse and immensely vast area so it cannot be analogous to any field of study as it can never be mastered or encompassed unlike them.

[6] 4) No objectivity is possible to be stuck with, while dealing with history of religion because it is study of personal lives of religious people embodying certain faiths not the externals and symbols merely. According to him, “the proper study of mankind is by inference”[7]. So, along with the observable phenomena, role of passions and ideals must be considered seriously in the course of history. 5) According to Smith’s historian of religion must analyze the data collected from historical evidences in the light of understanding of people practicing and embodying the faith under observation along with an unbiased criticism. Furthermore, there is also a dire need of relating the collected facts with the totality of truth available to the whole human race. 6) Historian of religion must have the courage to admit that the data gathered by him is partial and provisional not dogmatic and final because it cannot be based upon inference of personal experiences of all the individuals professing certain religious tradition.[8]

2 Comparative Religions

Smith’s contribution to the field of comparative religions is determined by the task of collecting coherent factors among different traditions. The main ideas regarding this discipline are as follows:- 1) The basic motive to study religions in contemporary age is to learn to live together in “world of religious and cultural plurality”.[9] 2) There is no essential nature of religion or any particular tradition and to indulge with such absurd issues will render the understanding of religious situation.[10] 3) His basic concerns, while comparing religions, are religious persons and their personal trans-mundane situations. 4) Common between people of a particular religious group is neither faith nor cumulative tradition rather the transcendent itself and to be religious means to participate in transcendence. So, the religions have names just because we have given them names.

[11] 5) Smith draws an analogy between Islam and Christianity by placing Qur’an parallel to Christ, the Holy Prophet (P.B.U.H) to twelve apostles and hadith to the Bible. He also asserts that salvation in both systems is through faith and both present the world-views based upon coherent intellectual system of ideas. 6) Smith identifies the problem of Christian scholar of comparative religion regarding the question “what do they believe?” and elaborates that theology is not central to the entire religious traditions rather peripheral and merely apologetic field for most of them. 7) Smith, during course of inter-faith dealing, asserts that to have different beliefs is not an issue of “ultimate importance” rather faith is what matters. “And faith, I submit, we all have”[12].

In this way, he does not discriminate between followers of different religious traditions on the basis of observable differences. 8) Smith deals with the religious traditions both on singular and community leaves but to him, “to be religious is an ultimately personal act. Religious communities have been extremely important but they are not final either historically or conceptually”[13]. 9) Smith considers scriptures to be an important and perhaps the most significant element in the field of religious studies and demands “resuscitation” of scriptures founded upon “the careful assessment of actual scriptural life of other people”[14] not personal ideas and prior postulates of the scholars themselves.

3 Theory of religion

Perhaps the second most significant theme dealt by Cantwell Smith is the connotation of term “religion”. His whole philosophical discourses about faith, belief, cumulative, tradition, transcendence and usage of the adjective “religious” along with his theology revolve around this fulcrum. Following are the key points of his theory of religion. 1) The concept of religion in its modern understanding of “contra posed ideological communities” is a western curse and the terms as Buddhism, Hinduism and Confucianism are coined by Western Orientalists for their convenience. Smith traces the dates of earliest usage of these terms i-e Buddhism in 1801, Hinduism in 1829, Taoism in 1839, Zoroastrianism in 1854 and Confucianism in 1862.[15] 2) Religion, according to Smith, is no more than a misnomer for a complex, evolving and disparate attitudes of a community embodying certain faith. It is “an amalgam of inner piety and outer institution at a certain stage in the dynamic development of a tradition”[16].

So, conclusively religions do not exist as entities, going through dialogue or conflict and serving as an institution to belong to. 3) Smith deliberately demonstrates that “religio” did mean inner piety for a long time so “religious” as an adjective is quite appropriate to be used while the noun “religion” must be discarded. To be religious is to participate in transcendence while living in mundane situation. “Nouns are static and human” as Smith holds, whereas “adjectives are dynamic and divine.”

