Interreligious Studies: The Top 15 Books

Interreligious Studies: The Top 15 Books: Published in the Last 20 Years (1996-2016)

A Personal Assessment by Paul Hedges, as of 6th September 2016

 A note on my choices:

Please note these are very much my choices and are not intended to represent the best or most important books across everything that could count as Interreligious Studies. For one thing, I am sure I haven’t read everything. For another, my own particular interests, prejudices, and interests skew this list. Further, this is a kind of ad hoc what I feel at the moment list, rather than an attempt to give a long, fully thought out and measured academic response. I do justify my responses below, but as noted they are all somewhat partial reasons, and reflect some of my current thoughts.

I have also done this very much off the top of my head so may well have simply forgotten something strikingly important, so don’t cut me down if that is so. In fact, I have mainly done it as a form of relaxation rather than serious contemplation (while I was recuperating from illness and so not undertaking the rigours of work). I offer it with all these caveats and provisos, nevertheless, I hope people may find it somewhat interesting or stimulating.

The Books (in no particular order – well alphabetical just to be fair):

Scott Appleby, The Ambivalence of the Sacred: Religion, Violence, and Reconciliation, Rowman and Littlefield, 2000.

The question of religious violence, and also therefore peacebuilding, really hit the headlines and continues to be a global issue during the twenty years surveyed by this list, and so it is fitting that a work on this is included. First published before 9/11, it took on even greater poignancy after that event. Appleby’s book is significant as well in that it seeks not just to look at violence, nor peacebuilding but to speak of both as aspects of religious traditions

J. Clarke, Oriental Enlightenment: The Encounter between Asian and Western Thought, Routledge, 1997.

OK, this is not really in the Interreligious Studies remit, it is a book about intellectual history. However, it was and to my mind remains one of the most important books I have ever read. I will explain why and why it is on the list. On the latter point first, to look at the relationship of religious traditions requires an understanding of the Orientalist and postcolonial critique about how power across traditions and worldviews is shaped. As such, this topic absolutely needs to be addressed. On the former, this is to my mind the best single volume written on post-colonialism, intellectual history, and the relationship of Eastern and Western thought. I could go on, but I won’t (a few other books to address and don’t want my good reader to get bored or distracted too soon).

Francis Clooney, Hindu God-Christian God: How Reason Helps Break Down the Boundaries Between Religions, Oxford University Press, 2001.

A Clooney book has to be on here, of course. Some may see this as theological and so beyond a sociological/ scientific approach to Interreligious Studies/ Relations, but as I have discussed elsewhere I find the binary problematic. All scholars are involved in creating the category of religion and how it is discussed, including those who try and deconstruct the category religion or disavow the activity of theology. Anyway, amongst Clooney’s many landmark works on Comparative Theology this one actively seeks to show how and why it can be religiously meaningful to speak about truths across religions. Indeed, its subtitle shows its aim in helping to break down misunderstanding. I think its place on the list pretty much speaks for itself.

Diana Eck, Encountering God: A Spiritual Journey from From Bozeman to Benares, Beacon Press, 1993.

I think this book is on here as a sign of the way the Western world has started to mature in its ownership of, and relationship with, its multifaith character. That, of course, I think is very much what Eck’s book is about. Religious diversity is certainly not a new issue, but dealing with it apart from as a subject of exotic anthropological curiosity or missionary expediency is, and this is partly what develops into Interreligious Studies as a subject area. This book is, of course, cheating as it was published three years before my survey begins, but it’s my list so I can apply the rules as I see fit.

Helene Egnell, Other Voices: A Study of Christian Feminist Approaches to Religious Plurality East and West, Studia Missionalia Svecana, 2006.

Ursula King’s well known phrase that women’s voices is the mussing component in interreligious discussions is not corrected by this book (no single book could do it, and until the issues becomes thoroughly integrated in theory and practice it will remain an issue), but it is an important corrective. There are of course many books that discuss women’s dialogue or feminist approaches in the area, but I think that Egnell’s detailed case studies and careful theorising mark this book apart. It deserves to be better known.

Anna Halafoff, The Multifaith Movement: Global Risks and Cosmopolitan Solutions, Springer, 2013.

I think that, if nothing else, Halafoff’s contribution is clearly showing (far more so than Braybrooke does whose work would be comparable in this regard) that the 1893 World Parliament of Religions really did start off an interfaith movement. As such the history of dialogue is clearly explored here while there is also much excellent material on the theory and practice of dialogue.

Lily Kong and Orlando Woods, Religion and Space: Competition, Conflict and Violence in the Contemporary World, Bloomsbury, 2016.

A very recent book, and maybe the list is skewed to recent works? However, the book brings the whole issues of space and material religion in the lived environment alongside the political and social implications of diverse societies into the issue. This obviously is vitally important as a subject area and as the first, and an excellent, book length treatment of this deserves to be on here. It also helps very much broaden it from the Western context where too much discussion takes place.

Oddbjorn Leirvik, Interreligious Studies: A Relational Approach to Religious Activism and the Study of Religion, Bloomsbury, 2014.

In the first book to set out a vision of Interreligious Studies as a subject area, Leirvik, as one of, Europe’s, and the World’s, first professors of Interreligious Studies, and a foremost scholar in the area, fully able to do justice to it. Setting out his own Relational Theory of particularly Christian-Muslim relations, it provides ethical, social, philosophical, and theological discussions. A real must-read in the area.

