Anvil journal of theology and mission
Lucinda Mosher (ed.), Freedom: Christian and Muslim Perspectives (Washington DC: Georgetown University Press, 2021)
by Tom Wilson, St Philip’s Centre, Leicester
This edited collection reflects the proceedings of the 18th annual Building Bridges Seminar, which brings together Muslim and Christian scholars from around the world and was held in Switzerland in 2019.
Part one contains the opening plenary addresses of the gathering: C. Rosalee Velloso Ewell provides a Christian perspective and Tuba Isik a Muslim one on the topic of freedom. Azza Karram offers a few brief reflections on both essays. Part two focuses on Islamic texts on freedom. There are texts to discuss, drawn from the Quran and Hadith, from premodern Islamic writings and from writings in the modern period. There are also three essays, which introduce the three text selections. Part three does a similar job for the Christian texts, although in this case there are four selections: Old Testament, New Testament, the classical period and the modern period. Part four has one essay – some reflections on the seminar from Lucinda Mosher, the editor of this volume.
Rather than list the contents in exhaustive (and probably exhausting) detail, I will instead reflect upon the usefulness of the volume and the lessons it offers for other forms of Christian–Muslim dialogue. I will make four points. First, as a written record of interfaith dialogues, Freedom perhaps is best read as a stimulus for further conversations between Muslims and Christians about the nature of freedom in the many and various contexts in which we find ourselves. There is some reward in reading it by yourself and reflecting on what you find. I suspect there is much more to be gained if it is used as a way into conversation.
But second, this is a very intellectual and academic approach to dialogue, which will only work for an educated elite. So perhaps this is more a library resource or a book to buy a single copy of and use in planning dialogue events. The more practical questions, of how do we live well together in shared space, are notably absent – a curious oversight in a dialogue about freedom. Surely questions of how to live out my religion freely without harming others ought to be front and centre to the endeavours of an organisation such as Building Bridges. I would certainly advocate they become central to any dialogue group that uses this book as a stimulus for their own conversations.
Third, as well as being not enough, there is also far too much in this book for most dialogue groups to work with. This is especially true of the secondary texts, but even the wealth of scriptural citations would take a while to work through. There is a need to plan any dialogical encounter carefully, and be very clear on aims and expectations. The desire to include female and male voices from a range of Christian and Muslim theological perspectives is one to emulate as far as is practicable. It should be noted that, as with any selection, some are inevitably ignored. The lack of black voices is noted by Mosher, and does mean Freedom lacks some crucial perspectives.
Fourth, dialogue is founded on friendship; there are hints that Building Bridges is a gathering of friends, doubtless a changing and developing group, but with a core who have built relationships of trust in which truths can be spoken. Ultimately, this is where freedom lies, in our decisions to learn to live well together.