THEOLOGY OF RELIGIONS from CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE





CHRISTIAN THEOLOGY OF RELIGIONS
Introduction
It has been sufficiently established that the main purpose of the bhakti tradition of Alvarswas to respond to religious pluralism and to defend the greatness of Visnuand Vaisnavism. Thus the text of Nālāyiram was placed in the texture of religious mobility and analyzed to find out relevant insights for a contemporary Christian theology of religions.
It was evident from the analysis that the ‘one-many’ aspect of the Ālvārs’ response to religious pluralism may be a right paradigm for a relevant contemporary Christian theology of religions.  Further, the insistence of Alvarson the importance of spiritual foundation, the human dignity and the liberative elements mirrored in their life concerns, exclusion of caste differences, concerns for the emancipation of women, spiritual use of ecological resources, utility of the language of the people and the application of inclusive language are useful inspirations for a contemporary Christian theology of religions.
Before amplifying these relevant elements it is necessary to define the expression ‘theology of religions’ and to evaluate the existing patterns of Christian theology of religions.

7.1 Theology of Religions
Theology of religions is the study of the ways in which a person understands faith-traditions other than his or her own and how he or she relates his or her tradition with others.  K. P. Aleaz writes, “theology of religions enquires into how from the perspective of one’s own religious faith, a person can account for the diversity of the world’s religious quest and commitment.”[1]  Each religion may have its own way of perceiving the other.  Theology of religions is not just confined to religions alone.  It is concerned with ideologies as well.  Its main aim is to interpret various faiths and ideologies in a way to building up a constructive relation between them, without disregarding the unique differences, for working towards a common goal. Therefore, as it has been explicated in the previous section from the works of the Ālvārs, particularly their relation with Buddhism, Jainism and Hindu religious sects and philosophical schools,  “the issue of the relationship between one’s own religious faith and other faiths is the focus of attention in theology of religions.”[2]
According to Alan Race “the Christian theology of religions is the endeavor to adumbrate ‘some doctrine of other religions’ to evaluate the relationship between the Christian faith and the faith of the other religions.”[3]  This may not be the right way of defining theology of religions.  The theologian of religions cannot just outline a few doctrines of other faiths and find their relation with his or her religion.  Such an attempt will be partial and cannot be justified.  It shall be legitimate, fare and meaningful, if only the entire religious phenomena are taken into consideration.  For example, a person who searches only for a specific form of texts in the works of Ālvārs will be blind to the other relevant and meaningful texts and undermine the pluralistic structure of the entire Nālāyiram.[4]
From the point of contemporary religious pluralism, the task of theology of religions is not just maintaining friendly outlook but also engaging the people of other faiths into action.  It is not action for action sake, but to save humanity and the creation from the humans-caused threats.  When life is threatened, religions, creeds and ideology are forgotten; only safety is looked for.  The present global situation demands that all should be genuinely committed to religion irrespective of the form each one might adhere to.  That commitment to religion can enthuse spontaneous involvement in the struggles of life.  Attempts that were not spiritually molded may be avoided. The life and work/s of each Ālvār mirror their priority for spirituality over the mundane. Their akam poems indicate their desire for inseparable communion with God.  Thus, the proposal here is for a ‘life sustaining pluralistic perspective’, which has its deep roots in strong spiritual exercises.  It is not just the task of one religious community but is common to all.
As a religious body, the church had been making several attempts to bring the people of other faiths into action for common causes.  As the church exists, in the midst of several others, she is compelled to think anew.  It is said “the churches not only have to find their place within a multi-religious context but will have to develop a radically new theology to enter into partnership with persons of diverse faiths and ideologies.”[5]  This is the need of the hour to carry out the mission of God in accordance with the demands of the present pluralistic context.  The same had been done by the Ālvārs in accordance with their situation.  Although their main task was to defend the superiority of their faith from the other growing religious influences, they had attempted to show the underlying common elements among different religions in the form one-many paradigm.
It needs to be remembered that, as in the case of Ālvārs, the church too, represents various attitudes in relation to people of other faiths.  In order to fulfill the mission, the church should always look for relevant and dynamic theology of religions.   As the church is often too busy with internal matters, there is always a possibility that she forgets her existence in the pluralistic society.  She fails to remember the role of being a responsible neighbor and mediator, as part of mission.  Thus, hatred is developed in the place of fellowship.  Instead of cooperative efforts for a constructive and peaceful future, the individualistic tendency prevails.
Here dawns the responsibility of a theology of religions.  The Christian theology of religions ought to be seriously committed to revive and rejuvenate the church’s responsibility in its relation to people of other faiths and ideologies.  Thus the theology of religions should be always contextual and contemporary.

7.2 Reasons for the Emergence of Theology of Religions 
There are many reasons for the urgency of the interpretative task (theology of religions).  It is not meant for passive defense of Christianity.  It is to make Christianity dynamic in its mission and to enable others to be equal partners, in their own right.  In other words the theology of religion is committed to the task of rekindling the possible initial purpose of religions in all faith traditions and ideologies, as the Alvars had done to their own religion through their spontaneous poems and their practice of prapatti in the place of bhakti.  The reasons for the church’s concern in this matter are crucial to be considered here.

7.2.1 Global Context
There were remarkable changes in the global context from fifteenth century onwards.  These changes have resulted from the impact of geographical explorations, advancement in communication technology and the collapse of colonial power.
The geographical explorations, starting from fifteenth century onwards, expanded the horizon of human knowledge.  The knowledge about other people, religion, culture etc., was very rare before the discovery of new continents.  Probably the western world was under the impression that Christianity alone was the real religion and deserves to be globalized.  But geographical explorations came as a check to this kind of thinking.  The new discoveries revealed that, there were diverse people, faiths, cultures etc., in the world.  They created interest among the Christians to encounter such new people, religion and culture.  It is said, “the age of European geographical explorations in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries stimulated a new interest in other religions.”[6]  The interest was to learn other religions and see their difference from Christianity.  Whatever may be the intention behind the new interest, one thing is clear that the world was brought into the awareness that there are varieties of people adhering to various faith traditions and cultures and struggling through the hard passage of life like everybody, to make life meaningful. 
The developments in science have brought tremendous impact upon communication technology.  The global explorations expanded the vision of the people and the developments in communication reduced the vast world into a global village at all levels- information of all shorts including religious.  In the words of V. F. Vineeth “thanks to the amazing achievement of science and technology, our world has been reduced to a ‘global village’ and contact with men of other faith has now become a day-today reality for many, both in the East and in the West.”[7]  It is not mere contact with the other, but chance to learn from the other and exchange ideas, especially, religious.  J. Paul Rajashekar writes, “…people from different religious traditions have not only come into greater contact but are also being exposed to mutual claims and commitments.”[8]  This situation is a challenge for the missionary religions.  Now the missionary is forced to change his paradigm.  This has affected the church as a whole, as well.
Here one could easily discern the similarity between the then prevailed religious mobility and the present context of India. The expansion of Jainism, Buddhism and other religious sects and schools of thought were responsible for the origin of Ālvārs’ movement in south India. The major difference was that the main task of the Alvars was to defend their own faith tradition from the rapidly growing other faith traditions. As the contemporary situation warrants inter-religious relations, the present author, approaches the writings of the Alvars to analyze whether there is any insight, which could become inspirational to the contemporary Christian theology of religions. 
Added to these new discoveries and scientific advancements was the collapse of colonial power.  Discoveries revealed the reality of the expanded globe. Communication reduced the distance of the globe and brought people of differences together.  It was the break of colonial power that provided ample freedom at all levels.  It caused the consequent revivalism of indigenous cultural and religious values of the people of the liberated nations.[9]  S. J. Samartha vividly brings out the impact of the collapse of colonial power on the church.  According to him “it is not without significance that it was only a couple of decades after the dismantling of colonialism that both the Vatican (1965) and the World Council of Churches (1971) came out rather reluctantly, with more positive statements about people of other faiths.”[10] 
These developments have affected not only the church but also everybody.  The awareness that humanity can no longer be separated on the basis of faiths and creeds had dawned in every mind.  The other reasons given for this awareness of religious pluralism are the resurgence of national cultures with a strong religious context, the emphasis on human rights and liberty of conscience and the rapid means of travel bringing people closer together.[11]  In short, these developments have enabled people to move from the plurality of religions to religious pluralism.  That is, it is not just accepting the existence of many religions but working towards the cooperation of religions for the sake of life.
The pluralistic context of Alvars too witnessed religious mobility in the form of Jainism, Buddhism and other schools of thought, of course in varied degree.  As the collapse of colonial powers have contributed to the development of religious pluralism in modern times, the change of power centers and rulers had influenced the popularity of Alvars and their response to religious pluralism.  This is vivid from the discussion of historical background of the Alvarsin the first section of the present research.

7.2.2 Religious Context
The urgency for the church to respond to the challenge of religious pluralism was fastened by the scientific study of religions.  The earlier faulty notions about other religions were clarified.  Harold G. Coward writes “for the first time Christian scholars have available to them full factual information on the other world religions.”[12]  Hence, “no longer can Christians view Hindus, Buddhists and Muslims as heathens living in far off lands to be converted by Christian missionaries.”[13]
The awareness of the existence of other living religions, which are identical to Christianity, threatened the latter.  John Hick writes, “perhaps the most important factor has been the modern explosion of knowledge among Christians in the West concerning the other great religious traditions of the world.”[14]  In the words of Kuncheria Pathil “discovery of the other faiths and the recognition of their role in the universal salvific plan of God is perhaps the greatest challenge to Christian theology today”.[15]
Along with the knowledge of other faith traditions, there was knowledge of other religious persons.[16] This is to say that adhering to a particular faith tradition does not change the natural course of events in life.  Paul F. Knitter writes about the others that “they are normal happy human beings, getting their jobs done, raising their families as well, perhaps better, than we, and living lives of love, of service, of commitment.”[17]
It is not just only the knowledge of religious pluralism and people of other faiths that was brought to light.  The new religious knowledge revealed the multi religious context of humanity[18] everywhere.  This is to say that plurality of religions is natural and that cannot be removed.  What can be done is that the plurality of spiritual traditions may be facilitated to work together to face the challenges that the globe is facing.
Since the publications of the Sacred Books of the East edited by Max Müller, the western world developed interest over eastern religions.  Owen C. Thomas writes,  “it is clear that there is in the West a growing interest in and openness toward Eastern religions.”[19]  Jacques Dupuis writes about the influence of eastern religions on the west as “while thousands of Westerners, especially the young, journey to India each year in quest of religious experiences Christianity has apparently denied them, Hindu ashrams and Buddhist monasteries are built in Western countries, attracting no insignificant number of devotees.”[20]
It is also argued that, the encounter of Christianity with Hinduism forced the earlier to change its missionary strategy.[21]  Further, “the historical speech of Swami Vivekananda at the parliament of religions in Chicago, U.S.A., in 1893, restored the self confidence of the Hindus in their religion.”[22]  Therefore, the interaction of religious knowledge, religious persons and the awareness of pluralistic context are eye-openers to the subject of religious pluralism. 
From the religious point of view the new challenge was from Islam.  Like Christianity, Islam was growing fast.  It was a missionary religion and monotheistic in nature.  This is a challenge to Christianity.  According to Owen C. Thomas, “with the rise of Islam the Christian church was faced for the first time with a new and powerful missionary religion.”[23]
Apart from these challenges to Christianity there was a new wave of liberal thinking in the universities where religious study was considered to be a separate department.  Religions were critically studied without any bias.  This revealed that there are elements of truth in every religion.  No religion can be treated as absolute.  Added to this was the critical study of the New Testament.  Serious scholars questioned the authenticity of some of the unique claims of Christians. 
The two preceding sections of the present research illustrate the consequences of religious mobility in the context of Ālvārs.  In section five the general religious condition and the attitude of each Ālvār towards Buddhism, Jainism and other Hindu religious sects and schools of thought were discussed in order to indicate the then existed pluralistic context and the ways in which each Ālvār had responded to the situation.  Section six is the discussion on the various forms of responses to religious pluralism as reflected in the works of Alvarsand the relevance of such responses to Christian theology of religions.

