Religious Pluralism and Interreligious Theology

The Gifford Lectures--An Extended Edition

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Perry Schmidt-Leukel
  • Maryknoll, NY: 
    Orbis Books
    , February
     304 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Religious pluralism is more than just the acceptance of differing religious viewpoints. It is the dialogue formed between religions that is the key aspect of truly embracing a working religious pluralism.

Why is pluralism important? What makes it an issue worth exploring? In today’s world of interconnectedness through the media, the internet, and social networks, the need for open dialogue between religions is more important than ever. Conflict between religions and over religion is a global issue, one that threatens international peace daily.

In Religious Pluralism and Interreligious Theology, Perry Schmidt-Leukel offers a means of deciphering what is truly pluralist. Many times, the doctrines that appear to be pluralist are, in fact, inclusivist or exclusivist at a deeper layer. The importance of reaching a truly pluralist doctrine is to broaden one’s spirituality while accepting the truths of other religious viewpoints. True pluralism opens the door to dialogue and understanding.

The first part of this book covers the six primary traditions and their respective roads to pluralism, along with the critics of each. While they are often thought to be closer to pluralism, through Schmidt-Leukel’s in-depth discussion, we see that Eastern religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, and Chinese religions, have a long road to a truly pluralist doctrine. What we see in these traditions is either an inclusivist or exclusivist perspective masked as pluralism.

The Abrahamic religions, on the other hand, are described as having a point of departure that is further removed from the goal of religious pluralism.  To the point of destination, many contemporary theologians in these traditions have come significantly closer to the pluralist end then their Eastern counterparts.

Belief in a higher truth or ultimate reality is universally human. How that “reality” is conceptualized is subject to the socio-historical context of the society in question. What is “true” is defined by the way that a culture interacts with the world around them, and the rise of their own heritage. These interpretations of “reality” or “truth” represent the path to salvation or liberation in that they make sense to that particular culture. A culture or society with a different interpretation of the world around them will understand “truth” and “reality” through the lens of their own worldview.

True pluralism focuses on the understanding of religion within the socio-historic context of its culture. Divine Truth is not confined to the narrow understanding of human conceptualization and so cannot be limited to one truth for all nations. This is described by Schmidt-Leukel as being the relativity of religious difference in view of God’s inconceivable absoluteness (49). Thus, the immensity of ultimate reality and the transcategoriality of the divine put into relative perspective any absolutist doctrine that claims to process the whole truth.

Schmidt-Leukel gives the reader a functional and well-thought-out theoretical foundation for true religious pluralism. This two-fold foundation is firstly an affirmation that ultimate reality transcends human words and concepts; and secondly, religious pluralism suggests itself if one wishes to do sufficient justice to the actual reality of the religious other as they are encountered today. With this framework in mind, we can begin to conceptualize a way to view both our own religious identity and the reflection of the ultimate reality in whomever we encounter along the way.

This book will challenge the readers and their understanding of pluralism in religious discourse. The pre-conceived notions a reader may hold when beginning this book will be vastly different by the time they are finished. Pluralism emerges as a far more complex issue than it first appears. The concept of true pluralism is still a ways-off from even those traditions that appear on the surface to be open to such discussion.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Adrienne Nicholson is an independent scholar.

Date of Review: 
July 21, 2017
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Perry Schmidt-Leukel is professor of religious studies and intercultural theology, University of Münster, and Director of the Institute for Religious Studies and Interfaith Theology. He has published a dozen books in German and English, most recently, Transformation by Integration: How Inter-faith Encounter Changes Christianity (Hymns Ancient & Modern, 2009). This book combines his 2015 Gifford Lectures at the University of Glasgow and lectures delivered in 2014 at Zhejiang University in China.



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