Note: This post accompanies the material for an online course in Christian-Muslim relations offered by staff at the University of Edinburgh. You can find more information about this course and its aims here.
Participants on the course are diverse in terms of their geographic and faith background, and a mapping exercise in the course introduction helped to establish the breadth of global experience that participants bring to the course.
This diversity was represented by the way that participants reflected on the content and interacted with one another. The first course exercise, for example, was a comparison between Qur’anic and Biblical – both New Testament and Hebrew Bible – accounts of Abraham. Since Abraham is embraced within Christianity and Islam – as well as Judaism, of course – many course participants commented on the influence of Abraham’s legacy within their own faith or educational upbringing.
At the same time, other course participants questioned the validity of discussions about Abraham, citing different claims that questioned the historicity of the Abrahamic account.
This discussion within the course brought to mind the reality that in many contexts, Christian-Muslim dialogue often becomes a ‘trialogue’ with a secular or atheistic worldview. It reminded me of an ongoing research project conducted by Dr Fiona McCallum in the United Kingdom. As part of a Humanities in the European Research Area project, she studied the growth of new, Middle Eastern Christian communities in a British context. (You can read more about her presentation here.)
One of her more surprising findings was that Christians who increasingly leave their homes in Egypt or Iraq and resettle in England, do so with the expectation that they are trading a Muslim-majority context for a Christian one. As they begin life in the United Kingdom, however, many become confused or disillusioned by the non-religious tenor of British life. As Dr McCallum commented in her presentation at the University of Edinburgh:
Is home the Middle East? Is home the UK? Your answer to that is going to determine what you think is important.Dr Fiona McCallum in ‘Defining and Identifying Middle Eastern Christian Communities in Europe’
Emerging evidence also suggests that Muslims in the United States are encountering this same ‘trialogue’. Imam Dr Khalil Abdur-Rashid, the Muslim chaplain at Harvard University, has written for this blog on the ways that he perceives and deals with this issue as a pastoral challenge that for the Muslim community.
While these findings reflected interreligious life on the ground, so to speak, the academic world has also begun to respond. With the popular rise of New Atheist literature since 9/11, Christian-Muslim Studies also features contributions from Christian and Muslim scholars alike, who are finding common ground in facing the New Atheist arguments that both faiths are a-rational and essentially combustive.
This blog has hosted a discussion between two scholars – Muslim and Christian – who consider the Science and Religion debate from that perspective. (You can read the Christian commentary and a Muslim response here.)
In that context, a few more questions could further this discussion:
- To what extent does Christian-Muslim dialogue change in a culturally secular context, as opposed to one in which the majority population and state structures align with a religious worldview?
- What, if any, influence do ongoing scientific and archaeological discoveries play within Christian-Muslim dialogue?