n Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe - Religieuse pluraliteit en waarheid : die relativistiese benadering van Ernst Troeltsch

Volume 46, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 0041-4751


Believers are being confronted with a plurality of religions and a corresponding plurality of claims to "truth" or credibility. How may or should they evaluate these claims? According to the well-known Christian philosopher-theologian, Ernst Troeltsch, the truth of a religion only holds for its adherents, given the fact that religions respectively constitute "autonomous" and "independent" communities with "standards of their own". On close inspection, Troeltsch's response to the problem of the conflicting truth claims of different religions overlaps with the so-called "neo-exclusivistic" approach to this problem. So-called "exclusivists" dogmatically and uncritically regard their own particular religion as exclusively true. For neo-exclusivists, on the other hand, no particular religion is exclusively true, but the truth of a religion applies exclusively within the boundaries of that particular religion. To the neo-exclusivist, this exclusivity also entails the incommensurability of religious traditions. That is, the neo-exclusivist denies the existence of any overarching framework or single metalanguage in terms of which religions might be compared, or by which the competing claims to truth of different religions might be evaluated rationally and univocally. As such, Troeltsch's relativistic approach is explained with reference to similar approaches in the debate on the methodology of science (e.g. the views of Thomas Kuhn), and distinguished from related approaches, like subjectivism and so-called "relationism" or "descriptive relativism". It is argued that, while Troeltsch avoids the absolutism of exclusivists, his approach also portrays weaknesses, which are identified and discussed with regard to inconsistencies, issues concerning incommensurability, and socio-ethical or political implications. This provides the backdrop against which the parameters of an approach beyond both relativism and absolutism are finally and briefly drawn.

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