7.2.3 New Sciences
The modern scientists are convinced that even in science there is nothing called the truth.  It changes always. This idea is reflected in modern philosophy as well.  According to Paul F. Knitter “the catch phrase is that we are not in a state of being but in a state, or better a process of becoming.”[24]  It means, including religion nothing is static.  As this change takes place in religion, the once static religions are in the process of being related to the other.
It does not mean that one need not be a member of a particular religion.  Knitter writes, “to be religious and to be serious about it one must, generally belong to a religion.”[25]  His main argument was that science, philosophy, sociology, economics and politics of contemporary world indicate that, the global scenario demands the co-operation of all to face the common challenges.  His list of challenges is starvation and malnutrition, economic inequality, dwindling resources, exploitation and poverty, official flouting of human rights and nuclear weaponry.[26]  Of course, there is a great awareness among people of all religious traditions to bring about peace and better community life.  These aspirations are achievable if only all the committed religious people orient themselves towards these ends irrespective of the religions to which they belong.

7.2.4 The Urgency of the Problem
There is urgent need for the religions to come together for common good.  More than that, religions need to work together to liberate religion from abuse.  One such misuse is religious extremism. It is identified that, “for whatever the root cause, religious extremism is fast turning out to be the most potent source of violence and human suffering in the world today.”[27]  When religious orthodoxy fails to achieve its objective of gaining power in any way, it resorts to terror and violence.
A specific Indian requirement is that religion should be saved from politicization.  It is said “the RSS fears of Islamisation and now the Christianisation of India belong to the world of make believe.  They serve the purpose of the consolidation of the Hindu vote bank and the politics of Hindu Rashtra.”[28]  The significance of globalized era is that religions are in the fray for political power although there are many other things, which they could concentrate upon. 
There is also an urgent demand for respecting religions.  It was not in tune with time that the Catholic Church (Vatican) published a thirty-six pages document called ‘Dominus Jesus’ on fifth September 2000, proclaiming that, Catholic Church is the true religious body.  In response to it, T.V.R. Shenoy says, “the publication of ‘Dominus Jusus’ should not be made an occasion to demand that Indian Christians prove their patriotism.  But I do have a request: Respect my faith as I do yours.  If that is asking too much, stop denigrating it.”[29]  This is in accordance with the present perception of the people that, they want to be members of a wider community without loosing their individual identity.

7.2.5 Credibility of Christianity
Earlier, the Christians thought that they could easily convert the whole humanity to Christianity with the help of a few missionaries.  It never happened.  To their dismay “today Christians are recognizing that far from disappearing, the religions of Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism are alive and well in spite of all the Christian missionary efforts.”[30]
Another failure is that in attempting to change the world, Christianity perpetuated exploitation and oppression on large scale.  The best example is the crusades.  Again, Christianity was often knit together with colonial activity.  Further, Christianity was insensitive to the injustice of the world, especially to the Jews.  This is categorically stated as, “the picture would be very different if Christianity, commensurate with its claim to absolute truth and unique validity, had shown a unique capacity to transform human nature for the better.”[31]
The same idea is expressed with strong words as “the Holocaust that took place in the country that gave birth to the Reformation, the first use of the atom bomb, and the more recent threats to humanity because of environmental pollution and the shadow of nuclear annihilation hanging over all life, have raised profound moral and spiritual questions about the credibility of Christianity.”[32]  S. J. Samartha’s introspective question was “if Christianity was unable to prevent these horrors in countries over which it held sway for so many centuries, why export it to people in other countries who live by other faiths?”[33]
To sum up, the geographical discoveries, scientific developments in communication and the collapse of colonial power have created a new climate in the religious realm.  This was further substantiated with the scientific study of religions and the critical study of the New Testament.  The major change of religious attitude was forced by Christianity’s encounter with Hinduism.  Still further, the rapid growth of Islam became a great challenge to Christianity.  An introspection of Christianity and the specific Indian context warrant a change in the Christian attitude towards people of other faiths.
The Ālvārs took a new turn from the earlier religious standpoint when confronted with religious mobility.  Special mention may be made to their perspective of spirituality, life concerns, exclusion of caste differences, emancipation of women, spiritual use of the beauty of nature, generous use of the language of the people and inclusive language, as expounded in the sixth section of the present research work.

7.3 Christian Response to These Challenges
Christianity has been responding to these kinds of challenges from its inception. From the beginning Christianity was thriving in the midst of several other faiths.  Its attitude towards others was always negative until the end of nineteenth century.  By the end of nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century Christian attitude towards other faith traditions began to change. An analysis of the various patterns of Christian responses to people of other faiths may be helpful to estimate the response to religious pluralism in the bhakti tradition of Ālvārs and its relevance for a contemporary Christian theology of religions.

7.3.1 Response of the Catholic Church
The traditional catholic attitude towards other faith traditions was negative in many respects.  It simply followed the declaration of the Council of Florence (1438–1445), that, “there is no salvation outside the church.”[34]  This attitude was completely changed in the second Vatican council (1962–1965). 
The official declaration of the council on the relation of the church to other faith-traditions expressed the church’s openness to people of other faiths.  The declaration reads “she therefore urges her sons, using prudence and charity, to join members of other religions in discussions and collaboration.  While bearing witness to their own Christian faith and life, they must acknowledge those good spiritual and moral elements and social and cultural values found in other religions, and preserve and encourage them.”[35]
This was considered as a watershed in the relations of the church with followers of other religions. It was more crucial to the churches in India, as the church existed in the midst of a really pluralistic context.  Even before the council declaration the churches took positive efforts to build up relationship with people of other faith traditions.  It is said “by making a positive attitude towards other religions normative for the whole church and calling for dialogue, the council approved the efforts that were being made in India in this regard and obliged the Indian church to commit herself more earnestly and fully to the cause of dialogue.”[36]
In spite of its positive outlook, it failed to fully credit other religions with equal status.  The nature of the document is stated by Kuncheria Pathil as “however, I should say that the official documents still project a theology of ‘fulfillment’ and an ‘inclusive Christocentrism’ which affirms that all grace and fullness is given to all in and through Jesus Christ.”[37]  Nevertheless, the shift from a complete negative attitude to an inclusive one is a major milestone in church’s relation with people of other faiths.
Once again the Catholic Church has shattered all the positive developments and paced back into the traditional negative attitude on fifth September 2000, when it published a thirty-six pages document called ‘Dominus Jesus’.  It asserts the supremacy of the Catholic Church over other denominations and religions. 
This is parallel to a major shift that took place during the time of Ācāryas.  The Alvarsmade religious practices to be people oriented while the Ācāryas were keener on philosophy rather than real life. The once ignored caste hierarchy persisted again in the form of Vatakalai and Tenkalai. The emancipatory insights notable in the works of Alvarswere losing adequate emphasis. Further, the dramatic change was obvious in the preference for Sanskrit or mixture of Sanskrit and Tamil in the place of Tamil.  As many sincere Catholic theologians are reinterpreting the  ‘Dominus Jesus’ the tradition of Alvarsmay be reread in the present Indian context.

7.3.2 Response of the Protestant Church
The Protestants maintained that there was no salvation outside Christianity.  The Church’s main concern was to evangelize the world.  There was no scope for positively considering other religions or ideologies.  But the developments around the world enlightened the missionaries that they should change their attitude.  As a result, for the first time the missionaries of the world met together at Edinburg in 1910, to discuss their mission strategies and missionary approach to other religions.[38]
Although the International Missionary Council was motivated by sayings such as Evangelization of the world in this generation,[39] the commission four of the IMC took efforts to feel the experience of the missionaries who really encountered people of other faiths in the mission fields.  “In summing up its findings, the commission reiterated its conviction that the Christian attitude to Hinduism, not withstanding the elements which the Christian must reject, should be one of understanding and sympathy.”[40]
The Second World Missionary Conference took place at Jerusalem in 1928.  The issues that dominated the conference were secularism and the relation between older and younger churches.  Yet “it is significant that in spite of these stated new priorities, when the preparatory meeting listed the priority issues for commission work, Christian relationship to other faith was at the top.”[41]   It is said that, “the members denounced the imperialism of the missionaries and demanded them to respect the religious sentiments of the people of other religions.”[42]
Hendric Kraemer’s The Christian Message in a non-Christian World dominated the next missionary conference, which held in Tambaram in 1938.  He maintained a very pessimistic attitude towards people of other faiths.  All, especially Christians who were the product of the rich Indian heritage, criticized his view.  However, all the subsequent conferences developed more positive attitude towards people of other faiths.
  From its emergence, the World Council of Churches maintained an optimistic attitude towards people of other faith traditions.  In 1977, WCC formed a subunit called ‘Dialogue with people of living faiths and ideologies’.  After two years of serious consultations and discussions, WCC issued a set of guidelines for dialogue with the people of living faiths and ideologies.  Sreenivas Rao stated the gist of the guidelines as “while calling on the Christians to keep themselves open rather than closed, towards the faiths of our neighbors, the ‘Guidelines’ insist upon the Christians to witness fully to their deepest convictions.”[43] 
The subsequent WCC attitude was always constructive towards the people of other faiths.  In spite its inclusive language, its earnest attempts are praiseworthy.  The Christian attitude towards other faith traditions can be understood further by analyzing the views of few committed theologians. 

7.3.3 Exclusivist View
The exclusivist view claims that ‘only one’s own religion is true and good, others are erroneous, false or evil’.  The theological foundation for this view is found in the writings of Karl Barth.  He made a distinction between revelation and religion.  For him Christianity is revelation because God reveals Himself to people.  Other faiths are religions because, in them man is attempting to do what God should do.  So, for Barth ‘religion is unbelief’.[44]  Because Christianity is revelation, it is true religion.  He writes “we have to give particular emphasis to the fact that through grace the church lives by grace, and to that extent it is the locus of true religion.”[45]
Hendrik Kraemer developed the same line of thinking.  He insisted upon “Biblical realism”.  For him what is revealed in the Bible is absolutely true.  As Christianity is derived from the revelation given in the Bible, it is true.  All other religions are false.  He claims ethical superiority to Christianity and says, “this radically religious revolutionary ethic upsets all human thinking, and just as the Christian faith is the crisis of all religions, so the Christian ethic is the crisis of all ethic and ethics.”[46]
For Kraemer the Church is the ideal model Community.  He writes, “just as the prophetic religion of Biblical realism is a religion Sui generis, so the Christian Church according to the conception of the New Testament, is a community Sui generis.”[47]  His thrust was that there is no link between Christianity and other faiths.  W. E. Hocking called this as theory of ‘radical discontinuity’.  This is the result of Kraemer’s faithful adherence to Barth.  It demands that Christianity should replace all other faith-traditions.  Another reason behind his fervent stand was that he wanted to refute the liberal ‘reconception’ theory of W.E. Hocking which advocated an evaluation of the then existed Christian attitude towards people of other faiths.
A.C. Bouquet maintained that Christianity is the true and best of all faiths, rich in marvelous recuperative powers and in the capacity for objective self-criticism.[48]  Ajith Fernando wrote, “the Christian approaches the unbeliever with a sense of authority, an authority not intrinsic to himself, but wholly derived from God whose word he proclaims.”[49] Therefore, Christians should approach any discussion from the perspective of conversion.[50]
The exclusive claims of these writers are based upon the belief that Christianity will replace all the world religions.  It was a deception.  Exclusive view disregards the reality of religious pluralism.  It separates people on the basis of religions.  Human dignity was at stake.  Being exclusive to one’s own religion is not wrong, but aiming to destroy the other amounts to crime.  Therefore, it is time to look for fitting and more constructive and open perspectives.
At least, three patterns of exclusive responses to people of other faiths are reflected in the writings of the Ālvārs, as explicated in the previous section of the book. They are tolerant and peaceful response, aggressive exclusivism and response of the converts. The latter two are not conducive to the Indian context. Although the first response appears to be agreeable, it lacks openness to the other and refuses to accept the other.

