"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Friday, November 2, 2012

Andrew Sharp on Orthodox Dialogue with Islam

A new and welcome book, very cogently written, to which I previously drew brief attention, continues to help us understand the relationship between Orthodox Christians and Muslims: Andrew M. Sharp, Orthodox Christians and Islam in the Postmodern Age (Brill, 2012).

AD: Tell us a bit about your background.

AS: First, let me thank you for this interview and for the opportunity to talk about my book.  I think readers will discover in it some thought-provoking and even surprising things about Muslim-Christian relations, a topic of particular importance today.  My interest in religion and spirituality began at a young age.  I was raised in a Christian family and, because of extensive travel as a youth and young adult, had a genuine curiosity about the way faith and culture together express so brilliantly the divine spark within every human being.  My college years were a transformative intellectual and spiritual journey, which culminated during the year I spent as a student in Paris.  It was in France where I had my first substantive encounter with both Orthodox Christianity and Islam.  Through spending time with Muslim friends I met at the Sorbonne and the international student campus where I was living, I was inspired to learn more about Islam, while at the same time – through other friendships, encounters with monastic communities, and voracious reading – I realized my own personal journey toward a deeper connection with God had led me to Orthodoxy.  I was so drawn to the spiritual treasures of the Orthodox tradition – especially the Jesus Prayer – and its liturgy, icons, theology, and history that after my conversion and marriage, my wife and I moved to New York where I enrolled at St. Vladimir’s Seminary.  

I continued to have a great interest in Islam, as well as the historical relationship between that religion and Eastern Christianity, and under the direction of the late John Boojamra did my Master’s thesis on early theological encounters between Orthodox Christians and Muslims.  After seminary, I enrolled in a graduate program at the University of Virginia where I specialized primarily in Islamic studies and later at the University of Birmingham (in England) where I wrote my PhD dissertation on Orthodox Christian-Muslim relations under the supervision of David Thomas.  

I was a visiting instructor for a year at the College of William and Mary and for the past several years have been at Virginia Commonwealth University, where I have taught courses on Muslim-Christian relations, the Bible, Islam, and world religions.  In all my classes I try to stress the importance of religion and community in the formation of identity, particularly in an age where so many of us feel disconnected from  others persons, nature and the environment, the spiritual/transcendent powers in the world and all of us, and even ourselves.  

AD: What led you to work on this book, Orthodox Christians and Islam in the Postmodern Age, in particular? 

AS: In my studies of both Eastern Christianity and Islam I was struck by the ways in which Muslims and Eastern Christians have had a long, rich, and complex relationship with each other over the centuries, often living as neighbors and, more often than not historically, in relative harmony and peace.  So much of this story has not been told and/or has been forgotten by more recent generations, which have unfortunately seen the history through the lens of the modern worldview, with all its prejudices and distortions.   Though I was able to find a few articles from Orthodox writers about Islam and interfaith dialogue, there was really no comprehensive treatment on the subject.  Therefore, I set out to write a book that would bring together the various discussions over the past few decades about engagement with Muslims and their religion, and then contextualize and analyze this material in order to establish, as much as possible, an Orthodox ‘position’ on Islam.  In doing so, what emerged included the great similarities in the way Orthodox Christians and Muslims have experienced and responded to modernity and modernization.  I discovered through my research that the modern and postmodern periods have in many ways posed a crisis for these communities, in the sense that they have had to reevaluate everything upon which their religious traditions have operated for centuries.  

Just as I shared with you my own personal quest for identity, I believe it is also helpful to think of religious communities as having to come to terms with their identity in this present world in which we live.  It is a timeless spiritual truism that those who really know themselves – who they are, where they came from, their strengths and weaknesses, what they aspire to, the things they love – are happy and at peace and, by contrast, those whose identity is all mixed up – they pretend to be something they’re not, they forget where they came from, they are in denial about their weaknesses, they numb their pain instead of facing it head on, they are fragmented, they refuse to be loved or even to love themselves – are unhappy and live tormented inner lives.  Through my research and personal experience with Orthodox Christians and Muslims, I have found that entire communities have been effected by the consequences of either a healthy or unhealthy concept of their identity in this world, their relationship to God, and their relationship with their fellow man.  I felt that as an Orthodox Christian who has had training in Eastern Christianity, Islamic studies, and Muslim-Christian relations, I could help reframe some of the discussion on Islam and our relationship to it as a parallel religious community that is struggling as we are to come to terms with its own place, self-understanding, and mission in the postmodern world.