[17] 4) Smith devises the faith-cumulative tradition dichotomy as a new framework to analyze the religious life but again the common element between the members of a religious community is neither of them rather transcendent itself. Transcendent for him is whatever goes beyond our mundane existence, may it be values and ideas or the ultimate Reality. Faith is always “personal, specific and immediate” as it denotes individual relationship and response to transcendent where as cumulative tradition is “mundane cause” of this faith. So, the observable traditions are expressions of faith by which believing people are oriented to transcendence within their mundane situations.[18]

4 Christian mission

Being born at the house of a devout member of Presbyterian Church and a Canadian Methodist Church missionary mother, Cantwell Smith developed the missionary tendencies since early childhood. He sought his theological education at Presbyterian Theology College which stimulated his missiological aspirations to a great extent. Then he joined Canadian Overseas Missions Council for the fulfillment of his task. Though Smith was akin to Presbyterian tradition but his intellectual endeavors really gave missionary work a new dimension to proceed and flourish. The main points regarding missiological work of smith are as follows:- 1) Smith replaces the unilateral concept of missionary activity with dialogue and colloquy and wants Christian church to share the truth carried by other religious traditions as well. He propounds “a new concept of mission that is multilateral and theocentric”[19].

2) He discarded the old notions of hostility and exlusivism and re-established missionary endeavourers on the foundation of global involvement in order to create a single world community. 3) Smith suggests collaborative and cooperative missionary movement in order to fulfill Christ’s mission in cotemporary age. He wants Christian missionaries to participate with followers of other traditions in order to help them “to be converted more closely, to God and to the truth”. So, conversion here does not mean to be members of Christian church particularly.

He names this collaborative work as “mission in participation”: a reciprocal and worldwide process as “we are reaching a point where eventually each will participate in all.[20] 4) The tasks of different historical phases differ and “the missionary assignment for the next phase of human history is to take leadership in this participating” of creating a worldwide human community. Christian missionaries need to devise the ways which would help Christians to discern God’s message in other religious traditions and to participate “intelligently and Christianity in the salvation history of all people”[21].

5 Islam

Cantwell Smith is a renowned scholar of Islamic studies and considered to be an expert islamicist as he served at McGill University for a long time as a teacher of Islamic studies. He dealt with the issues of Islamic faith, history, shariah and politico-economical situations of Muslim community, in his valuable works on Islam. He presents his analysis of Islamic instance not only for Christian readers but also invites Muslim thinkers to test the validity and authenticity of his contribution. Here are some themes presented by Smith in this regard. 1) Smith analyzes the Islamic quality of the events happened in Muslim history and elaborates that what it means to be a Muslim. 2) Smith considers Muslim doings in spiritual fields to be the determinant of next line of development of Islamic tradition.[22]

3) According to him Muslims themselves are responsible for temporal and spiritual earthly manifestation of Islam so ”Islam of history is a handiwork of Muslims.[23]” 4) He identifies Islam with the phenomenon of spending life in the light of summons of God ”always in His presence and to treat the fellow men under His judgment”[24]. So, Islam is not a codified set of beliefs, rituals and practices rather a divine message and it is human part to discuss its meaning and interpret it in ever changing and distracting circumstances. 5) Another important theme of his writings upon Islamic tradition is classical Islamic theology and he ascribes it a peripheral status as compared to the main line of development.[25]

In conclusion, the most striking and appreciable characteristic of Smith’s writings upon Islam is to deal it as a unique faith and tradition in many ways. Smith, unlike most scholars of religion, seriously tries to present Islamic tradition as Muslim themselves comprehend and embody it.

Chapter 2

Smith’s Contribution to Theology of Religion

Wilfred Cantwell Smith’s personal religious heritage was a combination of Presbyterian and Methodist Christian traditions and both these traditions affected his later intellectual pursuit a great deal. He was a committed Presbyterian theologian as he announces,” I am a Presbyterian and will never shake off my delightful Calvinistic Puritanism until the day I die”[26]. But on the other hand he worked for the construction of a world theology of a religion without a particular prefix. This spirit of universalization and optimism seems to be arrogated from the Methodist notions of endless possibilities of God’s love and Christ’s death for all the people. The striking elements of his theology of religion is participation in ”world process of religious convergence” maintaining the individual adherence to particular traditions. In this way, I will present his theology of Christian tradition and theology of religion separately.

1 Smith and Christian theology

Smith does not claim to be a Christian theologian ever because his primary concern is to present theology without an adjective. According to him, theology talks about God and His nature so this discourse about Transcendent can not be accomplished through finite and partial attempts. Despite that his thoughts influenced Christian theology as well as intellectuals of Church missionaries because he has taught within the framework of Christian theological institutions and spoken directly to the minds responsible for the construction of Christian theological trends in the twentieth century. He tries to revive the concept of theology itself and denounces the exclusivist attitude of some Christian theologian of his age. His Christian theology is, in fact a trial to give a practical demonstration of what he presented in the notion of ”participation and collaboration”.

