In philosophy and theology, what is meant by the phrase "passing over and coming back"?

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vangoghfan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In contemporary philosophy and theology, the term “passing over and coming back” seems to be associated with the theologian John Dunne, who in 1972 wrote that the modern holy man would seem to be a person

like Gandhi, a man who passes over by sympathetic understanding from his own religion to other religions and comes back again with new insight to his own. Passing over and coming back, it seems, is the spiritual adventure of our time. [see links below]

The phrase has since been used by many other people in many different contexts, as a search for this phrase, using Google Books, will show [see links below]. In general, though, the phrase still seems to be largely understood as Dunne used it.  “Passing over and coming back” thus means acquainting oneself with what other religions teach, but without abandoning one’s own religion. The perspectives provided by an honest attempt to understand other religions can enhance one’s own religious experiences.

“Passing over and coming back” seems to differ from “empathy,” which is defined by as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another” (emphasis added). “Passing over and coming” back implies the ability to understand other religions without necessarily sharing in them completely.  After all, “coming back” to one’s own religion is an explicit part of the idea. “Passing over and coming back” also seems to imply an emphasis on understanding rather than simple feeling.

Given the fact that we live in an increasingly multicultural society in which globalization is also a major feature, it is not surprising that an understanding of other religions has become increasingly important.