7.3.4 Inclusivist View
Inclusivists hold that all religions are inspired and empowered by God but find their fulfillment only in one religion or savior.  Their conviction is that ultimately God will sum up all things in Jesus Christ, therefore, by whatever way people come to know God, it is ultimately Jesus Christ who is himself the final cause of salvation.[51]  It is also called fulfillment theory.  It holds that “Jesus Christ is unique, because in him alone is to be found the fulfillment of the most profound aspirations of human beings and salvation is made possible only because of his life, death and resurrection.  He is universal because, anyone who is saved is saved through him.”[52]  For the Christians, Christ is the fulfillment of Hinduism.  In a broader way T. Slater says all those noble and true in the non-Christian religions would be taken over into Christianity for their complete fulfillment.[53]
J. N. Farquhar’s The Crown of Hinduism is a classical example in this direction.  He demanded the death of Hinduism in order to give place to Christianity.[54]  William Miller, the principal of Madras Christian College expected this fulfillment to take place, not by replacement or extinction of Hinduism but through the simultaneous development of all higher religions along with Christianity into a World Religion with Christ as the center.[55]
Another way of looking at inclusive view is that Christ is already present in Hinduism.  Kenneth Cragg writes, “authors may write of the ‘unknown Christ’ or the ‘anonymous Christ’ of other faiths.  But the paradox, rather, is not that he is unknown or anonymous.  It is that they know him by their own naming.”[56]
For Karl Rahner people who are outside Christianity are ‘anonymous Christians’.  He writes “it would be wrong to regard the pagan as someone who has not yet been touched in any way by God’s grace and truth.”[57]  It implies that only Jesus Christ liberates those who are good and saved.
Hans Kung was of the opinion that the religions of the world are ways of salvation for their followers, but their salvation will have to be confirmed finally by the savior of the world, Jesus Christ through communion with him.[58]
Heinz Robert Schlette distinguished two ways of salvation.  They are ordinary and extraordinary ways of salvation.  In his own words “the ordinary ways of salvation represented by the religions lead to the one living God, it is true, but, relatively speaking they are paths through the darkness while the extraordinary way of special sacred history, that is to say now, the Church is one which leads through clear light.”[59]
There are others who recognize the salvific value of other religions, but maintain that such values should be estimated on the basis of Christ.  For Paul Tillich the crucified Jesus is the most valuable criterion for discerning god’s activity within the non-Christian religions.[60]  Karl Rahner maintained that ‘Jesus Christ is the norm’ to evaluate other religions.  Jacques Dupuis writes, “the mystery of Jesus Christ, the center of Christian faith, could only be the principle of understanding, the yardstick by which the data of other religious traditions would be measured.”[61]
The popularity of inclusive perspective may be discerned from the titles of the works of leading scholars, then.  For example Marcus Braybrooke wrote ‘The undiscovered Christ’; M. M. Thomas, The Acknowledged Christ of the Indian Renaissance; Raimundo Panikkar, Unknown Christ of Hinduism and S. J. Samartha, The Hindu response to the Unbound Christ.  It is to be noted that many of these scholars have changed their perspective now.
In the final analysis the inclusivists are Christocentric in approach.  They maintain that Jesus is unique and he is universal.  Jose Kuttianimattathil writes “the Christocentric models affirm the universal salvific will of God as well as the centrality of the person and work of Jesus Christ for the salvation of all, while accepting participatory forms of mediation by other savior figures and the salvific value of other religions.”[62]
The basic question about the inclusive view is that “not withstanding its seemingly, open attitude, does not the inclusivist attitude assume a one way road?”[63]  The fulfillment model or inclusive view is as dangerous as exclusivist, for it does not grant equal status to the other faith traditions and gods. 
It is easier to find inclusive language in the works of the Ālvārs. The discussion on the inclusive response of Alvarsto people of other faiths reveals that the Vaisnavites are happy to hold that Śiva and Visnu are one.  At the same time they wish to maintain that Visnu is that one united form. Similarly, a Śivaite may not hesitate to claim that the one united form is Śiva.  Even the idea of ‘indweller’ has such intricacies. The realities of our present context demands that we earnestly search for more relevant paradigms.

7.3.5 Relativist View
Relativists hold that ‘all religions are equal and that they lead to the same goal’.  Arnold Toynbee was an advocate of relativist view.   He writes, “I think that it is possible for us, while holding that our own convictions are true and right, to recognize that, in some measure, all the higher religions are also revelations of what is true and right.”[64]  About other faith traditions he asserted that they too are light radiating from the same source from which our own religion derives its spiritual light.[65]  Ernst Troeltsch maintained that as Christianity is superior in certain cultural backgrounds, other religions could claim superiority in different cultural settings.
In the words of A. Pushparajan “the different religions, despite their differences are fundamentally one, because saints of parallel heights are found in all of them.”[66]  Kuncheria Pathil raises a significant point.  He writes, “all religions are in fact activated by the saving spirit of God and have a salvific role to play in God’s plan of salvation, though all religions may equally become distorted due to human sinfulness.”[67]  It needs to be born in mind that the predominant Hindu response to other faith traditions was relativist.  But it is unfortunate that the fundamentalists do not wish to treat all religions with equal status, at least in India.  The Alvarsrepeatedly emphasized that all different forms of deities finally converge in the one final reality, which they called Tirumāl or Visnu. Thus there is a need to look forward for a more relevant approach.
Many committed pluralists have strongly criticized the relativist approach.  According to A. P. Nirmal “any talk of a radical relativization of all religions tends to undermine religions.”[68]  Here, there is a tendency to disregard the differences between religions.  Raimundo Panikkar writes, “such liberals, whether Christian or Hindu, who claim that we are the same and that ‘ultimately’ the two religions are ‘transcendentally’ one, overlook the concrete and historical religious situation of real people.”[69]
S. J. Samartha indicates the real issue underlying the relativist view.  He wrote, “the affirmation that all religions are the same makes little room for critical interaction between them.”[70]  The religions in India cannot be passive spectators about the struggles of people.  As the struggles are grave, there is a necessity for the co-operation of all religions to fight against them.  It is not enough to say that we are all same and going to the same place.  It is important to think that all need to go together with a specific purpose i.e., to build a better community, where peace and justice prevails, because all have one ontological base, which may be understood as the ultimate mystery in the Indian context.
The dictum that all religions are equal and that they lead to the same goal is not explicit in the poems of Alvars as it is elucidated in section six under the heading ‘relativist response’.  Rather, they prefer to state that the Jains, Buddhists, Śivaite and others worship the one Visnu and He grants the requests of all.  This may be a sectarian tendency common to most religious sects. An inscription at the entrance of a Śiva temple in Purasawalkam, Chennai, Tamilnadu, reads that there is no other god except Śiva.  This tendency can be easily marked in all the sectarian puranās.

7.3.6 Pluralist View
There are valid reasons for engaging in a bold and challenging perspective called pluralist view. It holds that the different religions are unique, thereby necessitating mutually critical and enriching dialogue.  In the words of Alan Race “pluralism in the Christian theology of religions seeks to draw the faiths of the world’s religious past into a mutual recognition of one another’s truths and values, in order for truth itself to come into proper focus.”[71]  S. J. Samartha says in theological terms plurality may even be the will of God for all life and religious plurality is the homage, which the finite mind pays to the inexhaustibility of the infinite.[72]  Still further “pluralism does not relativize truth.  It relativizes different responses to truth which are conditioned by history and culture.”[73]  For Raimundo Panikkar, pluralism is not synonymous with tolerance, “pluralism climaxes in acknowledging the unimaginable, that which is absurd for me and, to a certain degree, unbearable to me.”[74]  John Hick writes his understanding of pluralism as “I mean the view-which I advocate that the great world faiths embody different perceptions and conceptions of, and correspondingly different responses to, the Real or the ultimate from within the different cultural ways of being human, and that within each of them the transformation of human existence from self-centeredness to reality-centeredness is manifestly taking place.”[75]   All these definitions convey that religions, whatever form they may be, are in quest of the Ultimate.  In the present world scenario, they cannot exist in isolation.  They have to co-operate with each other in their quest and goal.
From the point of religions “the plurality of religions serves important purpose-the purpose of indicating something beyond themselves, something which is common to all of them.  When we fail to see this we become fanatic and communal.”[76]  From theological viewpoint “religious pluralism has been established today not only as an irreversible historical fact but also as a theological principle.”[77]  From the perspective of contextual realities “we have reached a point in history when it is no longer permissible to remain comfortable in particularity and to ignore the forces… which call for positive relations between the different world faiths.”[78] Thus religious pluralism is the order of the day.
Paul F. Knitter proposed ‘unitive pluralism’ in his early work, No Other Name.  In unitive pluralism “each religion will retain its own uniqueness, but this uniqueness will develop and take on new depths by relating to other religions in mutual dependence.”[79]  The theological perspective of K.P. Aleaz is called ‘Pluralistic Inclusivism’.  “Pluralistic Inclusivism is an attempt to make Christian faith pluralistic inclusive i.e., the context of the revelation of God in Jesus is to become truly pluralistic by other faiths contributing to it as per the requirement of different places and times and it is through such pluralistic understanding of the Gospel that its true inclusivism is to shine forth.”[80]  Further “according to pluralistic inclusivism richness of religious experience grow by mutual giving and receiving.”[81]  In other words “in Pluralistic Inclusivism the claims of others are considered as contributing to the enrichment of our own claims.”[82]
In short, the pluralists accept the importance of all religions and their differences.  In spite of their differences, they have some thing to share with the other.  Eeuwout Klootwijk states that, “in a divided world, pluralists call for mutual enrichment; co-operation; and the sharing of religious resources.”[83]
The pluralists recognize the plural structure of reality. John Hick opines, “our systems of human concepts cannot encompass the ultimately Real.  It is only as humanly thought and experienced that the Real fits into our human categories.”[84]   This is an indication of human limitation in comprehending the ultimate.  For A. P. Nirmal,  “the implication of religious pluralism is that the one God has rich diversity and plurality within Him.”[85] Hence it may be said that human mind is so simple to comprehend the complex and the plural nature of the ultimate.
No doubt the pluralist perspective of the theology of religions is a great departure from the traditional approaches.  In spite of its relevance for a contemporary theology of religions, there are criticisms against it. David Tracy fears that “to recognize the other as other, the different as different is also to acknowledge that other world of meaning as, in some manner, a possible option for myself.”[86]  Gavin D` Costa contends, that pluralism as a category simply does not exist, it is only another form of exclusivism.[87]  There are certain elements of truth.  Every pluralist is exclusively committed to one religion. The difference is that besides such strong commitment, the pluralist wants to contribute to and share from the other in order to be enriched and united for common plan of action. 
Another criticism is that, most pluralists are theocentric in approach.  They place reality, theos, in the place of Christ.  John Hick was the proponent of theocentric model.  His theocentric vision includes the Buddhists as well.  While speaking about Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism Hick says, “they do however in fact, I suggest, exhibit a common structure.  Which is soteriological in the broad sense that it offers a transition from a radically unsatisfactory state to a limitlessly better one.”[88]  This can come about when there is a transition from self-centeredness to reality-centeredness. 
For Hick, the Reality is one but revelations are many.  He writes, “there could not be a divine revelation, through any human means, to mankind as a whole, but only separate revelations within the different streams of human history.”[89]  About the place of Christ he says “we can revere Christ as the one through whom we have found salvation, without having to deny other points of reported saving context between God and man.”[90]  In support of his theocentric position Hick quotes Bhagavad Gīta IV: 11- “Howsoever man may approach me, even so do I accept them, for, on all sides, whatever path they may choose is mine.”[91]
S. J. Samartha finds the uniting point of religions in the ‘Ultimate Mystery’.  He writes, “in the last analysis, religions should be recognized as having responded differently to the mystery of the Ultimate.”[92]  Therefore, there is nothing wrong in accepting the credibility and the genuineness of the religious anubhava (experience) of neighbors of other faiths.[93]  He places people of other faiths on the same footing with Christians.  He says our neighbors too have their answers to the mystery of life and the tragedy of suffering.  “In terms of spiritual depth, intellectual power, cultural richness, and social solidarity they do not regard themselves in any way inferior to Christians.”[94]  Although he was insisting upon the importance of establishing a community of communities, never tampered with faith in Jesus Christ.  In his own words “for Christians the fight against all that destroys true community, the quest for spiritual resources to undergird all efforts to build community, and the search for the ultimate meaning of truly human existence in community cannot be separated from faith in Jesus Christ.”[95] 
The relevance of theocentrism and mysterycentrism may be pursued further in order to estimate the response of Ālvārs to religious pluralism and its relevance for a contemporary Christian theology of religions.  These two can be further understood from the ‘one-many’ paradigm of Ālvārs, which is already discussed in the sixth section under the title ‘one-many a relevant paradigm’ and will be elaborated in the current section of the book.