1 What theology is?

”Theology”, according to Smith, ”is talk about God not about some community’s opinion about God.”[27] So, Christian theology is a segment of theology of religion, a part of theological pursuit of mankind and Christians need to recognize this fact. It also needs to be understood that a particular theology is a specific interpretation of faith only whereas ”faith lies beyond it in the hearts of men.”[28]

Theology is not the dogmatic or divine set of propositions rather it is subject to temporal changes and mundane circumstances and therefore must be revised and reformulated times and again. He attributes theologies with ”fallibility to particularity, historicity and human faults.”[29].In this way, theology must not be elevated to a transcendent status as they are merely intellectual endeavors to systemize what faith ought to be.

This new understanding of ”theology” paved the way for opening new vistas in the field of Christian theology.

2 No room for exlusivism

Smith suggests Christian theologians to cross the boundaries of Christian tradition and tries to make them understand that ” God is interested in persons not in types”[30]. Smith wants to amend the world-view of Christian tradition by suggesting that the only possible response to the new pluralistic world is to adopt ”universalism” replacing the ”particularism” inherited from the history. He states clearly: ”it was arrogant for Christians to assert that they are right and outsiders are misguided and heathen bifurcating human kind into the saved and the damned”[31]. And this vision needs to be corrected as it has far reaching practical consequences by leaving no room for a peaceful co-existence of people embodying different faiths. Smith is pluralistic in the sense that he considers faith to be criterion of salvation where as faith is individual specific response to transcendent, which every human being possesses in one way or another.

He criticizes the approaches of Karl Barth and Hendrik Kraemer and condemns their stubborn and arrogant attitude by saying that they think ”as if God has revealed traditional Christian theology, rather than as the best Christians have always known that he revealed himself (to us and others)”[32]. So, all other traditions are forms of the response to the revealed transcendence and these forms differ because of the variation in degree of response and sensitivity.

He strengthens his view with the argument that to be Christian does not mean to be member of church rather ”Christ like” so there may be unacknowledged Christians around us. In this way, Christianity transcends the proclaimed Christian community.

3 New concept of salvation

Smith altogether changes the traditional Christian concept of salvation by discarding the ”bifurcation of humanity into saved and damned.” But, he still believes Christians to be responsible for carrying and fulfilling the mission of God by helping humanity to reach the salvation. But the salvation required by humankind in the new age is to learn how to respond to the transcendent in a better way along with involvement with the world around.[33] So, the Christian theologians need to theologize in order to attain this goal intelligently and perfectly. And this goal can never be accomplished until the church history is studied in the context of human history of finding salvation.

4 Need for a revival

There is a need for the revival of Christian theology ”to produce more modern and more devout Christians, closely attuned to contemporary history and fullness of God”[34]. Smith is well aware of the contemporary challenges and drastic variations in human situation so he does not recommend reformulation of traditional Christian theology in new terms rather suggests ”real novelty inescapably”[35]. As it is obvious from previous discussion, he believes in eliminating the distinction between theologies in general and Christian theology.

2 Constructing a world theology

In twentieth century, there is a call for constructing a theology of religion passing-over from the specific context of particular religious traditions to a universal world-view. Cantwell Smith is a renowned figure in this field along with many other theologians. But the distinguishing characteristic of his theology of religion is ‘not to take start from within a tradition unlike Pannikar and Ward. He argues that it is not possible to have a theology of religion with a particular adjective because it will be contradictory to say Christian theology of religions.

According to him,” theology of religions with a prefix of certain tradition is an inadequate term inherently as it generates problem of subject and object both”[36]. He aspires to develop a ”theology of comparative religions”—as he names it—- taking all religious communities of the world in consideration as its subject. This theology engages with the religious history of mankind, intellectual systemization of our faith and world-views. ”The task of theology of religion is to make rationally intelligible the meaning of human life in faith and of the world in which faith is lived”.[37]

Moreover, theology can never be devised from outside so modern theologian needs to be a historian to participate, feel, see and know all traditions of the world and perceive them as single community. Smith is well-aware of the challenges faced by this enormous task and considers it to be ”an eschatological goal” but he suggests some universal theological categories through which, construction of world theology is possible.

