Contemporary Muslim-Christian Encounters

Developments, Diversity and Dialogues

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Editor(s): 
Paul Hedges
  • New York, NY: 
    Bloomsbury Academic
    , January
     2017.
     272 pages.
     $39.95.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9781350022539.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

     READ INTERVIEW WITH EDITOR HERE

Edited volumes are advantageous in their offer to the reader of a range of voices on a topic. In Contemporary Muslim-Christian Encounters: Developments, Diversity and Dialogues—a collection inspired by, but not limited to, papers given at a conference on “Interfaith Dialogue in Modernity and Post-Modernity” at the University of Winchester, UK, in 2008—Paul Hedges adds another eleven voices to his own. This team, on which activists outnumber academics, comprises three women and nine men. That we find—in addition to the four authors based in the UK and three in the US—a contributor each from New Zealand, South Africa, Norway, Singapore, and Malaysia, means that Hedges has provided a much broader contextual perspective on positive Christian-Muslim encounter than is often the case. This in itself makes Contemporary Muslim-Christian Encounters worthy of inclusion in syllabi for courses on Christian-Muslim relations, dialogue, or collaboration. But this book has value beyond academia per se. Tightly edited, all chapters are only16-18 pages. While the uniqueness of each authorial voice is maintained, so is a consistency of readability. Thus religious leaders, seasoned interreligious relations practitioners, and newcomers to dialogue all will find something useful.

Readers looking for brief histories of Christian-Muslim theological encounter will benefit from essays by David Thomas on “Dialogue before Dialogue” (chapter 1) and by Paul Hedges on “The Contemporary Context of Muslim-Christian Dialogue” (chapter 2). Complementing these, Reuven Firestone’s piece on the origins of the notions of divine election and “elective monotheism” highlights two medieval thinkers—one Jewish, one Christian—as exemplars of “avenues of engagement” with Muslims and others “that avoid the temptation to rationalize difference” (chapter 3). While they are placed later in the book, an additional two essays might well be read after these as next steps: Clare Amos’s account of Vatican and World Council of Churches interfaith initiatives, born in the latter half of the 20th century and continuing to develop in the 21st (chapter 12); and Douglas Pratt’s analysis of three 21st century dialogical initiatives—the annual Building Bridges Seminar, the Theologisches Forum Christentum-Islam, and various forms of response to the open letter A Common Word Between Us and You (chapter 8).

Two authors take up topics not as frequently addressed. Khaleel Mohammed (chapter 4) offers a frank “study of the present state of affairs” with regard to Muslim attitudes toward and involvement in interreligious dialogue—the challenges, but also the evidence of new ways forward. Anne Hege Grung (chapter 5) observes what is rarely stated so clearly: while all Christian-Muslim dialogues “share the fact that people involved are gendered,” reflection on gender is not necessarily a factor. The inclusion of her discussion on the bearing of “gender, gender perspectives, and feminisms” on Christian-Muslim engagement—and specifically the challenges and intersections of methodologies when exploring this theme—is refreshing. Some readers may see a synopsis of her own work, having to do with dialogical scripture-study among Norwegian Christian and Muslim women on the theme of gender justice, a project that could indeed be replicated elsewhere.

Presenting methods perhaps less broadly replicable, but no less interesting, are essays by Yusuff Jelili Amuda on a rationale firmly grounded in shariah towards interreligious conflict resolution in Nigeria “for protection of children” (chapter 6) and by Jean-Daniel Kabati on interreligious peacebuilding in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (chapter 7). Contextual studies also include reflections by Ray Gaston (chapter 9) and Clinton Bennett (chapter 10) that provide insight into practical responses—in the UK and US respectively—to anti-Muslim behavior and well-funded anti-Muslim initiatives. Looking at the topic of peacebuilding from a more global vantage-point, Shirin Shafaie (chapter 11) surveys the diversity and effectiveness of faith-based initiatives—Muslim and Christian—towards nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament.

In short, while more than half of this book’s chapters rehearse information readily found elsewhere, they do so engagingly, succinctly, and even creatively, thus providing a helpful starting point for discussion and further exploration. Not surprisingly for an edited volume of this sort, there is some overlap of topics covered and examples cited from one essay to the next. (We read, for example of A Common Word in chapters 1, 2, 4, 8, 10, and 12.) Instructors will turn this to an advantage, asking their students to take note of the ways in which recurring themes and examples are handled. Activists and others may not notice such overlaps at all, if their purpose in reading this book is to glean from it what applies most directly to their own situation. If this volume has a serious weakness, it is that only three of twelve chapters have been authored by Muslims. Perhaps this is mitigated somewhat by the inclusion of an essay by a Jewish scholar—unusual for collections of essays on Muslim-Christian concerns. Be all of this as it may, readers of Hedges’s book, whatever their purposes, will have access to a thought-provoking collection of perspectives on the history, methodology, theology, and practice of Christian-Muslim dialogue in a variety of contexts.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Lucinda Mosher is Faculty Associate at the Hartford Seminary.

Date of Review: 
March 29, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Paul Hedges is associate professor in interreligious studies in the Study of Inter-Religious Relations in Plural Societies programme at RSIS, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, and was previously Reader in Interreligious Studies at the University of Winchester, UK. He has published widely in interfaith areas, including Preparation and Fulfillment (2001), Christian Approaches to Other Faiths (co-edited with Alan Race, textbook: 2008; reader: 2009), Controversies in Interreligious Dialogue and the Theology of Religions (2010). He is General Editor of the multivolume series Controversies in Contemporary Religion (2014), and is on the Editorial Board ofStudies in Interreligious Dialogue, and the Journal of Religious History.

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