7.3.7 Dialogue
Dialogue with people of other faiths is the direct outcome of the acceptance of religious pluralism.  “It was Pope Paul VI who in his encyclical Ecclesiam Suam, employed for the first time the term ‘dialogue’ to designate the “new attitude” which the Second Vatican Council had adopted.”[96]  P. D. Devanandan echoed the idea of dialogue in India. S. J. Samartha defined dialogue as “…an attempt to understand and express our particularity not just in terms of our own heritage but also in relation to the spiritual heritage of our neighbors of other faiths.”[97]  In another place he said, “dialogue is a mood, a spirit, an attitude of love and respect towards neighbors of other faiths.”[98]  The first step in dialogue is to generate constructive relation between people of different faiths.
The purpose of the constructive relation among religions is to strengthen life.  It is said, “the dialogue, which is called for is a face to face existence of living together and struggling together as we seek community.”[99]  It is part of life.  In the words of S. J. Samartha, “dialogue is part of the living relationship between people of different faiths and ideologies as they share in the life of community.”[100] It is ideal that the relationship is not confined to religions alone but extended to ideologies as well.  Put negatively, “it will be unwise to form a religious alliance against ideologies in order to save and perpetuate traditional religious institution.”[101]  The reason is that both religions and ideologies exist in order to enhance human life, which is the center of focus in theology of religions.
Raimundo Panikkar goes to the extent of saying that, “the way to peace is neither isolation nor competition, but through dialogues.”[102]  For Panikkar the context of dialogue is not the narrowly specific “religious” filed, but the arena of life, the daily struggle for justice, peace and happiness.[103]  In the words of J. Russell Chandran the important objectives of dialogue will be our common quest for a just society free from all forms of oppression and marginalization.[104]  Here too, it is evident that the very focus of dialogue is life.
In the view of S. J. Samartha “all forms of religious fundamentalism are hindrance to the continuation of inter-religious dialogue.”[105]  Thus he suggested, “inter-religious dialogue, carefully prepared and practiced can help people to respond to the dangers of religious fundamentalism not just on the political but on the religious level as well.”[106]  Fundamentalism is the most dreadful disease that threatens the present world.
Harold G. Coward pointed out the relevance of dialogue as “it is the way of dialogue, and not “theological bulldozing”, that is required of Christians in today’s pluralistic world.”[107] The very acceptance of the reality of plurality in life and religion calls for dialogical existence and dialogical action.
 At the same time there are fears about dialogue.  People of other faiths accuse that; dialogue is simply a new and subtle Christian tool for mission that is being forged in the post-colonial era.[108]  There is also the tendency to treat any form of Christian service as inducement for conversion. This is the reflection of the fundamentalist outlook.
John B. Cobb Jr. indicated the possibility of an unnecessary fear that might creep in to the mind of people before entering into a dialogue with others as, “in the case of dialogue with believers in other traditions there is danger that sympathetic appreciation of their concerns may lead to compromise of faith itself.”[109] Of course, for him, such fear is unwarranted for in inter-religious dialogue.  A more orthodox fear is that dialogue with men of other faiths is a betrayal of mission and disobedience to the command to proclaim the Gospel.[110]  It needs to be maintained that dialogical existence is inevitable theological response to any pluralistic context.
A major criticism against dialogue is raised by the liberation theologians.  “They hold that dialogue has so far tended to favor the dominant class and not the poor.”[111]  This is a legitimate criticism.  In fact this is one of the reasons for the stagnation of dialogue.  Efforts should be taken to see that, the dalits, women, poor etc. are included in the considerations for dialogue.  The use of local (vernacular) language can take dialogue to the bottom of the society.  This is the lesson that may be learned from the Ālvārs’ use of Tamil.
In spite of all these shortcomings the contribution of pluralists and their proposal for dialogue with people of other faiths and ideologies for building up relationship among them to create a responsible community are immense asset to the theology of religions.

7.4 Indian Response to Christian Theology of Religions
Christians have taken several efforts to bring about co-operation and good will among people of other faiths.  This is evident in the commitment of the pluralists and their involvement in dialogue.  Such efforts are looked at with suspicion.  S. J. Samartha writes, “the suspicion that dialogue may be used for purposes of Christian Mission is an ever present fear among neighbors of other faiths.”[112] Conforming this, Sita Ram Goel maintains that “the “dialogue” does not seem to be a sincere attempt at reconciliation; on the contrary, it is only a strategy for survival on the part of Christianity.”[113]  No doubt, it has its background at the missionary nature of Christianity.  But it is not to convert people but to be committed to the life and work of Jesus in establishing a community of peace and justice.  Goel called indigenization, inculturation etc., as fraud and said “it is high time for the Christian theologies to come down to earth and recognize every person’s right to seek truth and salvation in his or her own way.”[114]  It needs to be remembered that the pluralist strand of theology of religions is committed to friendship and co-operation among religions without interfering in the personal religious interest of the individual.
In spite of its openness and liberal strand the Christian theology of religions from the pluralist perspective is under suspect.  Writers like, Arun Shourie has interpreted all the contributions of Christians in India as efforts of proselytization.  It looks there is no legitimate reasons for such suspicion.  People who use religion for selfish purposes, to gain power etc., create such suspicions.  There is no reason to doubt the commitment of the contemporary theology of religions pursued from the pluralist perspective.  It is committed to life and its realities.  It seeks friendly cooperation between religions to pool their resources to sustain life at all levels.  Religions are to guard life.  If they fail to do so, they cease to be religions.  As the challenges to life are increasing, one or two religions alone cannot solve them in isolation.  To protect and enhance life, all religions should work together without losing their individuality and differences.  This is possible only if theology of religions is developed from the ‘life sustaining pluralistic perspective’, which reflects its ontological base in the mystery.
  
7.5 Contemporary Theology of Religions
From the above discussions it is evident that a contemporary theology of religion, in order to be relevant and purposeful, should be rooted in the ‘ultimate mystery’, which is beyond the fuller comprehension of humans and towards discovering which all religions are engaged.  This is a promising way by which all faith traditions can be accounted for and bound together with varieties of unique differences, common quest and genuine commitment.
Another similar demand of the contemporary theology of religions is that it should be life sustaining.  In other words, life and the issues pertaining to life should be the points of action around which all inter religious endeavors revolve around.  Of course these two demands are not independent. They are dependent.  The commitments of the theology of religions are supposed to be rooted in the ultimate mystery.  That is to say that our commitment to the mystery involves our participation in the struggles of life and to enhance life.

7.5.1 Mystery as the Center
            Scholars who are committed to the problem of religious pluralism are convinced that the ultimate reality is beyond the comprehension of human beings.  Therefore it is a mystery.  Paul F. Knitter writes that the divine mystery which we know in Jesus and which we call Theos or God is ever greater than the reality and message of Jesus.[115]  Panikkar explains this mystery from pluralist point of view as “pluralism dethrones monism, and with it monotheism.  Reality does not need to be transparent and intelligible in itself.”[116]  In the words of S. J. Samartha, “a sense of mystery provides a point of unity to all plurality.”[117]  This point of unity holds all religions together with a common purpose.  Without a sense of this point of unity, there is no scope of religious pluralism.
From the point of mystery, “...religions should be recognized as having responded differently to the mystery of the ultimate.”[118]  When talking about theocentric approach, John Hick writes “here the religious universe centers upon the divine Reality; and Christianity is seen as one of a number of worlds of faith which circle around and reflect the Reality.”[119]  Arvind P. Nirmal writes God is capable of innumerable manifestations and can economize his plan of salvation in more than one way.[120]  “Different world religions, then, are God’s ‘Economic Gift’ to mankind.”[121]
            In the present pluralist context, the call of Paul F. Knitter to bring together the concerns of theology of religions and a theology of liberation-or the concerns of a dialogue of religions and a dialogue of liberation[122] is very relevant.  This is the meeting point of the horizontal and vertical dimensions of Christian theology of religions.  Vertically, theology of religion revolves around the mystery and horizontally the mystical root inspires people of all faiths to actively engage in the struggles of humanity.  Thus the mystery is the ontological uniting point and the contemporary energizer for a life sustaining pluralistic perspective.  This is very much in line with the ‘one-many’ paradigm of Ālvārs, which the author considers, can be relevant for a contemporary Christian theology of religions.

7.5.2 Life Sustaining Pluralist Perspective
From the Christian point of view it was maintained that, exclusive, inclusive and relative paradigms are reasonable developments in the Christian theology of religions.  They have helped the theologians of religions to explore a relevant paradigm for the theology of religions.  The pluralist paradigm has provided an adequate foundation for a contemporary theology of religions.  The pluralists have accepted the plural structure of reality.  They are convinced that the plurality of religions is purposeful.  Different religions are independent in their own rights.  But they cannot function in isolation, if they have to serve the real purpose of enhancing human life. An analysis of ordinary life will reveal that, all creatures especially human beings are striving to make a better life.  This striving is not specific to any single religious community.  No single being can escape the stark reality of life – happiness, sorrow, poverty, sickness etc.  Religions have emerged to support and strengthen life in many ways including moral and spiritual.  If religions fail in this crucial task their purpose is lost.  Of course, today, religion is used for selfish reasons.  To restore the unspoiled nature of religion, there should be sound theology of religions.  A sound, relevant and contemporary theology of religions should revolve around life and its realities.  Therefore, a life-sustaining pluralist perspective, which is rooted in the commitment to the incomprehensible ultimate mystery, may be the right paradigm for a relevant theology of religions.
Life is central to all.  Each and every effort of human beings is for sustaining life.  It is unfortunate that often religions are used to destroy life.  Such ugly situation needs to be whipped out.  There are constant efforts in this direction.  The Christian theologies have moved from church-centeredness to Christ-centeredness and from Christ-centeredness to Reality-centeredness.  Now it is necessary that being committed to the ultimate real mystery there is an obvious need to reflect on the commitment to life and its realities.  There are various reasons for this development.

7.5.2.1 Religions on the Wrong Path
The very nature of life sustaining vision of religions was lost in the contemporary world.  Religions are used as a pretext for war, terrorism, power and in short for selfish purposes of a few.  Many selfish fanatics shatter the pluralist vision of religion.  Rather than uniting people, religions now separate them. In the words of Paul F. Knitter “still today the battle cries of Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland, of Muslims and Jews in the Middle East, of Buddhists and Hindus in Sri Lanka, of Sikhs and Hindus and Muslims in India are sad testimonies that religions continue to be more effective at motivating war than peace.”[123]
The peculiar Indian situation requires specific consideration.  The country, which was proud of saying that all religions are true and good is busy in advocating that there are differences between majority and minority religions, in their status.  The reason for such deterioration is the outcome of greed for power.  In order to grab power, thousands of lives are rooted out, in the name of safeguarding religions.  Religions and gods are to safeguard humanity.  But now humanity is championing the cause of protecting religions and gods in order to exploit the innocence of thousands of souls.  The villain behind this dramatic change is political-power.  S. J. Samartha writes,  “religions are used as handmaidens to political interests.”[124]
India was known for caste riots.  There are several other reasons for riots.  But, now there is fancy in attributing religious flavors to riots that were caused by anti social elements.  In the words of A. Pushparajan “many non-religious factors very often influence the riots.  However it is undeniable that the riots have been colored by religious considerations.”[125]
These are only certain insignificant aspects of religions.  There is the possible, harmonious role of religion, which has to be revived in the mind of all.  From Christian point of view the theologian of religions has a hard task to pursue.  He/she cannot be a mere apologist.  He/she has to join hand with committed and sincere people of all faiths and ideologies to restore the life sustaining vision of religions because life alone is common to all besides the one ultimate mystery. Of course, it is possible if only, one is already committed to the ultimate mystery.

7.5.2.2 Life is at Peril
At the global level, life the only factor common to all beings is threatened from various levels.  Life can be saved from these threats only by the co-operation of all people across religious boundaries.  Therefore, there is an urgent need for co-operation between religions. Wilfred Cantwell Smith writes, “unless men can learn to understand and to be loyal to each other across religious frontiers, unless we can build a world in which people profoundly of different faiths can live together and work together, then the prospects for our planet’s future are not bright.”[126]
Nuclear war, economical imbalance, poverty, disease, corruption, ecological degradations, gender discriminations etc., are not the problems of one religious community.  The persistence of these threats can make life difficult on the planet earth.  Paul F. Knitter writes “religions must speak and act together because only so can they make their crucially important contribution to removing the oppression that contaminates our globe.”[127]
At a higher level there are other inequalities that damage the dignity of life.  In order to restore dignity of life, people of all faiths may have to work together.  In the words of S. J Samatha, “it is agreed that the most helpful relationship between persons of different faiths in the world today must be one of co-operation in pursuing common purposes like justice, peace and human rights.”[128]
The only uniting principle across religious boundaries is life. The struggle for existence is a day-to-day reality.  Therefore any relevant theology of religions should focus on life and the issues confronting life.  They are common to all.  Because all other levels like doctrinal, philosophical, etc. lead to unending and unproductive controversies.  One who is committed to the mystery will not slack in his/her responsibility to life and its paradoxes.