1 Transcendence

Cantwell Smith’s theology of religion bases itself upon the idea of transcendence. But, here, transcendent is neither categorized nor reduced to the traditional religious understanding of ultimate reality rather includes ideas, values and moral standards like truth, justice etc as well. As Smith writes, ”justice is one such transcendent ideal sometimes only partly actual……”. This inclusive understanding of the term allows Smith to count secularism, humanism and likewise movements as a human response to transcendent. In this way, transcendent can serve as a universal category in the construction of a theology of religion.

All the human religious traditions are the forms of apprehension of transcendent but of-course they are partial and confined as ”we can catch hold of only a fraction of truth, and even that never absolutely”[38]. That is why there is a need of exchanging the partial truths and a collective trial to understand and respond to the transcendent maximally through colloquy. This collaborative understanding of transcendence will help in the improvement of human-transcendent and interpersonal relationships of mankind as Smith calls it “love for God and love for neighbors”.

2 Faith

Faith being a human response to the transcendent reality, serves as a key-element in Smith’s model of theology of religion. He clearly states that “no human being is or ever has been utterly without faith”. So, it can serve as the grounds for the collaborative and coherent works of formulating a world theology. Moreover, faith being transcendent to belief and religious tradition emerges to be a convergent factor whereas beliefs are divergent. Here, Smith feels a dire need to correct the categorical error of considering faith and belief to be intertwined or synonymous.[39] Traditional theologies were concerned about beliefs more than any other element of a religious tradition by considering them the only expression of faith. But the modern pluralistic context calls for consideration of other expressions of faith like ritual, dance etc. This universalization and revitalization of understanding of faith is inevitable and similarly helpful while devising a world theology.

Although Smith is of the view that “theology has always been inadequate to faith”[40] and “faith is beyond theology”[41]yet he affirms that in contemporary situation, faith is an important universal theological category. As, faith is a human trial to comprehend the transcendent, so people embodying different faiths can have a better understanding and exchange their partial apprehension in a collaborative and harmonious framework of theology. Conclusively, Smith says “our beliefs differ and that is important. Yet it is not ultimately important, it is not what God him self is finally interested in. The cosmic issue is faith. And faith, I submit we all have.”[42]

3 Cumulative tradition

It is “mundane cause of faith”, as Smith calls it. He views the whole human religious history in term of faith and “expression of faith by which people are oriented to the transcendent in their mundane situations”[43] i-e; cumulative tradition. Previously these cumulative traditions have been studied within particular context and patches of human history. But world’s changing dynamic and evolving circumstances demand the holistic approach towards these traditions.

So, all particular traditions must be put in the wider context of human religious pursuit, constituting the convergent world religious history leading towards a better understanding of transcendent in new global context. But, at the same time, Smith does not want these traditions to be ceased to exist independently as he says, “Human being will continue to be Christian or Buddhist or Tenri or Muslim”[44]. What he demands is to participate and collaborate with each other in order to discard the hostilities inherited from the past and to develop a better mutual understanding.

So, the intelligible, coherent and convergent consideration of historical phases of different tradition along with an awareness of new global events will lead to “transcend the adjectival truth of any partial group”[45].

4 Scripture

Perhaps the unique and striking element of Smith’s world theology is scripture. He considers scriptures to be an entity beyond mere texts and gives a trilateral connotation of the tem i-e “an engagement among humans, the transcendent and a text”[46].So, scripture for him, is a mediator between human beings and transcendent providing them a world-view and determining their relationship to cosmos. In his book “What is Scripture?” Smith points out the divergent ways of dealing with scriptures in different religions and eras within and across traditions and also analyses the traditional partial understandings of “other’s” scriptures.

For example, Christians took other scriptures to be the work of devil and Muslims have been reluctant to consider non-Semitic texts as scriptures. So, there was “an individualist treatment of scripture putting relationship of human being to the cosmos as stake[47]. Because this approach causes de-transcendentalization of the scripture as well as theorizes about them orienting from prior personal postulates not doing justice to the actual involvement of believes with their scripture.

For Smith, it is necessary to look at scriptures of all traditions in a new way by studying dynamic human engagement with scripture throughout the historical phases. He does not deal them textually rather as a part of human ontology as “scriptures have no ontology”[48]. Crossing the boundaries of particular theology of scripture, he suggests a frame work to deal with scriptural multiplicity in order to improve the human-cosmos relationship.

