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Comparative Theology and the Problem of Religious Rivalry$
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Hugh Nicholson

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199772865

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199772865.001.0001

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God and the God beyond God in Eckhart and Śaṅkar

God and the God beyond God in Eckhart and Śaṅkar

(p.129) 5. God and the God beyond God in Eckhart and Śaṅkar
Comparative Theology and the Problem of Religious Rivalry

Hugh Nicholson

Oxford University Press

This chapter explores a parallel between Eckhart's concept of God and Śhaṅkara's concept of brahman. The relation between the personal God and the impersonal Godhead in Eckhart's theology parallels the relation between the brahman with qualities (saguna) and the brahman without qualities (nirguna) in Śhaṅkara's Vedanta. Developing Otto's argument for a “theistic substructure” in Śhaṅkara's mysticism, this chapter argues that the relation between the two forms of Brahman, like that between God and Godhead in Eckhart, is better understood in dialectical, rather than hierarchical terms. Śhaṅkara's thought, in other words, no less than Eckhart's, can be understood in terms of Michael Sell's theory of apophatic language, that is, as an “unsaying” that preserves a necessary relation with what is denied. Understanding the personal and impersonal aspects of Brahman in this way as a “double-paradigm” challenges the tendentious orientalist characterization of brahman as a lifeless abstraction.

Keywords:   God, Godhead, brahman, saguna, nirguna, Michael Sell, apophatic language, double paradigm, Eckhart, Śhaṅkara

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