AD: Why did you focus, as you say in your introduction, on the years 1975-2008? Did you feel earlier history had already been well told?  

AS: Muslim-Christian studies is still a relatively young and growing field, so there is much room for new scholarship in all periods, especially in terms of relations between Orthodox Christians and Muslims.  In this book, I wanted to tell the story of how we got to where we are in this postmodern age, which has more to do with certain changes in attitudes – following World War II and especially over the past few decades – toward the underlying philosophies of modernity than the long history of relations between Orthodox Christians and Muslims from the rise of Islam to the present.  In the introduction I reference the patristic, ecclesiological, and liturgical revival within the Orthodox Church over the past half-century, inspired by figures such as AfanassieffBulgakov, FlorovskyLossky, Schmemann, Staniloae, and Zizioulas.  

From approximately 1975, one can begin to see within this larger shift in thought a trend to re-articulate the Orthodox theological tradition specifically as it relates to Islam and Muslim-Christian relations in today’s world.  Again, as I said in the introduction to the book, this renewal of Orthodox Christian-Muslim relations continues to the present, but the date on which I chose to focus on the other end of the range corresponded with the convening of a synaxis of the Orthodox patriarchs from around the world in the autumn of 2008.  This event was important in that, among other things, it reaffirmed the commitment of Orthodox leaders to interfaith dialogue and action.  

There have been some interesting developments since 2008 and I anticipate that at some future point I will pick up the story from 2008 forward in another article or monograph about Orthodox Christian-Muslim relations.  Even though the primary sources for the work fall between the years 1975-2008, in order to truly understand the significance of theses writings, statements, and dialogues the book had to present a much broader picture.  For example, the first chapter gives a complete historical account of key events and developments from the fall of Constantinople in the mid-fifteenth century through the twentieth century.  Another chapter of the book examines the scriptural foundation and patristic sources that establish an Orthodox theological perspective on other religions and how they relate to the mission and place of the Church in the world.  There are also references to other statements, speeches, and writings prior to 1975 and in the years between 2008 and the present.  In short, the book really is about Orthodox Christians and Islam in the postmodern age, as the title implies, and is much more than just a study of the years 1975-2008.  

AD: What, in your expert judgment, are some outstanding works narrating that earlier history of encounters between Orthodox and Muslims? Which works are to be avoided?  

AS: There have been many excellent studies on early encounters between Christians and Muslims (and/or Christianity and Islam), including several titles published along with this book in the series by Brill, The History of Christian-Muslim Relations, Texts and Studies.  Perhaps the most ambitious project to date to record the key figures in the encounters between Muslims and Christians over the centuries is Christian-Muslim Relations: A Bibliographical History, edited by David Thomas and Alex Mallett.  The fourth volume has just been published and they have already begun work on the next one.  

Hugh Goddard’s A History of Christian-Muslim Relations(Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2000) is still one of the best overviews and attempts to present the history of the period from both Muslim and Christian (including the Orthodox Christian) perspectives.  

Daniel Sahas has also written some important books and articles, including John of Damascus on Islam: The ‘Heresy of the Ishmaelites’ (Leiden: Brill, 1972) and ‘Gregory Palamas (1296–1360) on Islam,’ The Muslim World 73 (1982): 1–21.  John Meyendorfff’s article, ‘Byzantine Views of Islam,’ Dumbarton Oaks Papers 18 (1964): 113–132, remains an excellent concise summary of relations between early Greek Orthodox Christians and Muslims.  Key reference works on Byzantine writers and texts on Islam have been compiled by Adel Theodore Khouri in Les théologians byzantins et l’islam: Textes et auteurs VIIIe–Xiiie s. (Louvain: Editions Nauwelaerts, 1969). Other works, such as Margaret Smith’s The Way of the Mystics: The Early Christian Mystics and the Rise of the Sufis (London: Sheldon Press, 1976), have attempted to explore the relationship between Eastern Christian and early Islamic mysticism.