By considering scripture to be a cosmic mediator and interpreting universe in the light of diverse scripture, human beings can develop a constructive theology of religion accommodating them in a global community in a better way. So, a new scriptural theology can play an inevitable role to avoid conflicts and produce harmony in the contemporary pluralistic world.

In this way Smith universalizes the theology of religion by using the foci of transcendence, faith and scripture. His suggestions are quite appealing but challenging as an adjective free theology is still an abstract idea for not only common lot but also for most of the theologizing intellectuals. So, there is a long way ahead to revitalize and reformulate the concept of theology and religion as the changes suggested by smith are radical enough to be followed conveniently.


Cantwell Smith’s works in divergent fields of History of Religion, Comparative Religions and Theology etc are integrated by the common motive of creating a world community and to help mankind finding out the meaning of life in contemporary age. Following are the points, concluded from the previous discussions: 1) Wilfred Cantwell Smith is originally concerned with truth and the ways to approach it, so he is not interested in the classical theological issues of belief and salvation. Truth, for him, retains in the heart of God in its holistic form and human minds can make partial trials to apprehend it. So, all the traditions can collectively have a better and comparatively enhanced comprehension of truth, if work in collaboration. And this is the form of salvation needed by mankind now a days.

2) He wants the old spectacles to look at the issues to be discarded in order to widen the scope of coexistence in a peaceful atmosphere because the misunderstandings of crucial terms of religion, faith and belief create serious theological problems with dangerous practical implications like exlusivism. 3) The “real novelty” suggested by Smith in the field of theology encompasses its contents, aims, methodology and even pre-suppositions as well. To him, theology is part of this world and must be altered with alteration in mundane situation of believers.

4) Smith wants religiosity and piety to be considered a converging element in human life, not a thrust for bloodshed or aggression and hatred among people of different traditions. For this purpose he propounds the idea of common human religious history and locates particular history of a tradition as patches of this complex wide web. In this way, an ideology of common heritage of thought and ideas is constructed. 5) Scriptures are important means for the construction of world theology as suggested by Smith. He wants to elevate the scripture from individualistic status to cosmic one. Scriptures, though being pluralistic in existence apparently, play the common rule of mediators to provide world views to the believers. So, a coherent and unified world view can be figured out by considering them part of human ontology far from being isolated texts.

It is quite obvious that the conceptual plunges, taken by Smith, are challenging enough. Truly speaking, world theology is still not the subject of interest for a big lot of theologian minds as well as general public. The ordinary adherent of a particular tradition would probably find oneself reluctant to embrace such alterations. Although, the highest goal aspired to be achieved here is worth appreciating and particularly “participation” postulate of Smith’s model seems to be quite comfortable yet traditional followers would surely possess serious reservations towards such a radical change. Let the time decide the fate of world theology in the face of new millennium and let us pray for the best for the mankind.


[1] Cracknel, Kenneth. (ed.) Wilfred Cantwell Smith: A reader, (Oxford: One world Publications, 2000)

[2] Smith, Wilfred Cantwell. The Mission of the Church and the Future of Missions, (Toronto : James Sutherland Thomson, 1967)

[3] Smith, Wilfred Cantwell. Islam in Modern History, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977).

[4] Smith, Wilfred Cantwell. The Meaning and End of Religion, (San Francisco: Harper and Row Publisher, 1978).

[5] Smith, Wilfred Cantwell, Faith and Belief, (Princeton: Princeton
University Press, 1979)

[6] Smith, Wilfred Cantwell. Towards a World Theology, (London: Macmillan Publishers, 1981).

[7] Smith, Wilfred Cantwell. On Understanding Islam: selected studies, (New York: Mounton Publishers 1985).

[8] Smith, Wilfred Cantwell. What is Scripture?, (London, SCM Press, 1993). ———————–
[1] Wilfred Cantwell Smith (1985) On Understanding Islam: selected studies, New York, Mounton Publishers, pp viii, ix. [2] Wilfred Cantwell Smith (1977) Islam in Modern History, Princeton, Princeton University Press,p 307. [3] Wilfred Cantwell Smith (1985) On Understanding Islam: selected studies, New York, Mounton Publishers. [4] Wilfred Cantwell Smith (1977) Islam in Modern History, Princeton, Princeton University Press, pg307. [5] Smith, Islam in Modern History.

