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Religious Identity: Reflections on Revelation and Rationality

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There is a widespread assumption that ethnic origins substantially contribute, if not constitute, the identity of individuals. In particular, among the ethnic elements, it is claimed that religion takes precedence and people could be individuated in terms of their religious affiliations. Indeed, public theology as an attempt to expand on the public consequences of religious doctrines and beliefs is predicated on the legitimacy of the idea of religious identity. However, the purpose of this article is to show that strictly speaking identity cannot be constituted by religion. More precisely, it is argued that a phenomenological characterization of individual identity fails to do justice to the philosophical requirements of identity. The argument is obviously philosophical by nature and is developed through an analysis of the concept of revelation. The phenomenon of revelation plays a pivotal role in the Jewish, Christian and Islamic traditions, yet by its very nature owes its authenticity to something prior to itself; namely, reason. This entails the priority of reason over revelation and as such undermines claims that purport to define identity in terms of revelation/religion. This detachment of identity from religion would clearly have far reaching socio-political implications for issues such as religious diversity, pluralism and multiculturalism in particular and public theology in general.

Affiliations: 1: Virginia State University, USA

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