7.5.2.3 Context for Co-operation
It is established beyond doubt that reality is plural in nature and therefore it is mystery.  This plurality is represented in various forms of religions.  As the one reality is plural in nature i.e., mystery, humanity cannot be divided on religious grounds.  Beyond religion, culture, philosophy, geography, climate, time, history etc., the common core of humanity is life.  Struggles of life may vary from person to person, yet every one is struggling to live.  Therefore the struggle for existence can bring people of all walks of life, who are committed to the genuine quest for the mystery, together for common action in order to sustain life.
Paul F. Knitter writes that “this world of suffering, which provides the context or Kairos for dialogue.”[129]  Overcoming this suffering and establishing peace is the concern of religions.  Thus he writes further that, “…peace can and must become a common commitment and common ground for conversation and action.”[130]  His wider plan of action was comprehensively called the soterio-centric approach.  But later he said, “working for eco-human justice becomes a common context in which we find ourselves using our different religious stories and symbols.”[131]  He was of the opinion that the liberation theology and theology of religions should work together in meeting the challenges of life.  He wrote “their encounter, may be even their marriage, can bear much fruit for the Christian churches and the world.”[132]  How amazing is his progress from unitive pluralism to thus far!
Paul F. Knitter has made it very clear that theory and action should go hand in hand.  It is not mere relationship among religions that is important, but the culmination of that relationship in the form of constructive action for the sustenance of life.  This, he relates to his living experience.  He says “so people and events in my life have led me sometimes lured me, to what has become for me the moral obligation to join “pluralism and liberation” or “dialogue and global responsibility.”[133]
Aloysius Pieris proposed a new paradigm for the theology of religions in the Asian context.  His main contribution was that he brought to light the importance of considering the poor as the objective of any theology.  Because in Asia there are many religions and cultures at the same time there are many poor.  His paradigm consisted of three aspects.  “The first is the acknowledgement of a third magisterium, namely, that of the poor; the second is the liberational thrust that defines our theology of religions; and finally the social location of this theology is the Basic Human Communities (BHCs).”[134]
It is evident that, any contemporary theology of religions may have to be based upon life and its realities i.e., the struggles of life.  This is the humble voice of all the committed pluralists.  The pluralists are not satisfied with the mere fellowship of religions.  They want to create fellowship among religions and ideologies in order to gather strength against the increasing challenges of life.
The Alvarspresentation of Thirumāl as the one ultimate behind all forms of religions and gods, the one who takes various incarnations to protect the needy and righteous, the one who takes birth in the cowherd family, the one who holds a mountain as umbrella to protect the cattle (economic resource) of his devotees, the one who spoke to a Brahmin priest to carry a saint from the Panar community on his shoulders to his sanctuary and the one who appeared in the vision and instructed Periyālvār to lead his adopted daughter to be married to god himself are few examples in this direction.

7.5.2.4 Jesus is Life-Centered
Jesus was both Theo-centric and life-centered.  He always subjected himself to the will of God.  He always maintained that he has come to do the will of God.  Jesus, because of his intimate relation with God, called Him father.  This father-hood of God is the way God is addressed by Christians.  But the Reality is still a mystery. That is, the mystery is still beyond all means of human comprehensions. The mystery yet, is the axis around which all faith-traditions revolve. Here is where the ‘one-many’ paradigm of the Alvarsis helpful to appreciate the differences and the points of convergences between various faith traditions.
But one thing is very vivid and obvious that is, Jesus was life-centered.  He wanted religions and religious practices to be life sustaining and not life destroying.  Whoever, or whichever faith tradition, is involved in fulfilling the will of God was in the company of Jesus.  He said whoever does the will of my father is my brothers and sisters.[135]  Even if such deeds took place, in an unexpected environment, Jesus appreciated.  He appreciated the faith of the centurion and said even in Israel there was not such faith.[136]  For Jesus the neighbor[137] is one who involves in life saving activity.  That is why, he had to say men would come from east and west, and from north and south, and sit at table in the kingdom of God.[138]
Jesus’ concern for the needy is outstanding.  His selection of people for the reward was on the basis of the amount of service they did to the needy.[139]  This is declared in the ‘Nazareth manifesto’.[140]  He wanted that humanity’s relation to the ultimate mystery and to the people around should go hand in hand.  He said love the lord and love your neighbor.[141]
Jesus’ main enemies were people who used religion as mere ceremonial observance, as means of oppression and as means to escape from the responsibilities.[142]  He wanted to restore sabbath as a source of life for the needy.  He said sabbath is for man and man is not for sabbath.[143]  A taunting question he faced was whether to save or destroy life on sabbath.[144]  He proved in his life that, saving the life of the needy is the chief concern of people who are committed to the ultimate Reality, of course, in manifold forms.
Thus inter religious ventures need to work on these two dimensions.  One is the conviction that, all are committed to the ultimate through diverse channels.  And the other is that commitment demands that life is strengthened in all possible ways to achieve, harmony, peace, Justice and equality for all.

7.6 Relevance of Ālvārs for Contemporary Christian Theology of   Religions
            Using historical and textual method the response of Ālvārs to religious pluralism was analyzed.  Now it is important to analyze its relevance for a contemporary Christian theology of religions.  Before venturing into such endeavor it needs to be remembered that the historical and textual methods seek for a relevant paradigm and interpretation among the many existing ones, without diluting the original content and purpose of the religious text.
            As the response of Ālvārs to religious pluralism anchors on the supreme reality, which has manifested in various names and forms to create, protect and recreate the universe, the contemporary Christian theology of religions rests on the ultimate mystery. It may be called as the ‘one-many’ paradigm. This is in consonance with the obligations of the present pluralistic texture.
On the basis of the ‘one-many’ paradigm, certain other elements may be identified for a relevant contemporary Christian theology of religions from the response to religious pluralism in the bhakti tradition of Ālvārs.  This consideration may be pursued by locating the text in the texture of religious mobility and reflecting the purpose of the text as a committed response to religious pluralism. 

7.6.1 One-Many, a Relevant Paradigm
At the outset it has to be recollected that there are more than one response to religious pluralism in the bhakti tradition of Ālvārs.  As historical and textual methods are applied in the research it shall not be wrong to consider the most relevant pattern for a contemporary Christian theology of religions without ignoring the other existing ones. In doing so, the ‘one-many’ paradigm comes to focus.
According to Nammālvār, Śiva and Brahma live in the body of Tirumāl.[145]  For Tirumańgai Ālvār, Brahma, Śiva and Indra together are the body of Tirumāl.[146]  Even if these verses are interpreted as stressing the equality of gods, there is, in the works of Ālvārs, a very positive and relevant response to people of other faiths.
Poygai Ālvār maintained that Tirumāl himself has become Visnu, Brahma and Śiva.[147]  Tirumalisai indicates that God is one.  He rewards every one irrespective of the deity he/she worships, and he has become the many gods.[148]  Tirumańgai points out that Śiva, Brahma and Visnuare the forms of Tirumāl[149] and He pervades the whole world in the forms of Śiva, Brahma and Visnu.[150]
It is important to note that there are many references in Tiruvāymoli, which is the most prominent among the poems, to suggest that the same Tirumal has become, Brahma, Visnuand Śiva.[151] About the incarnations of Visnuit is said, “he takes the designation of Brahmā, Visnu, Śiva, accordingly as he creates, preserves and destroys.”[152]   Even the response to Jainism and Buddhism is placid.  It is highlighted that, Nārāyana dwells even in the gods of Jains and Buddhists.[153]
Considering the reality as mystery and the different religions as diverse responses to that one ultimate mystery is unique to the Indian religious psyche.   It is clear from the Vedic dictum that,  ‘the truth is one but the sages call it with various names’ (Rgveda 1:164:46) and the declaration of the lord that, ‘what ever path they may choose is mine’ [Bhagavad Gītā IV.II].  It goes very well with the mystical nature of Ālvārs and the mystical nature of the ultimate reality. 
This consideration is very crucial for a relevant and contemporary Christian theology of religions for it provides a common axis to all faith traditions and it accounts for the varieties of religious experiences.  Further, a strong commitment to this mystery provides concrete platform for inter religious understanding and the resulting common human endeavors to sustain life. Unless the ultimate is understood as mystery there is a possibility for arrogant attitude among religions.  The incomprehensible dimension of the mystery provides the required simplicity and humility in matters of religious knowledge. And it also acknowledges meaning to the unceasing spiritual quest of humanity in all times.

7.6.2 Constituents of Contemporary Theology of Religions
The acceptance of Ālvārs’ ‘one-many’ paradigm as relevant for a contemporary theology of religions warrants that the theology of religions become centrifugal in that it is not just limited to theology alone but looks for proxy oriented involvements. This is evident in the poems of Ālvārs.

7.6.2.1 Spiritual Underpinning
            A relevant theology of religion should be life sustaining.  To be so, and to create constructive impact it ought to have the underpinning of concrete spiritual resource.  That is, commitment to the mystery and the consequent involvement in a life sustaining vision go hand in hand. It is brought out very precisely as:
We stand in need for an urgent spiritual revival.  The basic elements of such a revival are: [a] the integration of reason and faith [b] a pronounced and practical commitment to social justice, with a preferential option for the poor and the oppressed [c] a spiritual culture of engagement rather than escapism, vis-à-vis the issues that afflict the lives of the people and [d] the spiritual education of the masses to fortify them against emotional and mental manipulation at the hands of religious quacks and charlatans.  The corruption of religion is a serious matter.  Arguably it is the mother of all other corruptions.[154]         