[6] Wilfred Cantwell Smith (1978). The Meaning and End of Religion, San Francisco, Harper and Row Publisher, pg 5.
[7] Smith, The Meaning and End of Religion, pg 188.
[8] Wilfred Cantwell Smith (1978). The Meaning and End of Religion, San Francisco, Harper and Row Publisher.
[9] Smith. The Meaning and End of Religion, pg 9.
[10] Smith. The Meaning and End of Religion, pg 191.
[11] Smith. The Meaning and End of Religion, pg 194.
[12] Wilfred Cantwell Smith (1985). On Understanding Islam: selected studies, New York , Mounton Publishers, pg 278.
[13] Wilfred Cantwell Smith (1978). The Meaning and End of Religion, San Francisco,Harper and Row Publisher, pg 177. [14] Wilfred Cantwell Smith,(1993). What is Scripture?, London, SCM Press, pg 219. [15] Cantwell Smith. The Meaning and End of Religion, pg 61

[16] Cantwell Smith. The Meaning and End of Religion, pg 194. [17] Kenneth Cracknel. (ed.) (2000). Wilfred Cantwell Smith: A reader, Oxford, One world
publications, pg 18. [18] Wilfred Cantwell Smith (1978). The Meaning and End of Religion, San Francisco,Harper and Row Publisher, pg 183. [19] Smith (1967). The Mission of the Church and the Future of Missions, Trornto, James Sutherland Thomson, pg 3. [20] Smith. The Mission of the Church and the Future of Missions, pg 8. [21] Smith. The Mission of the Church and the Future of Missions, pg 10. [22] Wilfred Cantwell Smith (1977). Islam in Modern History, Princeton, Princeton University Press, pg 307. [23] Smith, Islam in Modern History, pg 309.

[24] Smith, Islam in Modern History.
[25] Wilfred Cantwell Smith (1985). On Understanding Islam: selected studies, New York , Mounton Publishers, pg 241.

[26] Kenneth Cracknel. (ed.) (2000). Wilfred Cantwell Smith: A reader, Oxford, One world publications, pg 234.

[27] Wilfred Cantwell Smith (1981). Towards a World Theology, London, Macmillan Publishers,pg 20. [28] Wilfred Cantwell Smith (1978). The Meaning and End of Religion, San Francisco, Harper and Row Publisher, pg 185.

[29] Smith. The Meaning and End of Religion, pg 191.
[30] Smith. The Meaning and End of Religion, pg 195.
[31] Kenneth Cracknel. (ed.) (2000). Wilfred Cantwell Smith: A reader, Oxford, One world publications, pg 242.
[32] Kenneth Cracknel. (ed.). Wilfred Cantwell Smith: A reader, pg 21. [33] Smith (1967). The Mission of the Church and the Future of Missions, Toronto, James Sutherland Thomson, pg 4.
[34] Wilfred Cantwell Smith (1978). The Meaning and End of Religion, San Francisco, Harper and Row Publisher, pg 298
[35] Smith. The Meaning and End of Religion, pg 199.
[36] Wilfred Cantwell Smith (1981). Towards a World Theology, London, Macmillan Publishers,pg 110. [37] Smith . Towards a World Theology, pg 128.
[38] Kenneth Cracknel. (ed.) (2000). Wilfred Cantwell Smith: A reader, Oxford, One world publications, pg 246.
[39] Wilfred Cantwell Smith (1979). Faith and Belief, Princeton, Princeton
University Press.
[40] Wilfred Cantwell Smith (1978). The Meaning and End of Religion, San Francisco,Harper and Row Publisher, pg 285. [41] Smith. The Meaning and End of Religion, pg 198.
[42] Wilfred Cantwell Smith (1985). On Understanding Islam: selected studies, New York , Mounton Publishers, pg 281. [43] Wilfred Cantwell Smith (1978). The Meaning and End of Religion, San Francisco,Harper and Row Publisher, pg 183. [44] Kenneth Cracknel. (ed.) (2000). Wilfred Cantwell Smith: A reader, Oxford, One world publications, pg 246. [45] Wilfred Cantwell Smith (1981). Towards a World Theology, London, Macmillan Publishers,pg 112. [46] Wilfred Cantwell Smith (1993). What is Scripture?, London, SCM Press. Pg 239. [47] Smith. What is Scripture?, Pg 217.

[48] Wilfred Cantwell Smith (1993). What is Scripture?, London, SCM Press. Pg 237.

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