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Interreligious Learning: Dialogue, Spirituality, and the Christian Imagination.

INTERRELIGIOUS LEARNING: DIALOGUE, SPIRITUALITY, AND THE CHRISTIAN IMAGINATION. By Michael Barnes, S.J. New York: Cambridge University, 2012. Pp. xvi + 292. $95.

In his complex exploration of the nature and benefit of interreligious dialogue, Barnes shifts the focus from a dialogue that arrives at the "truth,'" through Socratic questioning, to a model of dialogue espousing an I-Thou encounter, drawing on the personalist philosophy of Martin Buber. The most important element of the dialogue, according to B., is the encounter of persons in which one learns not just more about the other person, but more about oneself as well. Such encounters engage other religious worlds and other persons imaginatively.

In his earlier work Theology and the Dialogue of Religions (2002), B. advanced the patristic theme that "God is known through the single mystery of creation and redemption, through everything that enhances participation in the very life of God" (xi). The seeds of God found in creation provide the grounds for interreligious dialogue. And the Christian faith, nourished by the Eucharist, builds up an instinct of hospitality and welcome to the other.

B. continues in this work to build the grounds for dialogue but now does so through an experiential prism. At the beginning of each chapter B. narrates a story or example, out of which he explores some aspect of interreligious dialogue. This approach has the advantage of grounding the theory in lived experience, but it also produces a loosely connected series of vignettes. The result can leave the reader without a map of where the author is headed.

B. divides his argument into three sections: (1) Meetings, which situate the interreligious encounter within a broad theological and historical contact: (2) Crossings, which describes how one needs to cross over a cultural border, to let go of one's presuppositions and biases and to cross over the interreligious Rubicon. Here B. reaps highly insightful results from Christian dialogue with Judaism and the Buddhist and Hindu contemplative traditions. Within I-Thou conversations, the Eternal Thou is always present (101); and finally (3) Imaginings, which takes up the ethical and political implications of the dialogue, in which B. engages both Islam and Indian religions.

B. creates a rich text by intelligently engaging a host of theologians and philosophers, such as Karl Rahner, David Tracy, Emmanuel Levinas, Martin Buber, Franz Rosenzweig, and Francis Clooney, and advances his argument by skillfully drawing on their insights. The resulting dialogue is fertile and creative, but once again the result challenges the reader to find a consistent line of direction and logical coherence.

However, B. helpfully summarizes key insights with some frequency. In a safe, hospitable place, he says, "the crucial question can be addressed: how to be faithfully anchored in a religious tradition and yet responsive to another world of discourse, able to cross linguistic, symbolic and cultural boundaries" (95).

B. offers an important foundational text for interreligious dialogue. The considerable effort required to track all the intricate arguments richly rewards the reader with critical insights and a deepening awareness of the mystery of God's presence pervading all creation and of how God's presence is diversely accessible through multiple religious traditions.


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Author:Howell, Patrick J.
Publication:Theological Studies
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 1, 2013
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