The Truth of Broken Symbols

By Robert Cummings Neville

Subjects: Philosophy Of Religion
Series: SUNY series in Religious Studies
Paperback : 9780791427422, 320 pages, November 1995
Hardcover : 9780791427415, 320 pages, November 1995

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Table of contents


1. What Religious Symbols Do


1.1. Symbols in Religion
1.2. Symbols and Salvation
1.3. Symbols and Community
1.4. Symbols and Representation


2. Symbols Break on the Infinite


2.1. Reference, Meaning, and Interpretation
2.2. Imagination as Religious
2.3. Imagination as Engagement
2.4. Religious Symbolic Reference


3. Finite Meaning Infinite


3.1. A Complex Meaning: The Eucharist
3.2. The Structure of Symbols
3.3. Network Meaning and Content Meaning
3.4. Meaning the Infinite


4. Taking Symbols in Context


4.1. Interpretation and Intentional Contexts
4.2. Theology
4.3. Cultic Life
4.4. Public Life, Ordinary Life, and Extraordinary Life


5. Symbols for Transformation


5.1. Devotional Life as Transformation
5.2. Devotional Systems
5.3. Creating a Transformative World
5.4. Representation and Fiction in Devotional Symbols


6. Judging Religious Symbols by Consequences


6.1. From Interpretation to Consequences: Divine Child Abuse?
6.2. Religion Among the Dimensions of Life
6.3. Religion Judged by Other Dimensions
6.4. The Truth and Relativity of Religious Hermeneutics


7. Truth in Religious Symbols


7.1. Truth in Religious Practice
7.2. Truth in Religious Devotion
7.3. Truth in Theology
7.4. Truth in Religion: Broken Symbols




This book provides a cross-cultural analysis of how religious symbols function from a theological and philosophical perspective.


This book provides a cross-cultural analysis of how religious symbols function from a theological and philosophical perspective. Showing how religious symbols can be true in various qualified senses, Neville presents a theory of religious symbolism in the American pragmatic tradition extending and elaborating Tillich's claim that religious symbols participate in the divine realities to which they refer and yet must be broken in order not to be idolatrous or demonic. The Truth of Broken Symbols offers a theory of religious symbolism treating reference, meaning, and interpretation, and discussing different functions of religious symbols in theological, practical, and devotional contexts. It shows that religious symbols are to be properly understood as true or false and that symbol-systems such as myths, theologies, or liturgical symbols are to be used to engage divine realities while internally exhibiting semiotic structures of reference, meaning, and interpretation.

Robert Cummings Neville is Professor of Philosophy, Religion, and Theology at Boston University where he is also Dean of the School of Theology. He is past president of the American Academy of Religion, the Metaphysical Society of America, and the International Society for Chinese Philosophy. Neville has also written Behind the Masks of God: An Essay Toward Comparative Theology; New Essays in Metaphysics; The Puritan Smile: A Look Toward Moral Reflection; The Tao and the Daimon; Eternity and Time's Flow; God the Creator: On the Transcendence and Presence of God; The Highroad Around Modernism; Reconstruction of Thinking; Recovery of the Measure: Interpretation and Nature; A Theology Primer; Normative Cultures; and The Cosmology of Freedom, all published by SUNY Press.


"It is a comprehensive, intricately argued, original treatment of a topic that is of central importance in both theology and philosophy of religion. Its inclusion of the referential element in symbols distinguishes it in a sensible and needed way from much of the current discussion." — John. B. Cobb, Jr., Claremont Graduate School

"I was engaged by the careful theological and theoretical treatment of spiritual issues. The burgeoning field of spirituality needs this kind of discussion. It is a distinctive development of the pragmatic tradition." — Anne Carr, University of Chicago Divinity School