The Ocean of God

On the Transreligious Future of Religions

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Roland Faber
  • New York, NY: 
    Anthem Press
    , June
     2019.
     250 pages.
     $125.00.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9781783089857.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

Roland Faber’s The Ocean of God is a sophisticated discourse on religious pluralism that respects religious diversity while advocating for an overarching sense of commonality, or “unity,” by way of an emerging “transreligious” identity. Faber defines “transreligious” as “a prescriptive category of analysis, comparison, transformation and synthesis that restates the very intellectual basis for the claims of religious pluralism and the unity of religions” (7). It is this transreligious “essence” of religions that the title, The Ocean of God, metaphorically represents (8).

The title of this formidable yet engaging book derives from its epigraph to the “Introduction” (1): “Would ye hasten towards a mere pond, whilst the Most Great Ocean is stretched out before your eyes?” (Baha’u’llah, Days of Remembrance, § 43, www.bahai.org/r/414181916). Interestingly, the epigraphs that open each chapter each employ the overarching theme of “water,” in this various forms, as a spiritual metaphor.

The overarching question that motivates The Ocean of God is “whether and how religions could relate peacefully to one another . . . by enriching our common humanity” (1). This question is of a profound existential moment, especially at a time when the risk of global warfare could, in part, be animated by interreligious animus (i.e. by hostile sectarianism precipitating religious strife and civil/regional war). This question implicates an even deeper existential query about the meaning and purpose of human existence.

Faber’s method in addressing these issues is “a process approach based on the philosophy of A.N. Whitehead and the religious and intellectual universe of the Baha’i religion, in conjunction with that of the ‘Big Five’ (Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam)” (3).

In chapter 1, Faber boldly—and persuasively—declares that the world has entered a new era of religious history, where one of the most important markers of self-identity is the unity of religions—and “among them, the Bahá’í religion arose” (14).  According to Faber, the Baha’i religion “embraces and displays a revelation (in the proximate heritage of Abrahamic and Zoroastrian traditions) that may be viewed as one of the most prominent religious events of our times . . .” (14). This is because the Baha’i Faith “signifies, ushers in and represents … in the nineteenth century, a new axial age—a new way to understand religion and the meaning of the diversity of many religions” (14).

In chapter 5, “Polyphilic Pluralism,” Faber discusses how process theology enriches the discourse on religious pluralism. According to Faber, process thought “understands the process of becoming as fundamental to all existence, more fundamental than the categories of being and nothingness, mind and matter, subject and object, epistemology and ontology and so on” (58). Here, Faber explains, “Reality wants to be realized in the infinite variation of the process of becoming” (61).

Responses to the fact of religious pluralism comprise a “threefold matrix” of “exclusivism, inclusivism, pluralism” (69). In chapter 7, “Pluralism of Pluralisms?,” Faber proposes a “polyphilic pluralism of pluralisms (of exclusivism, inclusivism and pluralism” (89). In chapter 8, “Horizontal and Vertical Pluralism,” Faber offers a phenomenological framework of analysis whereby religious pluralism is viewed in its diachronic (i.e. temporal, or “horizontal” dimension) and in its synchronic (i.e. contemporary, or “vertical” dimension). The implication of these prismatic and complementary frameworks of analysis is this corollary proposition, to wit: “that there is only one Religion of God, one polyphilic transreligious presence of Reality in the multiplicity of religions” (121, emphasis in original).

In chapter 11, “The Transreligious Discourse,” Faber clarifies what he means by “transreligious,” by offering this functional definition: “Here, the term ‘transreligious’ indicates the global responsibility implied in any regional statement of religious concern and the impact this responsibility has on the formulation and reflection of any regional tradition for itself” (126). This responsibility leads to Faber’s “meta-call”: “Be Transreligious!” (130). The “trans” in “transreligious” has four levels of meaning: (1) “‘transcendence’ beyond religions”; (2) “the processual ‘transition’ of religious identities”; (3) “the ‘transformation’ that happens between and within religious traditions”; and (4) “transcending not above, outside or beyond, but below, inside and within” (130–132).

To this fourfold schema, Faber adds a fifth dimension,  “transreligious,” i.e. “a transcending beyond religions,” involving, inter alia, “the transformation between and within religions), expressed in “its diverse spiritual and religious facets, as waves of the deeper sea, the Ocean of God” (196).

Space does not permit a full synopsis of this highly philosophical and sophisticated treatise on the “transreligious” nature of the sacred as it pervades human history and religious consciousness, especially in the transpersonal realms of mystical experience.

It is important to note that the author distinguishes the notion of “transreligious” from what would otherwise appear to be related, if not roughly synonymous terms, such as “multireligious” and “interreligious,” precisely by “emphasizing movement over plurality and becoming over relationship of identities, respectively” (213). Prescriptively, a “transreligious” worldview implicates a “vision of a new universal religious community of humanity” (213). The Baha’i doctrine of “Progressive Revelation” finds its counterpart in Faber’s notion of the “New Axial Age” which “indicates a diagnosis that signifies a new consciousness of religious connectivity in an age of global communication and the immediate global impact of regional events” (Glossary, 209).

As an extended metaphor, “the ocean of God” succeeds in unifying all of Faber’s philosophical discourses on the “transreligious” nature of the sacred in human history (diachronic dimension) and in the contemporary world (synchronic dimension). The transreligious worldview that Faber advocates is deeply informed by Alfred North Whitehead’s “process theology” and by the universalizing and unifying principles of the Baha’i Faith. Sweeping in scope, articulate in discourse, profound in depth, and scintillating with insight, The Ocean of God is a religious manifesto with an almost prophetic vision, born of an uncanny sense of the driving force and future direction of the spiritual impulse animating the evolution of human society—past, present, and future.

Superb editing, with typographical errors few and far between, this book is recommended for all university libraries and as a required or optional text for philosophy of religion courses.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Christopher Buck is an Independent Scholar.

 

Date of Review: 
July 30, 2020
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Roland Faber is the Kilsby Family/John B. Cobb, Jr. Professor of Process Studies at Claremont School of Theology, Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Claremont Graduate University, Founder and Executive Director of the Whitehead Research Project, and Co-director of the Center for Process Studies.

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