Theology of religions strives to enable ‘faith traditions’ to restore their original commitment to the mystery so as to prompt genuine commitment for life.  It is said that, “the need of the hour is for all of us to look beyond our narrow communal boundaries and think for the health and wholeness of the society and nation.”[155]
The response to religious pluralism in the bhakti tradition of Alvarshelp realizing that, one of the aspects lacking in the proponents of religions is the emphasis upon authentic spiritual foundation.  Unless one is strongly rooted in spiritual life the out come will be short lived or arrogant.  A spiritually matured person could view all beings as equal.  It is said, “while different social and political forces are at work to redeem a situation such as this, religious and spiritual resources offer permanent solutions to the contemporary evils in society.”[156]  The importance of strong spiritual foundation for a broader outlook is stated, as “we need a spiritual humanism – which, in searching for its roots does not stop with the human person, but reaches out to his/her further roots in God.”[157]
The supreme need of spiritual foundation is expressed as “what is required today is the transformation of the ‘individual’s life and attitude.”[158]  Thus the spiritual values of religions need to be stressed always in a pluralistic context.  It is not mere spirituality.  What is required is a deep-rooted and committed spirituality wherein one transcends all the differences and feels the commonness of life and its reality.
Today morality is at stake for various reasons.  Inequality of different sorts prevails.  People dare using religious sentiments for political gains.  Corruption and exploitations are rampant.  These are the results of irreligious attitude of people.  It is said, “surely the spiritual resources of religions are necessary for public morality.”[159]
The Alvarswere immersed in the bliss of God.  Their songs are spontaneous expressions of their rich religious experience.  Although they did not directly involve in the struggles of people they kept reminding the people that being close to God or being sound in spiritual life can be remedy to the ills of the world.  The right weapon to fight the evils of the contemporary world is concrete spiritual life.
            Poygai Ālvār appeals to the soul that ‘even if it reaches the feet of God, it should not cease devotion to Tirumāl’:
            Jiz/ ehs@/ bgU'@fpisa[k@ bjhy@ FyKk@ Rw@wj@J
       ,iz/ ehSk@ ,d@g[ cilj@jhnkYk@-fizehzpy@
       Xthj@ bjhHpy@ rhh@'@fd@ bjhy@ rPiu/ ey@ be"@nr!
Xthj Czhf cz@.[160]
Periyālvār writes, let the continuous relation between you and us remain for thousand years.[161]  History shows that anything ventured apart from spiritual orientation, like humanism, materialism and secularism fail to meet the need of people.  Therefore, there is strong need for deep spiritual underpinning.  It should be a constant and continuous requirement.
According to Tirumańgai Ālvār religious people live free from sins[162] and God protects their dignity.[163]  That is to say, such people are free from attachment to the world,[164] which is a great ethical demand from the theologian of religions.
The Hindu religious tradition abounds with such resources.  The concept of Jivan mukta has no equal expression in any religion.  Jivan mukta is a person who has realized God in his present life.  After realizing God, he is not attached to the pleasures of the world.  He helps others to attain Jivan mukti.  He devotes the rest of his life to illuminate the world from darkness. Similarly the Ālvārs who had realized God in their lives persuaded others through their poems to such a commitment.
Jesus was committed to his father.  He always maintained that he came to do the will of the father.  His spiritual commitment was so great that, he even ignored his own life.  His commitment to the father made him to be life centered.
What is possible for the theologian of religions is to help people of diverse faiths to actualize these great religious ideals of their own religions, in the practical life.  No religion lacks such ideals.  It is the people who ignore such ideals. Only real spirituality transcends all man-made obstacles.  This is the lesson that the Ālvārs’ life teaches.  Any person who wanted to be effective in building up an ideal form of community should be exclusively committed to one specific religion, before participating with the people of other faiths.
The church should be committed to this endeavor.  In a pluralist country like India, the church must take all possible efforts to create a strong, genuine and committed spiritual life among the followers of all religions.  This can be a crucial part of the mission of the church.  This includes constant interaction with the people of other faiths and committed action against the evils of the society.  Here the Christian is not selling his commodity.  She\he is helping herself\himself and others to utilize their own resources for the benefit of the larger community.
7.6.2.2 Human Dignity and Liberative Motive
The second constituent element in the contemporary theology of religions is the concern for humanity.  Concern for humanity can come about only out of sound spiritual experience.  The spiritual experience convinces people that all are equal in the face of religion.  The poems of Alvarsembody evidence that they were keen on protecting human dignity; and liberative motives are implicit in them. Their religion was articulated in a way everybody could practice it.  Making religion accessible to all, irrespective of status and introducing the concept of serving the devotee disregard to birth, are evidences for their struggle against human oppressions.
            Another purpose of their songs was that people should be liberated from the world of suffering.  Pūtattālvār writes, chant the name of the lord and make the whole world holy.[165]  He also says even if people develop little interest over God, the world will be safe.[166]  Nammālvār insists the other aspect of liberation and asks people to work with their hands.[167]
The shift of concentration from God and doctrines to humanity and struggles of people is the demand of the context.  Herbert Jaiy Singh writes, “it is however, perhaps not in rigid theological formula that we find the secret of relating ourselves to men of other faiths but in the personal awareness of our humanity.”[168]  The significance of humanity to be the chief concern is stated further as “we are thrown together in the common task of life and this is so whether we like it or not.”[169]
Taking the specific Indian context S. J. Samartha writes that “unless the Hindu-Christian quest for truth is related to the ongoing life of the community, to the life of people who are struggling, suffering, and dying in the world today, it will remain isolated.”[170] The United Nations “…calls for building an “unprecedented collaboration” among world’s diverse faiths and traditions to co-operate in building peaceful societies.”[171]  Unless inter-religious relations are pursued from deep commitment to the mystery and its resulting participation in the struggles of life, it will not be successful.  It is said, “inter-religious harmony will become a reality only when members of different religions learn to struggle together in the defense of common human and spiritual values.”[172]  In this struggle the poor should get preferential option.[173]  In short, placing humanity and human concerns at the center, because of the commitment to the mystery, theology of religions becomes more meaningful and action oriented.  It avoids unproductive arguments and disagreements.

7.6.3 Equality of Devotees
Breaking the caste-ridden structure of the society is another constituent element of a contemporary theology of religions.  Indian society is under the clutches of caste.  It is painful that caste-politics is the prevalent fashion today.  It is practiced not only at political level but also in the church.  Church leaders and officials are elected on the basis of caste. It looks even if people want to ignore caste differences the church will be happy to preserve it for power hunt. The number of violence and bloodshed, in the name of caste is increasing.  Those who incite caste rivalries have great lesson from the life of Ālvārs.
The lives and works of Alvarsreveal that they did not observe caste.  It is said that the bhakti tradition of Alvarsdisregarded hierarchical and formal traditions. The Alvarsconsisted of saints from different caste groups.  There were ksatriyas, sudras and even the out caste.  Even the religion of the Alvarscalled prapatti is meant for people of all classes. 
Periyālvār appeals to the new devotees that they should give up caste prestige and begin to praise God.[174]  It is important to note that according to him the devotees are equal.  And every devotee should praise the deity.  Nobody can be exempted on the basis of birth in a higher social order.  Further, singing praises to God is one of the fundamental duties of a Vaisnavite.
It was unbecoming that the Ācāryas who succeeded the Alvarsoften attempted to maintain caste differences.  Yet the life of Alvars is a great testimony to their bold step in nullifying the gravity of caste distinctions.  Is caste not a grave challenge that people of all faiths should consider together? The theologian of religions should always be careful to see that, in the matters of religious co-operation caste elements do not penetrate.  Committed theologians of religions should take all possible efforts to avoid caste distinctions.  Caste is a stigma.  Millions of people fight against the human made evil. 
Thus one of the chief concerns of the co-operative action between religions can be to unite all people to fight against caste discriminations and to be a voice for the voiceless.  This is a burning issue in India, which demands immediate and serious attention of the theology of religions.

7.6.4 Break in Orthodoxy
Religions can come together to find justice to the frequent gender discriminations caused to the women in India.  Women are often treated with less dignity.  The social evils like dowry, female infanticide etc. affects women’s dignity.  It was already pointed out that the pleasing feature of Ālvār movement was that it ignored caste, rank and sex distinctions. 
The equality of woman was maintained in the bhakti tradition of Ālvārs.  Among the twelve Alvarsone was a woman.  Her compositions form the part of daily recitation during worships at home, temple and ritual.  The recognition of a woman into such a spiritual community then was a landmark. It was a break in the traditional orthodoxy.  It may be because of the reflection of the ancient Tamil culture where women are treated with respect and dignity.  Probably it could not have been possible after Aryans influenced the south.
As the woman play equal role in the family and social life their causes should be taken into consideration.  It should take place in all religious communities.  Can’t people of all faiths work together to establish equality among sexes and abolish the degrading discriminations?
A relevant theology of religions should have scope for the inclusion of women’s issues.  The theologian will have to take extra effort in mobilizing all religious spokes- persons to fight for women and their rights. In the previous section it was indicated that Āndāl the female Ālvār addressed God as one who came to liberate women, God took the form of woman and the consort of the deity is given prominence in the Ālvār tradition of bhakti.
Unless women are brought to the main stream of life their contributions will be under-utilized or unutilized.  This can affect the growth of a nation at various levels.  It amounts to the drop of fifty percent contribution, in various levels, towards all forms of development.   Hence struggling for the cause of woman may be another platform where people of different faiths may voice together.

7.6.5 Life in Harmony with Nature         
Another concern that should become part of any contemporary theology of religions is ecology.  Nature exists to support and sustain life.  Growing globalised market economy consumes the resources of nature as a commodity and destroys it out of want and greed.  Such a destruction of nature amounts to cutting at the very root of life.  Today, global warming bothers the whole world.  People are paying for air.  Precious species of living creatures are perishing.  So much of ecological imbalance is created that humanity is not in a position to restore it.  It has affected the global atmosphere.
At this juncture, the hymns of the Alvarsprovide positive spiritual inspiration for the preservation and utility of nature.  The Alvarsused the beauty of nature to express their spiritual experience.  All the possible sources of nature were so beautifully described in the hymns of Alvarsin order to convey the spiritual message.  It is also part of Tamil heritage. In the words of Felix Wilfred “the identity of the Tamils had its base on nilam or nadu – ecological proprieties of the land, to which one belonged.”[175]
The Alvarsteach that, the universe is not just the creation of God, but God himself.  Tirumaliśai Ālvār wrote God is the soul [atman] of sound, devas, human beings, animals and plants.[176]  For Poygai Ālvār, God is, this world, sea, wind, and life and haughtiness.[177]  These are evidences to suggest that the Alvarslived with nature, enjoyed the beauty of nature and realized the real value of nature. The description of nature in the works of Ālvārs testifies their affinity and respect for nature. Again it is to be noted that the Indian tradition regards the earth and its products as divine.
Today, there is an urgency to immediately consider the importance of the divinity and the life supporting value of the nature for humanity.  A selected people alone cannot accomplish this task.  People across religious boundaries should join hands. This venture may be a source of co-operation for people of different religions because ecological degradation affects one and all with equal degree.  Unless concrete efforts are taken to maintain ecological balance, life in this planet will become unhealthy.  Is it not a valid point of contact for people of different faiths to work together and contribute their religious riches for the sake of the humanity to overcome ecological imbalance?

7.6.6 Reaching the Grassroots
The bhakti tradition of Alvars is a good example to correct the defects in the theology of religions.  One of the main reasons for the failure of the efforts of theologians of religions is that their efforts do not reach the grass-roots level.  The reason is that most theological debates are conducted in foreign languages.  The discussions are held at places, like sophisticated conference halls or theological seminaries.  The common person has no access to such places and discussions.  If efforts are taken to translate such happenings to people at the bottom, the impact will be high.
The Alvars were very successful because, they used the language of the people to spread their religious experience.  The use of local language itself is an indication that the religious hierarchy is broken.  It was against the then existed Brahmanical orthodoxy.  But it reached the common people.  The effect of vernacular was so great that the bhakti tradition of Ālvārs could evoke the sentiments of people to the level of unwavering adherence to Vaisnavism.
Local theology does not lose universality, as it is part of the universal whole. It can contribute to others, or learn from others.  Here, identity is maintained without disregarding the other.  It reaches the required mass. Even today, if theology of religions should be more effective and wide- spread, attempts should be made to include the grass roots level feelings into it.  There should be conscious effort to pass on to them, what is happening elsewhere.  So that it influences the bottom of society.  It is also crucial to remember that, the idea is shared with many.  Unless change is effected at grass-roots level, whatever changes are envisaged become only an ideology at a peripheral level.  Use of the vernacular can be much more effective than using alien languages in inter religious endeavors because language of the people can convey them real meaning.  The alien languages do not have such penetrative effect.  The Ālvārs were successful in this regard and it is a momentous lesson for the theology of religions.

7.6.7 Inclusive Liturgy
            In matters of inter-religious fellowships, the use of language is an issue, especially whether God should be addressed with male or female name.  Nammālvār inspires us to use an inclusive liturgical language.  He addresses God, as you are my mother, father, children and the other objects[178] and assures the soul that God is both mother and father.[179]  Again it is said, God loves us as father and mother and descends into this world.[180]  Tondaradippodi Ālvār says the lord is my mother and father.[181]  There are many more references in the works of Ālvārs.   The inclusive language may be acceptable and encouraging to all, particularly, when the church is facing the challenge between the traditional male dominated liturgical language and the present need for an all-inclusive liturgy.  
The inclusion of feminine attributes to God on par with the masculine, in the poems of Ālvārs deserves emphasis as it has shattered the traditional patriarchic tone in matters of religion. It is also clear that the concern for women and inclusive language go hand in hand.  It is also time for the Christian theology of religions to be sensitive towards the use of language, and be inspired to explore dynamic ways to express and explain the inexplicable mystery towards which all human religious quests are directed.

