Nāgārjuna’s Mūlamadhyamakakārikā: A Lonerganian Analysis

Knowing God, Knowing Emptiness - An Epistemological Exploration of Bernard Lonergan, Karl Rahner and Nāgārjuna - John N.C. Robinson

John N.C. Robinson [+-]
Independent Scholar
John N.C. Robinson holds a B.A Hons in Theology and Biblical Studies from Trinity College Dublin, and an M.Phil in Ecumenics and a PhD from the internationally known Irish School Ecumenics, Trinity College Dublin. He was vice-chair of the Young Leadership Council of the International Council of Christians and Jews for three years, and chair for a further two years, facilitating interfaith encounter between Jews, Muslims and Christians from Europe, the United States and the Middle East. He is also involved on an ongoing basis with the European Network for Buddhist-Christian Studies, and is a member of a number of international ecumenical and interfaith networks. He is particularly interested in the role of epistemology in interfaith dialogue, liberation theology, and the interaction between theology and gender, particularly in terms of how this affects marginalised communities.


Knowing God, Knowing Emptiness examines the viability of the epistemology proposed by Bernard Lonergan in his seminal work Insight , particularly with regard to its possible application in the field of interreligious dialogue. This enquiry is prompted by an awareness of the epistemological questions raised by the various dialogues taking place between different religions, and it is in light of this that Lonergan’s claim to comprehensiveness in his epistemology is examined. The method adopted is that of a dialectical experiment in which Lonergan’s epistemology could be tested. Lonergan claims in Insight that as his epistemology is both based on, and corresponds directly to, the structure of human cognition, it is therefore intrinsic to all instances of thought. Accordingly, he claims, it is ideally placed to mutually relate any combination of differing positions. This work seeks to test this claim by applying Lonergan’s epistemological categories to Karl Rahner’s Foundations of Christian Faith, and Nāgārjuna’s Mūlamadhyamakakārikā . Having critically reconstructed Lonergan’s position as articulated in Insight , the book does the same for both of the texts selected and then parses them on the basis of the terms laid out by Lonergan in his epistemological system. It examines whether the thought contained in these two works could be fruitfully related on the basis of Lonergan’s epistemology, and what, if any, are the implications for the field of interreligious dialogue. These implications are considered both in terms of the theology of religions, and of the more recently developed comparative theology, typified by the approach taken by thinkers such as Francis X. Clooney and others. The book concludes by considering what, if any, are the possible developments that could result from the result of the attempted dialectic. Lonergan’s epistemology does prove viable both in terms of parsing the two texts selected and also in mutually relating the positions expressed by them. His claim that his epistemology could be found as an underlying structure proved true in both cases, though the comprehensiveness of his epistemology does not prove absolute when applied to Nāgārjuna’s thought. Equally, the attempt at fruitful mutual relation on the basis of Lonergan’s system also proves successful, and the approach is found both to facilitate this process, and to be open to further development. Overall, Lonergan’s claims are largely substantiated, though it was found that the terms of his epistemology, emerging as they do from the Western philosophical tradition, do not prove to be entirely adequate when considering a crucial element of Nāgārjuna’s thought in the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā.

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Robinson, John. Nāgārjuna’s Mūlamadhyamakakārikā: A Lonerganian Analysis. Knowing God, Knowing Emptiness - An Epistemological Exploration of Bernard Lonergan, Karl Rahner and Nāgārjuna. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. Apr 2022. ISBN 9781800500990. https://www.equinoxpub.com/home/view-chapter/?id=41585. Date accessed: 27 Jan 2022 doi: 10.1558/equinox.41585. Apr 2022

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