Amy-Jill Levine, The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus, HarperOne, 2006.

To some extent this is the book that led me to write this list. I finished it and realised that it was one of those books which had changed my thinking. As someone fairly read up in Interreligious Studies and having addressed the problematic arena of Christian-Jewish understandings, I thought I was quite up to speed. Having read it for further background on a broadly historical Jesus project, I was brought up short by Levine’s discussion of the way that generations of scholars had discussed parts of the New Testament in particular to address Second Temple Judaism. As I read, I realised that I had absorbed, and still held, quite a few of the unfounded prejudices about the Judaism of Jesus’ time (picked up by reading even eminent and respected scholars today, not to mention many a sermon of my youth). Not too much to say that every interfaith scholar, Christian theologian, priest, preacher, and layperson needs to read this book.

Tomoko Masuzawa, The Invention of World Religions, University of Chicago Press, 2005.

Again, not a work of Interreligious Studies and the historian Masuzawa may find herself surprised to be in this list. This is especially as much general Interreligious Dialogue, Theology of Religions, Comparative Theology, Interreligious Relations, and many other disciplines and fields associated with Interreligious Studies certainly can be seen as implicated in both the invention of world religions she speaks of, and then perpetuating the problematic system and terminology. However, this is not to say that scholars within the field are not alert to the issue, and it is something increasingly discussed. Indeed, Masuzawa’s work is important for many for thinking about how to think Interreligious Studies after “(world) religion”.

Marianne Moyaert and Joris Geldhof, eds, Ritual Partcipation and Interreligious Dialogue, Bloomsbury, 2015.

Like Kong’s book, this edited work brings questions of material religion into the field, and in particular has basically created the whole area of inter-riting as a subject area. It is of course far from a new issue at any level of considering the relationship between religions and so urgently needing to be foregrounded and written about. The standard and quality of the text is entirely to be commended.

Marianne Moyaert, In Response to the Religious Other: Ricoeur and the Fragility of Interreligious Encounters, Lexington Books, 2014.

Moyaert’s second book on the list, which makes her the only scholar with two texts on here, reflects the fact that she is very much a thought leader and cutting edge thinking across the field. Just as she has been a pioneering figure in bringing the interriting issue into existence as a subject area, so with this she has led the way in making hermeneutics, in her case using Paul Ricoeur, a key matter in theorising Interreligious Studies. This I think is key to debates and while not new, it underlines for instance Clooney’s Comparative Theology project, it has not been applied with the rigour and thoroughness that Moyaert applies. A real leader in the area.

Phan, Peter C., Being Religious Interreligiously: Asian Perspectives on Interfaith Dialogue, Orbis, 2004.

It would be entirely wrong if this list were dominated by Western visions and ideas, and it isn’t entirely although they are dominant. It is important therefore that Phan’s book is here adding “Asian Perspectives”. Too much of the academic conversation occurs about and within (of course were Phan himself works) the Western academy and world. One way religious diversity and interreligious relations can be understood is by looking beyond the borders of that world and this book is an important contribution to that as part of Phan’s won wider work and the other books which accompanied this one.

Perry Schmidt-Leukel, Transformation by Integration: How Inter-Faith Encounter Changes Christianity, SCM, 2009.

A theological work and something of an amalgam of chapters covering different topics, it is in some ways its very breadth that makes it a useful contribution. It also does some very good and interesting things. For instance, arguing for the validity and positive employment of the term “syncretism”, making a theological case for religious pluralism through biblical interpretation, and many others. Of course, Schmidt-Leukel’s particular contribution is very much to the theory of the religious pluralism hypothesis.

Abraham Veléz de Cea, The Buddha and Religious Diversity, Routledge, 2013.

Important to add this for many reasons. One is that so many of the books come from a Christian background, and while in some ways responding to Christian concerns (how the Theology of Religions typology works in Buddhism) its primary focus is on another tradition. The detailed discussions of the Buddha and the early tradition adds a new angle to discussions in the area.

Major Surveys, References Works, and Textbooks

I have avoided adding in any of the major reference works which while important contributions are not what I had in my mind by the list, but will give a mention of special importance to:

Catherine Cornille, ed., The Wiley-Blackwell companion to Inter-Religious Dialogue, Wiley-Blackwell, 2013.

Chad Meister, ed., The Oxford Handbook of Religious Diversity, Oxford University Press, 2011.

David Cheetham, David Thomas, and Douglas Pratt, eds, Understanding Interreligious Relations, Oxford University Press, 2013.

Honourable Mention

Finally, I should give honourable mention to a range of books I might have included but haven’t (this is sometimes because they’re new and I haven’t read them yet but they look good!) and far from a definitive list, but Mohamad Hassan Khalil, Islam and the Fate of Others, Jerusha Lamptey, Never Wholly Other: A Muslima Theology of Religious Pluralism, Gorazd Andrejc, Wittgenstein and Interreligious Disagreement, Michelle Voss Roberts, Tastes of the Divine, Michelle Voss Roberts, ed., Comparing Faithfully, S. Mark Heim, Salvations, Paul Hedges, Controversies in Interreligious Dialogue and the Theology of Religions (well I can give myself an HM surely?), Catherine Cornille, The I’m-Possibility of Interreligious Dialogue, Catherine Cornille and Christopher Conway, eds, Interreligious Hermeneutics, and Eboo Patel, Acts of Faith.

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