World Christianity Encounters World Religions

A Summa of Interfaith Dialogue

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Edmund Chia
  • Collegeville, MN: 
    Liturgical Press
    , December
     2018.
     272 pages.
     $29.95.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9780814684221.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

This work is subtitled a “summa of interfaith dialogue.” A summa (as in Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae) is a comprehensive summary, or compendium, that aims to provide its readers with practically all they need to know about a given area of knowledge. In this sense, Edmund Chia’s World Christianity Encounters World Religions: A Summa of Interfaith Dialogue sets quite an ambitious aim for itself, one that, with a first glance at its very manageable 252 pages, might seem impossible to reach. After carefully going through this book, however, I am really impressed that it lives up to this ambitious aim. It does cover practically all the major areas that would give the reader an excellent basic grasp of what they need to know about interfaith and interreligious dialogue, and even equips them with the know-how and skill sets to actually engage in it (to boot!). 

Having said that, let me also qualify my evaluation by adding that the following qualities would more exactly describe the workWorld Christianity Encounters World Religions would be most suitable for undergraduate college or university students, or as a general aid for further education. More advanced students, however, can also profit from using the text as a “starter kit” that would point them, particularly through the Suggestions for Further Reading at the end of every chapter, to works that develop each topic in more detail. Instructors will definitely find this text an immense help to introduce their students to practically all of the main sub-areas that comprise interfaith dialogue. 

This work, the reader should also know, is rooted in the Catholic tradition—although it does not stop there. It constantly extends the discussion to include wider, more ecumenical and interreligious concerns beyond Catholicism, culminating in an important chapter on the movement for Christian unity (chapter 8). I would describe it as an excellent Roman Catholic effort to present and delineate the rich field of interfaith dialogue in order to give readers both a bird’s eye view, as well as a zoom in, on pertinent details. 

To go into a more detailed description, this book is divided into three parts: part 1 lays the groundwork by discussing “Christianity, Religion, and Dialogue.” It begins by presenting the notion of “World Christianity” (chapter 1), and then contextualizes it in the next chapter with a helpful discussion on the nature of “Religion” and “World Religions” (chapter 2). Chapter 3 zooms in on the specific concern of the work, namely, the different principles and methodologies that make up interfaith dialogue. 

With that, Chia moves on to part 2, which deals with “Scripture and Tradition.” Here, he tackles vital themes to keep-in-mind in order to better understand the nature of interfaith dialogue: the role of the Christian scriptures vis-à-vis non-Christian religions (chapter 4); the sweep of Christian history and how Christianity has regarded other religions (chapter 5); and the crucial breakthrough that occurred in the Catholic Church vis-à-vis other religions at Vatican II (chapter 6). Chia ends part 2 with a very illuminating chapter on the pivotal contributions that Asian Christianity has and continues to make to the field of interfaith dialogue (chapter 7). I would like to highlight this chapter in a particular way given it is here that Chia, who has long been a front-line contributor to, and veritable expert on, Asian Christianity displays his expertise by presenting a good case for why Asian Christianity could be considered a key player in the global field of interfaith dialogue. 

With that, the work moves on to part 3 entitled “Theologies and Praxes.” Here, we have chapters that round out this summa by giving us what could be considered the most concrete areas that deal directly with interfaith dialogue.

Chapter 8 discusses the global movement for Christian Unity. This gives us a good grasp of intra-Christian ecumenical dialogue. Chapter 9 provides an excellent survey of contemporary theologians who—Chia thinks—hold a particular relevance for interfaith dialogue: Raimon Panikkar, Paul Knitter, John Hick, Peter Phan, Kwok Pui-Lan, Michael Amaladoss, Edward Schillebeeckx, and Aloysius Pieris. I also think this chapter should be singled out as a highlight of the work as Chia is truly in his element here, especially with his personal acquaintances of the thinkers presented and considering that he has interacted very closely with the key contributions by the theologians featured in this work. 

Chapter 10 deals with four areas of praxis that have a crucial bearing on interfaith dialogue: scriptural Reasoning, cross-textual hermeneutics, comparative theology, and interfaith worship. Chapter 11 showcases a concrete case study of interfaith dialogue through a more detailed conversation between Christianity and Islam on important topics in which they have differing views. It then goes on to clarify Christian positions, and suggests a way forward for continuing dialogue. Finally, chapter 12 deals with different implications and challenges of religious pluralism. This chapter highlights areas that bear particular contemporary relevance, such as religious syncretism, multiple religious belonging, and theological education-interfaith learning, among others. 

By way of a friendly suggestion, if I had written such a summaof interfaith dialogue, I would have also referred to the movement to delineate a global ethic—pioneered by Catholic theologians Hans Küng and Leonard Swidler—as it highlights the ethical side of interfaith dialogue. The quest for a global ethic is also deeply connected with the important achievements in interfaith dialogue that regularly occur at the Parliament of the World’s Religions. Additionally, I think that the work of Karen Armstrong, especially her efforts to promote a “Charter for Compassion” rooted in the Golden Rule, also deserves mention in such a work. As a final suggestion, I would have also included more footnotes in order to make the work more helpful to advanced students and instructors who wish to go further than what is presented in this work.

My suggestions do not detract from the fact that I’m really thankful to Chia, and to Liturgical Press, for this gem of a work that will help instructors and students grasp the most essential elements of interfaith dialogue. I will most certainly utilize World Christianity Encounters World Religions for my course on religious pluralism, and I urge instructors who teach in similar fields to consider this book seriously. Kudos to the author for a job well done!

About the Reviewer(s): 

Julius-Kei Kato is Associate Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at King's University College-Western University in London, Ontario, Canada.

Date of Review: 
August 28, 2019
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Edmund Chia, originally from Malaysia, headed the interreligious and ecumenical office of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences from 1996 to 2004. He then served on the faculty of the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago for seven years and, since 2011, has been teaching at the Australian Catholic University in Melbourne.

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