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Never Wholly Other: A Muslima Theology of Religious Pluralism.

Never Wholly Other: A Muslima Theology of Religious Pluralism. By Jerusha Tanner Lamptey. New York: Oxford University, 2014. Pp. xv + 333. $74.

Lamptey's first book offers a fascinating Muslim approach to questions of religious diversity and the salvific status of religious others from within a Qur'anic worldview. The book begins with a survey of some historical and contemporary Muslim approaches to religious diversity that L. generally finds wanting due to excessive emphasis on either similarity or difference between religions. Part 2 of the book focuses on the contributions to the question of leading Muslim feminists (Riffat Hassan, Asma Barlas, and Amina Wadud), as well as of feminist thinkers from other religions (Rosemary Radford Ruether, Maijorie Suchocki, Judith Plaskow, Kate MaCarthy, Ursula King, Rita Gross, Jeannine Hill Fletcher, Kwok Pui Lan, and Kathleen McGarvey). From these authors, L. derives an emphasis on identity theory and notions of relationality as the basis for a more integrated and flexible understanding of religious sameness and difference. In part III L. develops her own Muslima theology of religious pluralism, building on Toshihiko Izutsu's semantic approach to the Qur'an, but approaching some of the central Qur'anic categories in more dynamic and less hierarchical terms.

Further developing Barlas's distinction between lateral and hierarchical distinctions and attention to taqwa (God consciousness) as the ultimate criterion of judgment, L. argues that the categories that have traditionally been used to distinguish Muslims from religious others (iman, hanif, islam versus shirk, kufr, nifaq) are to be applied dynamically--within, rather than across, religions.

L.'s goal is to question and undo the idea of fixed boundaries between religions as the basis for determining similarities, differences, and even eschatological judgment. She does this through focusing on Qur'anic verses that point to the diversity of religions as part of creation and reflective of God's will and intention. Using a synchronic semantic analysis, L. interprets the term umma (religious community) as referring to any religious group following a messenger sent by God. The followers of Mohammed are thus regarded as one among many umam. To broaden the scope of inclusion, L. questions the traditional referent of the Qur'anic notion of "religions of the scripture" to possibly include religions other than Judaism and Christianity. And to avoid supersessionism, she rejects the idea of a partial revelation in other religions that would be completed by the revelation through Mohammed. All this is meant to preclude any sense of hierarchical distinction between religions.

L. offers a genuinely open Islamic approach to the religious other, recognizing the possibility of attaining to the highest religious goal of taqwa in any religion, while grounding that possibility firmly in the Qur'an. She thus avoids the pitfalls of relativism while still advancing a pluralistic understanding of the text. This is a major achievement and an important contribution to Islamic theology of religions.

In her desire to erase religious boundaries, however, L. seems at times to confuse theological ideals with religious realities, minimalizing the real differences that exist between religions. While religious boundaries may not be fixed and static, they are nevertheless real, expressing themselves in various doctrinal, ritual, and institutional ways. Boundaries also come to the fore in the categories according to which members of one religion assess the religious and spiritual attainment of other religions. The category of taqwd represents a distinctly Qur'anic criterion that marks the distinction between an Islamic and, for example, a Buddhist approach to religious diversity. In that respect, L.'s approach may be regarded as a clear example of open inclusivism, a category she does not acknowledge in her attempt to dismiss traditional approaches to religious diversity as focusing only on similarity or difference.

The title, Never Wholly Other, is wonderfully evocative. The book does not, however, fully clarify what is meant by those words. L. uses the string of hyphenated words "the Other-who-can-never-be-wholly-other" at several points in the text without much context or elaboration. Implied is probably a reference to various levels of human interconnectedness, and/or to a spiritual unity in God. But L. could have dwelt more on her use of the expression, considering its importance in the book as a whole.

These comments in no way take away from L.'s accomplishment. The book offers a very useful overview of various Muslim approaches to the religious other, as well as a provocative and carefully articulated new approach that will undoubtedly challenge and inspire many other theologians who seek to develop a more open attitude toward the religious other.

DOI: 10.1177/0040563915593486

Catherine Cornille

Boston College
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Author:Cornille, Catherine
Publication:Theological Studies
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 1, 2015
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