Summary
The change from the existence of plurality of religions to religious pluralism is vivid in the present context.  Many factors have facilitated this transformation.  The geographical discoveries brought together the isolated human beings, more than ever before.  The collapse of colonialism helped freedom of expression in all realms of life.  Modern technology has broken down the barriers of communication.  Thus, knowledge is shared equally with everybody.  The study of religion as a separate subject has over thrown all the traditional misunderstandings about religions.  The New Testament studies have helped Christianity overcome the traditional orthodoxy. It is also evident that Christianity alone cannot provide solutions to the global issues.  The struggle for freedom and identity is the common concern of all and is not restricted to any specific community.  There is, in general, a longing for a better human life.
Both Catholic and Protestant churches are now open to the issue of religious pluralism. The openness shown in the Vatican two document might lose significance because of the later declaration.  Nevertheless many individual scholars have propounded diverse approaches to the other faith-traditions.  Most of these proposals are orthodox in nature because they uphold the superiority of Christ and Christianity.  There is little regard for the other faith-traditions.
The usual Christian approaches to people of other faiths may be analyzed under the modern categories called exclusive view, inclusive view, relativist view and pluralist view.  The outcome of the pluralist perspective is inter-religious dialogue.  It also insists upon the importance of considering the ultimate reality as mystery and demands that the commitment to the mystery should be actualized in participating in the struggles of life. The reason for such demand is that the present context is in need of genuine religious solution to the problems that threaten the very life.  Above all Jesus was fully committed to the Father and that commitment was stunning in His life centered mission.
The response to religious pluralism in the bhakti tradition of Alvarshas a relevant paradigm for a contemporary   Christian theology of religion in the form of ‘one-many’ i.e. the one ultimate mystery, Visnuhas manifested himself in manifold forms to create, preserve and recreate the universe.  
 Besides, there are other relevant insights for a contemporary Christian theology of religions in the bhakti tradition of Ālvārs.  Their insistence upon the necessity for strong underpinning in spiritual life is relevant for a contemporary Christian theology of religions to be deeply rooted in concrete spiritual foundation.  The concern of Alvarsto protect human dignity and the liberative motive implicit in their poems can be an added strength to the contemporary theology of religions.
The Ālvārs’ exclusion of caste and a women being a member of their band are examples to show that they broke away from the traditional orthodoxy and were committed to equality and emancipation of the downtrodden. These are real eye-openers to the contemporary theology of religions.  Their description of nature and the creative use of it in their response to religious pluralism is a crucial lesson to the theology of religions and it goes along with the Indian tradition that the world is divine.
 Their magnificent use of Tamil in poetry to convey spiritual realities enabled them to be acceptable to the grass-roots people.  To be more effective theology of religions should see that it reaches the common mass.  The Ālvārs’ use of inclusive language to address God has a greater significance for a relevant liturgy in the context of religious pluralism.


[1]K. P. Aleaz, Theology of Religions: Birmingham Papers and Other Essays, Calcutta, Moumita Publishers & Distributors, 1998, pp.227 – 228.
[2]Ibid., p.168.
[3]Alan Race, Christians and Religious Pluralism; Patterns in the Christian Theology of Religions. London, SCM Press Ltd., 1983, p.3.
[4] See Francis X. Clooney, Seeing Through Texts: Doing Theology Among the Srīvaisnavas of South India, Op. Cit., p.103. 
[5]Rienze Perera “Religions, Cultures and Peace: The Challenge of Religious Pluralism and the Common Life in Asia” Faith and Life in Contemporary Asian Realities, Report of the Asia Conference on Church and society (Sept. 23 – 30, 1999), ed. by  Feliciano V. Cariño and Marina True, Hong Kong, Christian Conference of Asia, 2000, P.109.
[6]J. Paul Rajasekar, ed., Religious Pluralism and Lutheran Theology
 (LWF Report 23/24), Geneva, 1988, p.11.
[7]V. F. Vineeth, “Interreligious Dialogue: Past and Present a Critical Appraisal”, Journal of Dharma, Vol. XIX, NO. 1, (January – March 1997), p.42.
[8]J. Paul Rajasjekar, ed., Religious Pluralism and Lutheran Theology, Op. Cit., p.9.
[9]V.F. Vineeth, Journal of Dharma, Op. Cit., p.42.
[10]S. J. Samartha, One Christ Many Religions; Towards a Revised Christology, Bangalore, SATHRI in Association with Wardmakers, 1992, p.3.
[11]S. J. Samarath, Courage for Dialogue; Ecumenical Issues in Inter-Religious Relationships, Geneva, World Council of Churches, 1981, p.16. 

[12]Harold G. Coward, Religious Pluralism and the World Religions, Madras, The Dr. S. Radhakrishnan Institute for Advanced Study in Philosophy, University of
Madras, 1983, p.25.
[13]Ibid., p.25.
[14]John Hick ‘The Non-absoluteness of Christianity’, The Myth of Christian Uniqueness; Toward a Pluralistic Theology of Religions, ed. By, John Hick and Paul F. Knitter, New York, ORBIS Books, 1987, p.17.
[15]Kuncheria Pathil, ‘Christian Approach to Other Faiths, A Historical Perspective’, N.C.C. Review, Vol. CX, NO.2 (February 1990), p. 66.
[16]Paul F. Knitter, No Other Name?; A Critical Survey of Christian Attitudes Toward the World Religions, London, SCM Press Ltd., 1985, p.3.
[17]Ibid., p.3. 
[18]Jacques Dupuis, Jesus Christ at the Encounter of World Religions, Translated from the French by Robert R. Barr, First Indian Edition, New Delhi, Intercultural Publications, 1996, p.3.
[19]Owen C. Thomas ed., Attitude Toward Other Religions; Some Christian Interpretations, London, SCM Press Ltd., 1969, p.10.
[20]Jacques Dupuis, Jesus Christ at the Encounter of World Religions, Op. Cit., p.4.
[21]CH. Sreenivasa Rao, ed., Inter-Faith Dialogue and world Community, Madras, CLS., p. XIV.
[22]Ibid., p. XVIII.
[23]Owen C. Thomas ed., Attitudes Toward Other Religions; Some Christian Interpretations, Op. Cit., p. 11.
[24]Paul F. Knitter, No Other Name?; A Critical Survey of Christian Attitudes Toward the World Religions, Op. Cit., p.7.
[25]Ibid., p.13. 
[26]Ibid.
[27]The Hindu, ‘Religions for Peace’, Chennai, September 4, 2000.
[28]Ram Puniyani, ‘Thou Shall be Banished’, The New Indian Express, Chennai, October 12, 2000.
[29]T.V.R. Shenoy, ‘Secularism is not for Hindus Alone: Mutual Respect and Esteem’, The New Indian Express, Chennai, October 12, 2000.
[30]Harlod G. Coward, Religious Pluralism and the World Religions, Madras, The Dr. S. Radhakrishnan Institute for Advanced Study in Philosophy, University of
Madras, 1983, p.15.
[31]John Hick, ‘The Non-Absoluteness of Christianity’, The Myth of Christian Uniqueness,Op. Cit., p. 17.
[32]S. J. Samartha, One Christ Many Religions; Toward a Revised Christology,
Op. Cit., p.2.
[33]Ibid., p.2.
[34]Valson Thampu, ‘Christian Spirituality in a Religiously Plural Context’, N.C.C. Review, Vol. CIX. No.1 (January 1989) , p.4.
[35]John Hick and Brain Hebblethwaite, ed., Christianity and Other Religions, Selected Readings, Great Britain, Collins, Fount Paperbacks, 1980, p.82.
[36]Jose Kuttianimattathil, Practice and Theology of Interreligious Dialogue, Bangalore, Kristu Jyoti Publications, 1995, p.77.
[37]Kuncheria Pathil, ‘Christian Approach to the Other Faiths: Historical Perspective’, N.C.C. Review, Vol. CX, No. 2 (February 1990), p.76.
[38]Eeuwout Klootwijk, Commitment and Openness; The Inter Religious Dialogue and Theology of Religion in the Work of Stanley J. Samartha, Zoetermeer, Boekencentrum, 1962, p.103.
[39]Wesley Aryarajah, Hindus and Christians; A Century of Protestant Ecumenical Thought Michigan, William B. Eerdmas Publishing Company, 1991, p. 18.
[40]Ibid., p.27. 
[41]Ibid., p.32.
[42]CH. Sreenivasa Rao, ed., Inter-Faith Dialogue and world Community,
Op. Cit., p. XXI.
[43]Ibid., p. XXXI.
[44]Karl Barth, ‘The Revelation of God as the Abolition of Religion’, Christianity and Other Religions, ed. by, John Hick and Brain Hebblethwaite, Op. Cit., p.35.
[45]Ibid., p.33.
[46]H. Kraemer, The Christian Message in a Non-Christian World, London, The Ediburgh House Press, 1938, p.88.
[47]Ibid., p.415.
[48]A. C. Bouquet, The Christian Faith and Non-Christian religions, New York, Harper and Brothers, 1958, p.15.
[49]Ajith Fernando, The Christian’s Attitude Towards World Religions, Mumbai, Gospel Literature Services, 1980, p.158.
[50]Ibid., p.182.
[51]Eeuwout Klootwijk, Commitment and Openness; The Inter Religious Dialogue and Theology of Religion in the Work of Stanley J. Samartha, Op. Cit., p.238.

