Religious diversity is much larger than usually perceived. There are not only the major religious traditions (so-called “world religions”), a good deal of medium-sized religions as well as numerous extinct and persistently emerging small religious groups. In addition, there is a huge diversity within each of the major religious traditions. Is all this diversity just arbitrary and random? Or does religious diversity display certain structures and recurrent patterns?
The projectpursues a line of inquiry established by the comparative and typological studies within the phenomenology of religions and some strands of structuralism before it was prematurely discontinued under the influence of the postmodern aversion against comparative investigations and the corresponding focus on particular and isolated phenomena. In more recent years, interreligious comparison has been revived in the “New Comparative Theology” and is now also reconsidered among some scholars of Religious Studies. Identifying internal structures and recurrent patterns of religious diversity can give us a better understanding of the internal dynamics of religious life and is of particular significance for inter-faith encounter / interreligious theology.
The project builds on the working hypothesis that such patterns exist and exhibit a fractal structure, that is, that they are recursive ( “scaling”) over the three levels of interreligious, intrareligious and intrasubjective diversity—a hypothesis first presented in the project leader’s Gifford Lectures (Religious Pluralism and Interreligious Theology, Orbis 2017) and discussed in the volume New Paths for Interreligious Theology: Perry Schmidt-Leukel’s Fractal Interpretation of Religious Diversity, ed. by P. Knitter and A. Race (Orbis 2019).