To think well and wisely about tradition, there are, to be sure, many sources. One might begin with T. S. Eliot’s famous essay, “Tradition and Individual Talent,” and then take on Jaroslav Pelikan’s book, The Vindication of Tradition, in which he makes the crucial distinction between traditionalism (the dead faith of the living) and tradition (the living faith of the dead). After Eliot and Pelikan, one might head toward Yves Congar’s The Meaning of Tradition before dipping into Josef Pieper’s Tradition: Concept and Claim.
Of course, one should also watch Fiddler on the Roof for the main character Tevye’s memorable song, “Tradition.”
But somewhere down the line, I hope one might also consider a newly published book that your humble scribe has edited: The Idea of Tradition in the Late Modern World: An Ecumenical and Interreligious Conversation (Cascade). It has contributions from the Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart; Rabbi David Novak; the Catholic theologian James Heft; the Lutheran pastor and theologian Sarah Hinlicky Wilson; and the distinguished Muslim scholar, Ebrahim Moosa. The book is the fruit of a conference in commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of Christ College, the honors college at Valparaiso University, where I teach. Here is the book’s cover description:
Our late modern era is marked by the rapidity of change; waxing pluralism; focus on the future, not the past; the elevation of personal choice over communal obligation; and, for some, a sense of spiritual and intellectual disorientation that can lead to resentment, fear, nostalgia, and/or a disordered desire for absolute certainty and rigid authority. How can religious traditions be maintained and even thrive in such an environment? How do they negotiate the fluidity of it all and transmit their beliefs and practices to future generations? What should be the role of academic authorities vis-à-vis religious authorities in this process? Finally, what can different religious traditions learn from one another on the general topic of tradition? This volume invites readers to participate in a candid ecumenical and interreligious conversation involving Christian, Jewish, and Muslim voices. The editor and contributors alike contend that the “Abrahamic” faiths, while having honest differences, face common challenges from contemporary culture, which often fosters incomprehension about the depth, breadth, and intellectual rigor of religious traditions. At the same time, traditions can become disengaged and moribund without attending to them with careful reflection, discernment, and conversation with others who hold different points of view.
I hope the slim volume may do some good.