Discussions of God in the world’s largest religious traditions brought scholars from around the globe to a two-day symposium hosted by the Christian-Muslim Studies Network in July.

Delving deeply into one of the most publicly contentious and deeply theological issues of Christian-Muslim dialogue, the symposium ‘Speaking of the One God: Divine Essence, Attributes, and Names’  brought nearly 30 scholars to Edinburgh.

‘The Christian-Muslim Studies Network aims to connect those who are capable of the richly innovative, inter-disciplinary scholarship necessary for this kind of work,’ said Dr Joshua Ralston, Director of the Christian-Muslim Studies Network and Lecturer in Christian-Muslim Relations at the University of Edinburgh. ‘Simply making these discussions led to fruitful discovery’.

The symposium opened with remarks from Prof Rowan Williams, Honorary Professor of Contemporary Christian Thought at Cambridge and former Archbishop of Canterbury. The scope of the symposium intentionally provided space for direct questions and discussion of Prof Williams’ work, as well as that of subsequent speakers.

Prof Linn Marie Tonstad, a Yale professor of Systematic Theology who spoke at the symposium, said she was excited to observe how the discussion moved past the more common, centuries-old debates of Christian-Muslim dialogue.

‘It seems to me that exclusive focus on that question can artificially constrain the possibilities for theological engagement in Christian-Muslim dialogue, and that intuition was borne out by the richness and depth of engagement demonstrated by the actual discussion we had’, Prof Tonstad said.

The essence of the symposium lay in bringing these topics into a discussion format that enriched and at times challenged the prepared talks. The speakers also included Prof Mona Siddiqui  and Dr Abdul Rahman Mustafa of the University of Edinburgh, Dr Ramon Harvey from Ebrihim College, Prof Anna Moreland of Villanova University, and Prof Stephen Pickard of Charles Sturt University.

More such events are under consideration, as those present discussed options for similar meetings on other topics related to Christian-Muslim Studies. Some suggested themes were similarly grounded in theology.

‘I’d love to see further discussion on the relation of divine attributes to hypostases, and generally to think more about possible constructive-theological intersections between Christian and Muslim construals of the being of God’. Prof Tonstad said. ‘It would also be interesting to take up the infinity of God directly’.

Others expressed the desire to bring these discussions into the public sphere as well.

‘The work of moving dialogue forward is rigorous and exciting, and the public can share that excitement as gatherings such as this assemble and then constructively disperse’, said Prof Mona Siddiqui.

Plans were also considered for the Christian-Muslim Studies Network to look more deeply through the lens of sociology for focused studies of Christian-Muslim relations on the ground. The one-day conference ‘God’s New Continent? Christian-Muslim Relations in Africa’, set for the spring of 2020, is one model under consideration.

The Christian-Muslim Studies Network aims to foster a community of interdisciplinary research, teaching, and scholarship drawn from experts across Europe, the Middle East, North America, Southeast Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and beyond. This is accomplished through public lectures, student courses and postgraduate degrees, and interdisciplinary conferences.