The Zero Within the All

Anne will present on the ideas of Wilfred Cantwell Smith (1916-2000), a controversial professor of comparative religion and highly influential in the development of interfaith dialogue.

“It is hardly too fanciful to hold that our one-worldedness is bringing all humanity together in such a way that every one of us is being caught up in the processes of all.”
Smith: Patterns of Faith Around the World

The one thing that bothers me in Smith’s writings is the apparent exclusion* of the “no faith” position, the “zero” position among the community of faiths. As a mathematician I happily accept that zero is a genuine number and for me, it also follows that atheism should be present at the table in any interfaith discussion.

* I have, since writing this, found a footnote in which Smith talks of a “secular/Christian divergence” over whether Christ is the son of God which is akin to the “Western/Muslim divergence” over whether the Qur’an is the Word of God. However, for Smith, the end goal of interfaith dialogue is a “world theology” while for a more secular theorist like Mircea Eliade the end goal was a universalist humanism. Can we find a new word that covers both of these ideas? A word that “contains” both theology and humanism? Both the “one” and the “zero”?

Edited on 20/4/13: I have further delved into Smith’s writings and found a clear statement on his position that yes, “zero” does belong among the “all”. See:

WC Smith: philosophia as religious tradition

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One thought on “The Zero Within the All

  1. WC Smith: philosophia as religious tradition – PhiloSophia

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