I am giving a talk this weekend (here) on employing sacramental mediation as a model for interfaith reconciliation, encounter, and learning. Interfaith encounter involves knowing the religious other. Drawing on Kierkegaard’s Concluding Unscientific Postscript to the Philosophical Fragments, penned under the pseudonym Johannes Climacus, I make the attempt to apply his well-known epistemological distinction between objective and subjective knowledge to interreligious learning and interfaith encounter.
We can know other religions both objectively and subjectively. Knowing a religion objectively might entail academic study, and the acquisition of objective knowledge, about the religion. For instance, I can learn and know and understand the five pillars of Islam. In this way, I know Islam objectively. However, when we know, and engage, a religion subjectively, we know that religion in the highest, most authentic, and genuine regard. It perhaps comes through spiritual experience. It may involve practicing the practices of the religious other with them, or entering into authentic relationships with them. For instance, knowing Islam subjectively is to encounter Muslims and develop genuine relationships with them. It might entail practicing the five pillars if possible (and not offensive to Muslims nor scandalous to your own tradition). Although we can objectively know Islam, we can only subjectively know Muslims. This is why it is often repeated that interfaith learning and dialogue does not take place between religions, but between religious people; that is, it is not between Judaism and Christianity, but rather it is between Jews and Christians.
Climacus offers two modes of knowing and then applies them to approaching God and knowing God. The two are objective knowledge (what he calls “the what” as in “what is something”), and subjective knowledge (what he calls “the how” as in “how do we know it”). He writes, “The way of objective reflection … leads to abstract thinking, to mathematics, to historical knowledge of various kinds, and always leads away from the subjective individual.”
For instance, we know the following propositions objectively: two and two are four, the earth is spherical, and the content of the four noble truths and eight-fold path of Buddhism. We can know these in an indifferent, detached, and objective manner. To know what love is, on the other hand, one must approach it in an attached, devoted, and committed fashion. To truly know a Muslim, a Jew, a Christian, and so on, you must be attached, devoted, and committed. You must be “all in” without condition. This is the path of subjective knowledge.
Recall the distinction between knowing Islam (objectively) and knowing a Muslim (subjectively). When we know God objectively (“the what” as in what is God?), we know God as object. It is knowing about God, but not necessarily relating to God. Contrast this with knowing God subjectively (“the how” as in how do we seek God?). Approaching and knowing God subjectively is higher here since it allows the subject to relate to God as a subject. It yields the subjective path to truth, hence the well-known Kierkegaardian epistemological claim that “subjectivity is truth.” Knowing God subjectively is a certain kind of relationship to truth. It is a relation that involves passionate commitment, risk, and trust.
For Climacus, subjective truth is “an objective uncertainty, held fast through the appropriation with the most passionate inwardness, [this] is the truth, the highest truth there is for an existing person.” Note the distinction between the two modes. One’s relationship to objective truth is secure, indifferent, uncommitted, and dispassionate. There is no risk involved with objectively grasping the five pillars of Islam or the Lakota spiritual worldview. However, a person’s relationship to subjective truth is risky, interested, committed, and passionate. You must engage it, and offer yourself to it, and risk that in the process you might be (mostly likely will be) changed, and probably changed for the better, especially if you understand your encounter with, and relationship to, the religious other as an authentic encounter of God.
 Søren Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript to the Philosophical Fragments, trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong, vol. 1 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992), 193.
 ibid, 203.
 ibid., italics his.