Reflections on a one-day symposium

By Keri Ladner

Below is a reflection by Keri Ladner, a PhD student studying with the Christian-Muslim Studies Network at the University of Edinburgh. Please click here for details about the speakers and schedule of the 5 April symposium. 

Approaching the topic of Christian-Muslim relations is challenging because you are immediately confronted with issues regarding privilege, identity politics, and even who has the right to speak for Christianity and/or Islam. Overcoming these initial, oftentimes divisive, issues is necessary in order to move towards meaningful dialogue. Often, however, these issues are either ignored, treated with a form of pluralism that attempts to deny difference, or presented in such a way that they seem intractable. Either the problems do not exist, or we cannot solve them because they are simply too big.

In order to meet today’s global challenges, which are growing increasingly urgent, we have to change the conversation so that we can address them in such a way that Christians and Muslims can work together towards solutions.

The 5 April conference on Protestant Theology and Islam made significant strides towards reframing the conversation by presenting unique approaches to problems of dialogue, approaches which empower discourse that endeavors towards solutions. Speakers worked from a Protestant background in engaging with a Muslim context, a significant milestone since much of the Christian work in Christian-Muslim relations is done from a Catholic perspective. A number of participants from a Muslim background added a necessary perspective as well, to ensure a balanced and more nuanced discussion.

We participated in conversations about how a theology of scripture in interfaith dialogue can be used to promote understanding. In this model, neither Protestants nor Muslims need to change their theology, but rather they recognize this space as a catalyst for productive dialogue. We discussed some of the challenges regarding conversion across religious lines. Also discussed was how both Protestant Christianity and Islam recognize the sovereignty and infinity of God, but in different ways.

We also heard how Christians in the Middle East approach the topic of Christology from within a majority-Muslim country. Christology in particular can be messy, especially with the growing awareness of a distinctly Muslim Christology, but dynamically accepting our differences is a necessary aspect of addressing today’s challenges. I particularly appreciated how the history of colonialism was not ignored or glossed over but rather recognized in such a way that we can begin responding to it.

We have to keep in mind that dialogue is not the goal but rather an indispensable tool; the goal is creating both understanding and positive relationships that harness our strengths to solve twenty-first-century problems, rather than destructive relationships that seek to impose triumphalism and homogeneity. After all, theology does not exist for its own sake but rather for the sake of humanity finding ways to apprehend the supernatural.

As a Protestant Christian (I speak for myself as a Protestant, rather than for all Protestants), I believe that an essential component of apprehending God is finding the Imago Dei revealed in people from different backgrounds and of different faiths. Understanding our differences, and refusing to minimize or reduce them, helps generate positive interfaith relationships and collaboration for solving today’s problems.