Conversations in Process
Conversations in Process
Jared Morningstar – Navigating Religious Pluralism in Modernity

On this episode of Conversations in Process, Jay is joined by the Cobb Institute’s operations assistant, Jared Morningstar. Jared is a writer and educator with academic interests in philosophy of religion, Islamic studies, comparative religion, metamodern spirituality, and interfaith dialogue whose work in these areas seeks to offer robust responses to issues of inter-religious conflict, contemporary nihilism, and the “meaning crisis” among other things. He has BAs in Religion and Scandinavian Studies from Gustavus Adolphus College, where he graduated in the spring of 2018. 

In this wide-ranging conversation, Jay and Jared discuss the issues of navigating religion in modernity and some intellectual and philosophical resources that could be helpful to this end. Jared begins by sharing his personal spiritual journey, growing up in a culturally Christian context which he rejected in his adolescence before discovering traditional religion for the first time through an encounter with Buddhism. 

This transitions into a discussion of religious pluralism in modernity, which Jared claims is distinct from the pluralism one could find in pre-modern times, so developing a sophisticated response to this phenomenon is critical. To this end, Jared discusses the problems of religious exclusivism and exceptionalism, both of which he argues present serious challenges to living peacefully in the landscape of contemporary pluralism.

Jared claims that various forms of “traditionalist” religious identity have weak philosophical bases and can lead to various dysfunctions. Here he distinguishes between the “Traditionalist school”—a 20th century school of philosophy of religion with representatives such as Frithjof Schuon and Seyyed Hossein Nasr—who have a robust understanding of religious pluralism, and a more general “traditionalist” attitude that has been gaining steam particular amongst young Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Muslims which is often very intolerant of other faiths and modernity more generally.

In response to this precarious situation, Jared shares two philosophies which he has found personally helpful in this context. The first is the Japanese Buddhist existentialist philosophy of the Kyoto School. These Buddhist thinkers gracefully weave together Western religious and philosophic sources with traditional Zen ideas to arrive at deep answers to life’s perennial questions and to the unique problems of our age. 

The second is the Sufi-inflected imaginal philosophy of Henry Corbin. A 20th century orientalist-philosopher, Corbin draws on the insights of Sufi and Shi’i mystics, putting these Muslim sages into conversation with contemporary phenomenology, existentialism, and depth psychology. Like the Kyoto School, Cobin’s cross-cultural thought offers robust perspectives for navigating the variety of religious forms of our day.

The conversation closes with Jay drawing connections between these two perspectives and the process philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead. While there are a number of points where these thinkers may be synthesized and integrated into a cohesive hole, Jay stresses that these philosophies can also stand on their own and need not be reconciled for their intellectual contributions to have profound impact.

Kyoto School Resources: