The Social Equality of Religion and Belief

My review of Alan Carling, ed., The Social Equality of Freedom and Belief, New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016 is now available on the “Reading Religion” website of the AAR. You can read it here:

This book adds to discussions around the freedom of religion and belief and law and legislation relating to this. My review is a a bit of a mixed bag for it: some very good surveys but also some poorer chapters.


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Multiple Religious Belonging after Religion: Strategic Religious Participation and Other Issues

Last month I attended a short conference in Birmingham about Multiple Religious Belonging and ways that church institutions react to it, and can learn to be more welcome to people with such dual/ multiple/ hyphenated identities or belongings.

Some interesting and useful reflections can be found in the links below. First, there is a blog post by the Comparative Theologian Michelle Voss Roberts on what Queer Theory can bring to the table, and then a link to a paper I have written which argues that a particular Western, Protestant, and monolithic conception of religion shapes the way we think and talk about this and looks to the Chinese context for ways of thinking differently about it. Hope these prove useful and fruitful for readers:

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The Body(Sattva) on the Cross

A recent publication of mine explores Buddhist-Christian encounters and relations – or more specifically an interreligious, intercultural, or comparative theology – with particular attention to the way that Christology can be rethought through the example of various Chinese (suffering) bodhisattvas.

The paper tries to advance beyond the usual Jesus as bodhisattva explorations in various ways. For one, it deals with actual figures, myths, and stories that resonate with Lived Religion rather than elite textual and philosophical conceptions. For another, it tries to mediate the notion of Jesus on the cross in interreligious relations, taking it as a difficult example especially within Buddhist-Christian encounters.

It also plays around with ideas of suffering saviours and whether bodhisattvas in the Mahayana tradition, who are often seen to have transcended suffering, actually can be spoken of as suffering in some form. Notions of pain and embodiment also enter into the debate.

I hope people will enjoy and appreciate. The final version is in the journal Buddhist-Christian Studies so a link to an uncorrected (but basically finished) draft on my page is below.

P.s. If anyone knows a good interreligious artist I could see this benefitting from some suitable artwork – and also maybe for another project I have stemming from this and some other comparative theological work.

Posted in Buddhism, Comparative Theology, Interreligious Studies | Leave a comment


Those excellent folks at the Religious Studies Project have produced a very good recent podcast on radicalisation by Matthew Francis of CREST which is well worth listening to:

Researching Radicalisation

I have done a short response to this which is also on the RSP website:

Speaking about Radicalisation in the Public Sphere

Hope you enjoy these.

Posted in Interreligious Studies, Religion and Politics, Religion and Violence | Leave a comment

Twenty-First Century Theologies of Religions

My co-edited text, with Elizabeth Harris and Shanthikumar Hettiarachchi is now off the press and available in physical form to buy. Being with Brill it is an expensive tome, but can be found on Amazon and through all good booksellers:

I think the cover is particularly beautiful. It shows a painting entitled “pluralism” by Sonya Wratten and was presented to Alan Race in September 2013. This was during a conference when many of the papers which became chapters in this book were presented.

Posted in Buddhism, Comparative Theology, Interreligious Studies, Islam, Theologies of Religions | Leave a comment

Book Launch: Towards Better Disagreement

I am posting some images from the recent launch of my book Towards Better Disagreement: Religion and Atheism in Dialogue. It went well, about 70-80 people, while the distributors sold every book they brought along and took further orders. Excellent questions and discussion with my fellow panel members, Paul Tobin, and Imran.

Many thanks to the Humanist Society of Singapore and the Leftwrite Centre for organising the event. also of course to my publishers, Jessica Kingsley, and the local distributors, T&F Francis, for helping with everything.

More pictures from the Humanist Society can be found here:

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After the Deconstruction of Religion?

The Finnish scholar Teemu Taira recently did a piece for the Religious Studies Project website on what happens after we deconstruct religion, which can be found here:

Categorising “Religion”: From Case Studies to Methodology

I was the respondent for this piece and my comments can be found here:

The Deconstruction of Religion: So What?

As may be expected a rather controversial podcast followed by a rather controversial response has generated a certain amount of heat. Much of this was on FaceBook at first but the RSP team asked if we could debate on their site as such much of it is moved over and is still an ongoing debate.

You can find current responses under my response – much of this copied and pasted from FB so that it makes sense of any following responses.

Hopefully you will enjoy the discussions and controversy.

Posted in Comparative Religion, Deconstructing Religion, Interreligious Studies, Religion and Atheism/ Secularism, Religion and Politics | Leave a comment

Towards Better Disagreement: now published and interview

My latest book Towards Better Disagreement: Religion and Atheism in Dialogue (Jessica Kingsley Publishing) is now out, and I link here to an interview I have done about the book.

An interview with Paul Hedges – author of Towards Better Disagreement

There should be a launch in Singapore (for Asia) on 15th October (details to be announced), while I will have another launch in Amsterdam (for Europe) around November/ December. The publisher is also trying to arrange a book signing session for me at the AAR (American Academy of Religion, November in San Antonio – again details to be announced).

Details on the book can be found on the link on the right by clicking the image of the book cover.

It is my first affordable book and so I hope you folks all enjoy it!

Posted in Religion and Atheism/ Secularism | 2 Comments

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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Interventions on the Burkini Wars

The global media has been discussing the burkini bans in France for some weeks now, and with it becoming such a politicised issues it is likely to be debated for sometime to come. Perhaps most iconic has been the image of the women being forced to take off her burkini by a number of armed policemen.

I wrote a short (c. 1k) RSIS Commentary on this to explore the issues in an accessible and media friendly way, which can be found here:

However, after finishing that I found I had more to say and so have written a longer piece fleshing out some arguments further, bringing in useful issues and reflecting some other sides of the debate, as well as providing links and references which the RSIS Commentary format doesn’t allow. If you’re up for reading about 4.5k words on this it can be found here:

Essentially the argument in both is the same, that women’s bodies are an ideological battlefield for other issues and that a broadly male and patriarchal agenda sets the standards for women’s bodies and “appropriate” clothing.

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