[52]Jose Kuttianimattathil., Practice and Theology of Inter Religious Dialogue, Bangalore, Kristu Jyoti Publications, 1995, p.238.
[53]CH. Sreenivasa Rao, ed., Inter-Faith Dialogue and world Community,
Op. Cit., p.XIX.
[54]Ibid., p. XIX.
[55]Ibid.
[56]Kenneth Cragg., The Christ and the Faiths, Great Britain, ISPCK, 1986, p.4.
[57]Karl Rahner, ‘Christianity and the Non-Christian Religions’, Christianity and Other Religions ed. by, John Hick & Paul F. Knitter, Op. Cit., p.75.
[58]CH. Sreenivasa Rao, ed., Inter-Faith Dialogue and world Community,
Op. Cit., p. XXX.
[59]Heinz Robert Schlette, Towards a Theology of Religions, London, Burns & Oates, 1966, p.104.
[60]CH. Sreenivasa Rao, ed., Inter-Faith Dialogue and World Community,
Op. Cit., p. XXXI.
[61] Jacques Dupuis, Jesus Christ at the Encounter of World Religions, Op. Cit., 
p.242.
[62]Jose Kuttianimattathil., Practice and Theology of Inter Religious Dialogue,
 Op. Cit., p. 242.
[63]Eeuwout Klootwijk, Commitment and Openness; The Inter Religious Dialogue and Theology of Religion in the Work of Stanley J. Samartha, Op. Cit., p.9.
[64]Arnold Toynbee, Christianity among the Religions of the World, London, Oxford University Press, 1958, pp. 99 - 100.
[65]Ibid., p.100.
[66]A. Pushparajan, From Conversion, to Fellowship; The Hindu Christian Encounter in the Gandhian Perspective, Allahabad, St. Paul Publications, 1990, p.166.
[67]Kuncheria Pathil, ‘The New Encounter with Other Faiths’, Jeevadhara, Vol. XXIII, No. 136 (July 1993), p.276.
[68]Arvind P. Nirmal, Heuristic Explorations, Madras, C.L.S., 1990, p.75.
[69]Raimundo Panikkar, Unknown Christ of Hinduism, New Edition, Bangalore, Asian Trading Corporation, 1982, p.32.
[70]S. J. Smaratha, ‘Commitment and Tolerance in a Pluralistic Society’,  N.C.C.  Review, Vol. CVI, No. 2, (February 1986), p.75.
[71]Alan Race, Christians and Religious Pluralism; Patterns in the Christian Theology of Religions, Op. Cit., p.148.
[72]S. J. Samartha, One Christ Many Religions; Toward a revised Christology,
Op. Cit., p.4.
[73]S. J. Samartha, Between Two Cultures, India, Asian Trading
Corporation, 1997, p.190.
[74]Rainmon Panikkar, A Dwelling Place for Wisdom, Trans. by Annemarie S. Kidder, Louisville, Kentucky, Westminster / John Knox Press, 1993, p.85.
[75]John Hick, Problem of Religious Pluralism, The Macmillan Press Ltd., 1985, p.91.
[76]B. Satapathy & K. Panda, Secularism an Indian Perspective, Ahmedabad, Karnavati Publications, 1998, p.44.
[77]Kuncheria Pathil, ‘Christian Approach to Other Faiths: A Historical Perspective’, N.C.C Review, Vol. CX, No.2 (February 1990), p.67.
[78]Alan Race, Christians and Religious Pluralism; Patterns in the Christian Theology of Religions, London, SCM Press Ltd., 1983, pp. 147 – 148.
[79]Paul F. Knitter, No Other Name?, Op. Cit., p.9.
[80]K. P. Aleaz, Theology of Religions, Calcutta, Moumita Publishers and Distributors, 1998, p.172.
[81]Ibid., p.193.
[82]K.P. Aleaz, Theology of Religions, Op. Cit., p.194.
[83]Eeuwout Klootwijk, Commitment and Openness; The Inter Religious Dialogue and Theology of Religion in the Work of Stanley J. Samartha, Op.Cit., p.12.
[84]John Hick, “A Pluralist View”, in Dennis L. Okholm, Timothy R. Phillips et all ed. Four views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World. Michigan, Zondervan Publishing House, 1995, p.50.
[85]Arvind P. Nirmal, Heuristic Explorations, Op. Cit., p.59.
[86]David Tracy, Dialogue with the Other; The Inter-religious Dialogue, Louvain,
Peeters Press, 1990, p.41.
[87]Gavin D` Costa, ‘The Impossibility of a Pluralist View of Religions’, Religious studies, Vol. 32, No.2 (June 1996), p.232.
[88]John Hick, Problem of religious Pluralism, Op. Cit., p.69.
[89]John Hick, ‘Whatever Path Men Choose is Mine’, Christianity and Other Religions, ed. by, John Hick and Brian Hebblethwaite, Op. Cit., p.183.
[90]Ibid., p.186.
[91]Ibid., p.190.
[92]S. J. Samatha, The Lordship of Jesus Christ and Religious Pluralism, Madras, The Christian Literature Society, 1981, p. 23.
[93]S. J. Samartha, Between Two Cultures, Op. Cit., p.151.
[94]S. J. Samartha, The Lordship of Jesus Christ and Religious Pluralism, Op. Cit.,
p.3.
[95]S. J. Samartha, ‘Dialogue as a Continuing Christian concern’, Religion and 
Society, Vol. XVIII, No.1 (March 1971), p.22.
[96]A. Pushparajan, From Conversion to Fellowship, Op. Cit., p.47.
[97]S. J. Samarath, Courage for Dialogue; Op. Cit., p.99.
[98]Ibid., p.100.
[99]S. J. Samartha, ‘Courage for Dialogue. An Interpretation of the Nairobi Debate’, Religion and Society, Vol. XXIII, No.3 (September 1976), p. 35.
[100]S. J. Samartha, ‘Dialogue as a Continuing Christian Concern’, Religion and Society,  Op. Cit.p.11.,
[101]S. J. Samartha, ‘Dialogue as a Continuing Christian concern’ In Christianity and Other Religions, Op. Cit., p. 159. 
[102]Raimundo Panikkar, ‘Foreword’, in Hindu-Christian Dialogue: Perspectives and Encounters, New York, OBBIS Books, 1990, p. IX.
[103]Ibid., p. IX.
[104]J. Russel Chandran, Mission in Today’s Pluralistic Context’, N.C.C Review, Vol. CXIV, No. 5 (May – June 1994), p.360.
[105]S. J. Samartha, Between Two Cultures, Op. Cit., pp. 167 – 168.
[106]S. J. Samartha, ‘The Future of Inter-religious Dialogue: Threats and Promises’, Journal of Dharma, Vol. XIX, No.1 (January-March 1997), p.83.
[107]Harlod G. Coward, Religious Pluralism and the World Religions, Op. Cit., p.40.
[108]S. J. Samartha, ‘Dialogue as a Continuing Christian concern’ In Christianity and Other Religions, Op. Cit., p.3.
[109]John B. Cobb, Jr., ‘Dialogue’, Death or Dialogue? ed. by, Leonard Swidler, John B. Cobb Jr. et al ., London, SCM Press, 1990, p.3.
[110]S. J. Samartha, ‘Dialogue as a Continuing Christian concern’, Op. Cit., p.162.
[111]Jose Kuttianimattathil., Practice and Theology of Inter Religious Dialogue,
 Op. Cit., p.118.
[112]S. J. Samartha, One Christ Many Religions; Toward a revised Christology,
 Op. Cit., p.22.
[113]Sita Ram Goel, History of Hindu – Christian Encounters, New Delhi,
Voice of India, 1989, p. IV.
[114]Ibid., p. X.
[115]Paul F. Knitter, Jesus and the Other Names, New York, ORBIS, Books, 1996, p. 9.
[116]Raimon Panikkar, A Dwelling Place for Wisdom, Trans. by Annemarie S. Kidder, Louisville, Kentucky, Westminister/John Knox Press, 1995, p. 85.
[117]S. J. Samartha, One Christ Many Religions – Toward a Revised Christology, Bangalore, SATHRI in Association with Word Markers, 1992, p. 5.

[118]S. J. Samartha, The Lordship of Jesus Christ and Religious Pluralism, Madras, The Christian Literature Society, 1981,  p. 23.
[119]John Hick, Problems of Religious Pluralism, The Macmillan Press Ltd., 1985, p. 
53.
[120]Arvind P. Nirmal, Heuristic Explorations, Madras, CLS, 1990, p. 59.
[121]Ibid., p.59.
[122]Paul F. Knitter, Jesus and Other Names, New York, ORBIS Books, 1996, p.15.
[123]Paul F. Knitter, ‘Inter-Religious Dialogue and the Unity of Humanity’, Journal of 
Dharma, Vol.  XVI, No. 4,  (October – December 1992), p. 284.
[124]S. J. Samartha , ‘Inter-Religious Relationships in the Secular State’, p.62.
[125]A. Pushparajan, From Conversion, to Fellowship, Op. Cit., p.18.

[126]Wilfred Cantwell Smith, ‘The Christian in a Religiously Plural World’, Christianity and Other Religions, Op. Cit., p.95.
[127]Paul F. Knitter, ‘Toward a Liberation Theology of Religions’, The Myth of Christian Uniqueness, Op. Cit., p. 181.
[128]S. J. Samartha, Courage for Dialogue: Ecumenical Issues in Inter-Religious Relationships, Geneva, World Council of Churches, 1981, p.30.
[129]Paul F. Knitter, One Earth Many Religions, Multifaith Dialogue and Global Responsibility, New York, ORBIS, 1996, p.58.
[130]Ibid., p. 66.
[131]Ibid., p. 113.
[132]Paul F. Knitter, ‘Religion and Liberation in Defense of a Pluralistic Theology of Religions’, N.C.C Review, Vol. CXII, No. 4 (April 1992), p.229.
[133]Paul F. Knitter, One Earth Many Religions, Op. Cit., p.11.

[134]Aloysius Pieris,  Fire and Water, Basic issues in Asian Buddhism and Christianity, New York, ORBIS Books, 1996, p.156.
[135]Mark 3:35.
[136]Luke 7:9.
[137]Luke 10:29.
[138]Luke 13:29.
[139]Matthew 25:35.
[140]Luke 4:18-19.
[141]Mark 12:30&31.
[142]Matthew 9:13, 15:6, & Mark 7:11 & Luke 11:42.
[143]Mark 2:27.
[144]Matthew 12:10, & Mark 3:4, & Luke 6:9.
[145]Nammālvār, Tiruvāymoli, Verse 3022, [Tiruvāymoli], Nālāyiram, Volume II,
p. 44.
[146]Tirumańgai Ālvār, Periya Tirumoli, Verse 1456, [Periya Tirumoli], Nālāyiram,
Volume I, p. 202.
[147]Poygai Ālvār, Mudal Tiruvandādi, Verse 2096, [Iyarpā], Nālāyiram, Volume II,
p. 8.
[148]Tirumaliśai Ālvār, Nanmukan Tiruvandādi, Verse 2383, [Iyarpā], Nālāyiram,
Volume II,  p.106. &  Nammālvār, Tiruviruttam, Verse 758, [Mudalāyiram], Nālāyiram,
Volume I, p. 302.  &  Verse 768, p. 304.
[149]Tirumańgai Ālvār, Periya Tirumoli, Verse 1249, [Periya Tirumoli], Nālāyiram, Volume I, p. 124. &  Verse 1128, p. 76.
[150]Tirumańgai Ālvār, Tiruvelukūrrirukkai, Verse 2672, [Iyarpā], Nālāyiram,
Volume II, p. 222.
[151]Nammālvār, Tiruvāymoli, Verses 3176, [Tiruvāymoli], Nālāyiram, Volume II, p. 96.  &  Verse 3650, p. 264.  &  Verse 3212, p. 108. 
[152]Shakti M. Gupta, Vishnu and his Incarrations,.Bombay,Somaiya Publications
Pvt.Ltd.,1974,  p.1.
[153]Nammālvār, Tiruvāymoli, Verses 3334, [Tiruvāymoli], Nālāyiram, Volume II,
p. 150.

[154]Swami Agnivesh, and Rev. Valson Thampu, “Godmen Syndrome”, The Hindu, Sunday Magazine, October 7, 2001, p.IV.
[155]Ibid.
[156]Vincent Sekhar, “Give Away Violence Preserve Life”: Contemporary Call of the Sramana Religions”. Jain Journal, Vol. XXXIV, No.4 (April 2000), pp.159 – 182.
[157]Michael Amaladoss, Walking Together: The Practice of Inter – Religious Dialogue, Gujarat, Gujarat Sahitya Prakash, 1992, p.104.
[158]Sadhu Vishwamurtidas, ‘Religious Harmony and Friendship Pave the Road to World Peace’, The Sunday Times of India, Chennai, September 10, 2000.

[159]Stanley J. Samartha “The Causes and Consequences of Religious Fundamentalism”. Andreas Nehring, Fundamentalism and Secularism: The Indian Predicament, Madras, Gurukul Lutheran Theological College and Research Institute, Summer Institute 1994, p.40.
[160]Nammālvār, Periya Tiruvandādi, Verse 2662, [Iyarpā], Nālāyiram, Volume II,
p.212.
            O Good Heart! Even if you were to receive and enjoy  good companions,
            descendents, ancestors, relatives and friends, go on feeding on the glories
of the lord who bears the ever-twanging Sarnga bow, as your inexhaustiblefood.
[Translation from, Srirama Bharati, Op. Cit., p.716.]
[161]Periyālvār, Tiruppallāndu, Verse 2, [Mudāyiram], Nālāyiram, Volume I, p. 14.
[162]Tirumańgai Ālvār, Periya Tirumoli, Verse 1630, [Periya Tirumoli], Nālāyiram,
Volume I, p. 262.
[163]Ibid., Verse 1729, p. 296.
[164]Kulaśekhara Ālvār, Perumāl Tirumoli, Verses 668-673, [Mudalāyiram], Nālāyiram,
Volume I, p. 268-270.
[165]Pūtattālvār, Irandām Tiruvandādi, Verse 2195, [Iyarpā], Nālāyiram, Volume II,  
.42.
[166]Ibid., Verse 2216, p. 48.
[167]Nammālvār, Tiruvāymoli, Verse 3214, [Tiruvāymoli], Nālāyiram, Volume II, p.
108.
[168]Herbert Jai Singh, ‘The Christian Approach to the Sikhs’, Religion and
Society, Vol. XI, No. 1 (March 1964), p.103.
[169]Ibid., p.104.
[170]S. J. Samartha, Courage for Dialogue, Op. Cit., p. 156.
[171]“Spiritual Meet / Call for Abolition of Weapons, ‘Religion – Based’ Violence Condemned”, The Hindu, August 31, 2000.
[172]Michael Amaladoss, Walking Together: The Practice of Inter – Religious Dialogue,
Op. Cit, p.95.
[173]Ibid., p.9.
[174]Periyālvār, Tiruppāllandu, Verse 5, [Mudalāyiram], Nālāyiram, Volume I, p. 16.
[175]Felix Wilfred, From the Dusty Soil: Contextual Reinterpretation of Christianity, Madras, Department of Christian Studies, University of Madras, 1995, p.47.
[176]Tirumaliśai Ālvār, Tiruccanda Viruttam,Verse 752,[Mudalāyiram],Nālāyiram,
Volume I, p. 300.
[177]Poygai Ālvār, Mudal Tiruvandādi, Verse 2117, [Iyarpā], Nālāyiram, Volume II, p.
14.
[178]Nammālvār, Tiruvāymoli, Verse 3638, [Tiruvāymoli], Nālāyiram, Volume II, p.
260.
[179]Nammālvār, Periya Tiruvandādi, Verse 2607, [Iyarpā], Nālāyiram,
Volume II, p. 196.

[180]Nammālvār, Tiruvāymoli, Verse 3003, [Tiruvāymoli], Nālāyiram, Volume II, p. 38.
[181]Tondaradippodi, Tirumālai, Verse 908, [Mudalāyiram], Nālāyiram, Volume I, p.
 344.

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