Author: Bedlack, Bede Benjamin
Date published: March 1, 2013
RELIGIOUS PLURALISM AND THE MODERN WORLD: AN ONGOING ENGAGEMENT WITH JOHN HICK. Edited by Sharada Sugirtharajah. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. Pp. xiv + 269. $85; $65.
This collaborative volume is a second Festschrift for John Hick published on the occasion of his 90th birthday. Much in the world has changed since the first Hick Festschrift was published 13 years ago, not the least of which are the additional seven books Hick himself has written. The present volume consists of 19 essays delivered at an international symposium by an outstanding intellectual community. The essays are not recollections or mere praise of Hick's vision for religion in the 21st century, but are original insights inspired by his thought. Furthermore, not all the scholars are uncritical of Hick and his program. The conversation remains fresh.
The book is arranged in four parts: (1) Religious Pluralism and Global Perspectives, (2) Religious Pluralism and Practical Concerns, (3) Theological and Philosophical Orientations, and (4) John Hick's Writings and Their Impact. Part 1 engages Hick's "Copernican Revolution" in the area of theologies of religion. The opening essay, "Religious Pluralism and the Need for an Interreligious Theology," by Perry Schmidt-Leukel, forcefully defends Hick's pluralism from the standard criticisms, such as "pluralism is disguised imperialism" or "pluralism does not take religious difference into account." Schmidt-LeukeFs essay may not be the best starting point, because the tight argument may leave the reader thinking that the conversation is over. Instead one may wish to begin with Paul Knitter's "Virtuous Comparativists Are Practicing Pluraliste." Although Part 1 reflects on theologies of religions, comparative theology provokes much of the conversation. By looking closely at Catherine Cornille's award-winning The Im-possibility of Dialogue, Knitter directly addresses comparative theologians and the contested issue as to whether contemporary interreligious theology should have a firm theology of religion in place. Anyone unfamiliar with comparative theology will find Knitter's essay to be a primer for the many references to comparative theologians in the other essays.
Part 2 places a pluralist theology of religions on the ground by considering what is actually happening in interreligious encounters. In this part as well as in the other parts of the book, readers can enjoy imagining the conversation between the scholars at the international symposium after reading their essays. For example, Gavin D'Costa's "Interreligious Prayer between Christians and Muslims" analyzes the response of church leadership to members of different religious traditions praying together - in their own way or separately but together. How would D'Costa respond to Ursula King's essay, "Interfaith Spirituality or Interspirituality? A New Phenomenon in a Postmodern World," which points out that members of different traditions are praying together anyway, and church leadership has lost much of its control and influence on those encounters (116)?
Part 3 is pithy and rewarding. For instance, Chester Gillis's opening essay, "John Hick: Theologian or Philosopher of Religion?," should be required reading for anyone interested in tackling Hick's corpus. He silences some of the arguments around Hick's assertions by pointing out that Hick writes sometimes as a theologian and sometimes as a philosopher of religion, and can be misunderstood if the reader does not know which Hick is writing. G. points out that Hick himself brought this distinction to his attention with regard to Hick's An Interpretation of Religion (1989), a work of philosophy of religion, not theology. Other essays point out inconsistencies in Hick's approach, as well as resources for correcting them.
Part 4 considers the history of the impact of Hick's work and opportunities for its further influence. Geoff Teece in "John Hick's Religious Interpretation of Religion: An Unexplored Resource for Religious Educators" wonders why a writer as influential as Hick has not had more influence on religious education in Britain, such as Ninian Smart had. One quick answer Teece offers is that, despite Hick's breadth of subjects, he never wrote on religious education (254). Given the rise of secularization in Western Europe and North America, any religionist would be interested in this essay, but may wonder whether Teece convincingly provides Hick as a solution.
Other essays in this volume deserve comment, but space does not allow for it. Despite the 19 essays covering the wide range of Hick's thought, some are noticeably missing. Few scholars have been more influenced or critical of Hick than S. Mark Heim, who responded to Hick in detail in his award-winning Salvations followed by Depths of the Riches. Readers would want to know what a scholar of Heim's caliber thinks of Hick's place in the modern world. In addition, while King's essay and a few others briefly mention double or multiple religious belongings, one would like to read what Hickians think of this rising religious phenomenon.
St. Anselm College, Manchester, NH BEDE BENJAMIN BEDLACK