Theology Without Walls and Trans-Religious Experience

Jul 11, 2021

In the twentieth century, the field of religious studies underwent a profound and striking transformation. Such terms as “comparative approach,” “ecumenical studies,” and “interreligious dialogue” have become commonplace in scholarly research, discussion, and literature on the subject. The twenty-first century has added another innovating concept to these rapidly changing viewpoints – trans-religious experience and theology.

Ecumenism aims at reconciling differences among various branches or denominations of the Christian religion, and interreligious dialogue extends this confessional attitude to other religious traditions. Trans-religious theology, more specifically, directs its focus to the analysis and comparison of the ideas about Ultimate Reality in various religious systems of the world. The founder of the trans-religious theological project is a former professor and chairman of the philosophy department at the University of Colorado at Boulder, Jerry L. Martin. As Dr. Martin notes, trans-religious theology “grows out of philosophizing about the aim of theology.” He explains further:

Often theology is defined as the articulation of the beliefs about the divine reality within one’s tradition. In light of the widespread experience of finding spiritual insight in other traditions as well, that definition seems inappropriately limited. Surely, the aim of theology should be to learn all we can about ultimate reality, regardless of the source of the insights. Even comparative theology, when it is regarded as finally confessional, limited to asking what light other traditions throw on my own, stops short. What is needed is a Theology Without Walls, without confessional boundaries, without blinders, as it were. That does not mean that we do not stand somewhere, but that our sense of our goal is not limited to where we stand at the outset.[1]

[1] Jerry L. Martin, Theology Without Walls, http://theologywithoutwalls.com/.



Jerry L. Martin

Jerry L. Martin was raised in a Christian home. By the time he left college, he was not a believer. But he was interested in the big questions and so he studied the great thinkers. He became a philosophy professor and served as head of the philosophy department at the University of Colorado at Boulder and of the National Endowment for the Humanities. In addition to scholarly articles on epistemology, the philosophy of mind, and public policy, he wrote reports on education that received national attention and was invited to testify before Congress. Martin's life took a different turn when he had a remarkable religious experience, which is reported in God: An Autobiography. In 2014, he started the Theology Without Walls project, in cooperation with the American Academy of Religion. Those annual discussions led to the landmark publication, Theology Without Walls: The Transreligious Imperative, in which twenty-one theologians from diverse backgrounds and orientations explore the search for spiritual truth beyond the boundaries of creed and scriptural canon. Martin lives in Pennsylvania and is married to Abigail L. Rosenthal, professor emerita at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York, the author of Confessions of a Young Philosopher (forthcoming), A Good Look At Evil, and the blog "Dear Abbie: The Non-Advice Column".


Mikhail Yu. Sergeev, PhD

WI Department Co-Chair (Religion, Theology, and Philosophy)

Mikhail Sergeev was born and raised in Moscow, Russia, where he received his bachelor’s degree in international journalism from Moscow State Institute of International Relations (University) in 1982. In 1990 he moved to the United States to pursue his doctoral studies. In 1993 he received his master’s degree in religious studies and in 1997 his doctorate in philosophy of religion from Temple University, Philadelphia. Sergeev works as an adjunct professor of religion and philosophy at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, where he received The President’s Distinguished Teaching Award (2010). He also co-chairs and serves on the faculty of the Department of Religion, Philosophy, and Theology at the Wilmette Institute as well as on the faculty of Temple University in Philadelphia. The author of more than two hundred scholarly, journalistic, and creative works, Sergeev published and presented them in Canada, Europe—the Czech Republic, Greece, the Netherlands, and Poland—Russia, and the United States. Some of his articles were translated into Polish, and his books were reviewed in Germany, Japan, Poland, Russia, Slovakia, and the United States. He has authored and edited twelve books, including the monograph, Theory of Religious Cycles: Tradition, Modernity, and the Bahá’í Faith, (Brill, 2015) and his latest, Russia Abroad: The Anthology of Contemporary Philosophical Thought (M-Graphics, 2019). In 2017 at the International Festival “Visit to Muses,” in Greece, he was awarded the Nodar Dzhin Literary Prize for the best work in philosophy: Grand Prix in the category “journalism/scholarship.”See Faculty Bio

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