Contemporary Christian-Muslim Dialogue
Two Twenty-First Century Initiatives
Series: Routledge Studies in Religion
- ISBN: 9781472485984
- Published By: Routledge
- Published: March 2021
Douglas Pratt’s Contemporary Christian-Muslim Dialogue: Two Twenty-First Century Initiatives contributes to the vital and spirited scholarly discourse concerning contemporary Christian-Muslim relations. Pratt’s accessible and comprehensive work focuses on interreligious dialogue that is equally represented by both the Christians and Muslims involved, envisioning the continued “possibility and reality of deep interreligious engagement of these two faiths” (vii). Based on his research in the United Kingdom and Germany, Pratt specifically spotlights two Christian-Muslim dialogue initiatives: the Building Bridges Seminar and the Theologoisches Forum Christentum – Islam (hereafter Christian-Muslim Theological Forum), and examines five common themes in unearthing the “combined fruit of these contemporary Christian-Muslim theological dialogue discussions” (vi). Through Pratt’s work, readers will be able to “gain reliable information and insight into the main lines of thought and the ideas expressed, shared, and reflected on in the context of a Christian-Muslim dialogue” (vii).
The monograph consists of ten chapters, starting with an introduction and ending with a conclusion, and can be readily organized into two sections. The first section provides an in-depth look into the origins, development, and impacts of the two 21st-century Christian-Muslim dialogue initiatives. Chapters 1 and 2 offer a broad overview of the complex history of Christian-Muslim relations and denote the importance of Christian-Muslim dialogue and what it brings to the current issues surrounding global humanity. From this, Pratt calls for a new way of engaging in Christian-Muslim dialogue that is centered on the “signs of faith,” which requires “careful and mutual exploration of critical issues and questions of ideological and theological differentiation, and sharing in the development of mutually authentic interpretation and cross-conceptualisation” (9). Here, in particular, Pratt retraces the origins of the two dialogue initiatives that emerged in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Though their inceptions occurred in two different geographical locations and languages, both initiatives developed into regular conference-style gatherings that engage in “intentional theological dialogue, with the aim of a deeper and more sustained engagement” (16).
After the overview presented in the first two chapters, Pratt delves into more specific details in chapters 3 and 4. Pratt delineates the methodological orientations of the two initiatives and outlines in detail each of their annual conferences, starting from their inception up to 2017. The Building Bridges Seminar, initiated in 2002 in London and hosted by the Archbishop of Canterbury, focuses on developing theological dialogue between the two faiths with academic rigor and religious conviction. With a “flexible” methodology that is “informed by thoughtful evaluation” (29), the Building Bridges Seminar has become a space where both Christian and Muslim participants “are able to share, from within their own faith traditions, how they are wrestling with issues and questions pertinent to the specific topics of each dialogue theme” (30). The Christian-Muslim Theological Forum, initiated in 2002 and aimed at promoting an academic theological dialogue in the German language, employs “a dialogue-oriented hermeneutic and methodology to examine, from theological perspectives, socio-politically relevant topics” (46). Although the Forum began with an unequal number of Christians, membership has balanced out over the last two decades. Publications have resulted from both initiatives and remain central to their continued development.
The second section of Pratt’s book, chapters 5 through 9, covers the five critical theological themes common to both dialogical engagements: “Community,” “Scripture,” “Prophecy,” “Prayer,” and “Ethics.” Chapter 5 begins by examining “community,” which inheres in both Islam and Christianity. Central to the discussions has been the conceptual understanding of “Umma” (ummah) and “Church” (ecclesia) and the idea of being a community of faith in relation to dynamics of identity and purpose, context and continuity, and unity in diversity. Chapter 6 exclusively deals with “scripture” in the two religious traditions and considers the diverse approaches to interpreting sacred texts. Pratt also notes that Christian-Muslim theological dialogue is a continuing process, a “dialogical engagement that attends closely to, and engages a dialogue of, the scriptures” (100).
Chapter 7 offers insights into the complex phenomenon of “prophecy” within the two religions—especially how prophecy is comprehended in and by each faith. Discussions on prophetic tradition and vocation, along with perceptions of Muhammad and Jesus within each faith, have permeated the two initiatives, bringing to light some of the irreconcilable differences between them. However, Pratt highlights the theme of “prophecy” as an “acknowledgement of what is in common and can be shared” (123) amidst the theological differences. Next, Chapter 8 surveys how the common element of “prayer” in Islam and Christianity has been treated in the two conferences, particularly during the Building Bridges Seminar in 2011 and the Christian-Muslim Theological Forum in 2005. Those conferences addressed important questions surrounding prayer and its commonalities and dissimilarities, practices and theologies, and the tension between private and public prayer. Yet, in reflecting on the theological dialogue between the two religions, Pratt emphasizes how prayer can be perceived as a uniting force, going so far as to claim that interreligious collaborations could be centered on prayer.
Chapter 9 analyzes how the topic of “ethics” accentuates the need for dialogue, especially on matters of justice, rights, and freedom. Pratt contends that discourse on ethical issues has much to offer in terms of Christian-Muslim dialogue, as “Christianity and Islam exist and function within diverse socio-political contexts and [as] they each profess a universal ethic of human values” (146). The final chapter of the volume concludes by reiterating the five theological themes and their importance for the future of Christian-Muslim dialogue. Pratt argues that, as this dialogue remains a priority, more attention should be paid to these two initiatives that “provide worthy models of dialogical engagement and a fund of resources for both scholarly investigation as well as the promotion of active dialogical engagement” (177).
Contemporary Christian-Muslim Dialogue greatly contributes to the growing body of literature on interreligious relations and Christian-Muslim dialogue. This work serves as an invaluable resource for those interested in the dialogue between these two religions and, more specifically, how dialogical encounters have developed over the past two decades. Pratt not only succeeds in giving readers insight into Christian-Muslim dialogue, but also emphasizes the demand and colossal value of the continuation of this work. Readers will also be enriched by learning about the history, progress, and trajectory of the often-overlooked Building Bridges Seminar and the Christian-Muslim Theological Forum by further exploring the detailed list of publications regarding the two dialogue initiatives provided at the end of each chapter. The five themes Pratt explores under the framework of “signs of faith” will also enlighten readers, challenging them to consider what needs to be further addressed. This work is ultimately an invitation to participate in envisioning the future of Christian-Muslim dialogue.
Byung Ho Choi is a PhD student at Princeton Theological Seminary.Byung Ho ChoiDate Of Review:April 19, 2022