The Accidental Theologian

A month ago, I was commissioned by the Journal of InterReligious Dialogue (JIRD) to write a response to one of their new articles on possible strategies for productive dialogue with the global Muslim community. Not being a religious scholar, I’m not sure how I sneaked into the smart-people world, but I’m not complaining! JIRD is a fairly new academic publication concerned with honest discussion and revolutionary change, particularly as it seeks to remake the violent landscape of global religious interaction.

It’s unsurprising that I excitedly accepted the invitation to write for them.

My contribution is one of four responses to one of the longer featured pieces in the current issue (Issue 7). This “response” section is a first for the journal, and so they asked me and three other writers at State of Formation (a partly JIRD-sponsored project in itself) to get into a written dialogue with an article on how a stronger grasp on the historical narratives of the Muslim faith will help Christians (and really, anyone interested in peaceful cooperation) find new and more productive relational ground. It’s that word “narrative” that prompted the Journal’s editors to ask me to write.

So, I applaud JIRD’s openness to learn from other perspectives–even ones that are outside the seminary/scholarly world. It’s my firm belief that art can and should be responding to every facet of life, and it was really great to try this strategy out practically.

Here is JIRD, issue 7. To see my piece, scroll to the bottom of the menu, and download the article (as a PDF). Or, download the PDF at the bottom of the preview below. Be sure to check out all the other perspectives in Issue 7 as well.

Here’s an excerpt from “Narrative As New Reality:”

First off, I’m a memoirist. I’ve been invited to respond to Robert Hunt’s
“Muslims, Modernity, and the Prospects of Christian-Muslim Dialogue,” distinctly because I am not a theologian, but a crafter and student of narrative. Or, better yet, the art of narrative—meaning there is an act of creation necessary when humans engage in the parsing and ultimate sharing of narratives.

In his essay, Hunt purports that a deeper understanding of narratives will allow for more substantial, bridge-building dialogue between Muslims and Christians (he specifies that “Christian” is just one lens here, and that the narrative approach to dialogue could and should work for any non-Muslim group). As he explicitly says, “It is the thesis of this paper that understanding Muslim (and Christian) identity in terms of narrative will provide a more illuminating and fruitful basis for engaging in interfaith dialogue…” (Hunt supra).

Narrative, however, is a world of a word. It is not only a chronicling of where we come from, but also who we are because of our claimed origins, and what drives our passion. One’s own narrative starts with the self and, from there continuously enters a labyrinthine layering of subsequent narratives—of our parents, our ethnicity, our friend group, our gastronomic sensibility, our faith, our heroes. In other words, humans are a jumbled tome of inexorable narratives, emphasis on that plural. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance to understand how Hunt is using this loaded term, which he does by stating, “In the paper narrative means simply a way of describing the origins of Islam as a religious movement, the ‘plot’ which characterizes its engagement with the non-Muslim world, and the end toward which it is understood to move” (Hunt). Download


About bp

I'm writing a book. It's called, Wake, Sleeper. My writing revolves around this idea of art: attempts to recover what is lost.
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