Finally, with regard to the early history of Arab Christian-Muslim relations, Sidney Griffith has carried out some of the best scholarship, including a recent article, ‘Arabic Christian Relations with Islam: Retrieving from History, Expanding the Canon’ in The Catholic Church in the Contemporary Middle East: Studies for the Synod for the Middle East: Studies for The Synod for the Middle East, Anthony O’Mahony and John Flannery, eds. (London: Melisende, 2010), 263–290.  

In terms of works to avoid, I mention in my book the writings of Bat Ye’or and Serge Trifkovic.  Their books, along with others of this genreof writing, attempt to construct an imaginative account of Islam’s treatment of Eastern Christians that matches the authors’ negative views toward Islam, which they make little effort to suspend or even disguise.  Their methodology is often flawed and the arguments themselves tend to be either overly simplistic or internally contradictory.   These books exclude pertinent sources and the analysis does not properly contextualize the sources that are consulted, which reveal the author’s anti-Muslim bias and inability to understand the past without viewing it through a modern lens. 

AD: You note that from 1975 onward "one can begin to detect the effort to re-articulate the Orthodox theological tradition specifically as it relates to Islam." What was it about 1975, or perhaps that decade more generally, that prompted such a re-articulation? Were there any particular causal factors your discovered? 

Met. Khodr
AS: It was only a matter of time until the Orthodox theological revival, as seen in the works of the Russian émigrés in Paris in the 40’s (and later in New York) and that of Greek theologians from the 50s (ex. Romanides, then later Yannaras and Zizioulas), would begin to spill over into the area of interreligious dialogue, and specifically Muslim-Christian relations.  Indeed, as you said, Orthodox theologians began to look at this subject even before 1975.  For example, Metropolitan Georges (Khodr) wrote his ground breaking articles – ‘Pour un dialogue avec l’Islam’ and ‘Christianity in a Pluralistic World: The Economy of the Holy Spirit’ – in the years 1969 and 1971 respectively.  Subsequently, he and others helped the World Council of Churches articulate its position on interfaith relations.  I used the approximate date of 1975 because much like the terrorist attacks of 9/11 led to an increased interest in Islam and Muslim-Christian relations in the years following 2001, I believe there is evidence that the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974 and the start of the civil war in Lebanon in 1975 led to a similarly heightened interest in Islam and relations with Muslims among Orthodox Christians from the mid-1970s forward.  It is often during such times of trial and inter-communal discord that religious leaders are the voice of reason and avail themselves of opportunities for positive inter-religious dialogue.  

AD: You refer briefly (p.75) to the "shared mystical dimension of Eastern Christianity and Islam." Say more about that if you would. What elements are common or shared? And are there incommensurate elements as well? 

Likewise, there was an exchange between Muslims and the Orthodox Christian mystic Gregory Palamas in which the parties had a fruitful discussion on many topics and concluded that a time would come when there would be mutual understanding between followers of Islam and Eastern Christianity. 

Even in modern times, particularly in parts of the world where Orthodox Christians and Muslims have lived side-by-side for centuries, one can still detect the influence of the mystics.  For example, the late Patriarch Athenagoras spoke of a dervish who spent hours visiting his home as a child and that he was so respected by his family that they could talk to him about anything, even matters of the heart that they had not even uttered to their parish priest.  There are so many things that Sufism and Eastern Christian mysticism (particularly hesychasm) share in common.  The most obvious similarity is the use of monological prayer, such as the Jesus Prayer in the Orthodox tradition and the practice of dhikr in Sufism, with the intent of achieving intimacy with God.  One also finds similar use of breathing and meditative techniques, transmission of spiritual practices from a master to a disciple, an emphasis on the heart as the locus of the spirit, and the experience of ‘Divine light’ as one nears ever closer to God.

In terms of differences between the two, certainly hesychasm is fleshed out in a Trinitarian framework whereas Sufism emphasizes the ‘unity’ of God (tawhid).  Also, because of the role of Sufi orders over the centuries, one could argue that when compared to the hesychast tradition, which is most pronounced in monasteries, Islamic mysticism has a greater appeal in society at large.  Still, because of Eastern Christianity’s mystical quality overall, Orthodox Christian and Muslim leaders and scholars have begun to think about the esoteric dimension of their traditions as a possible bridge between the two religions.  In fact, three conferences have focused, at least in part, on the role of mysticism in Orthodox Christians-Muslim relations (Boston [1985], South Carolina [2001], and Volos, Greece [2006]).  I hope to publish on this as well in the near future.  Still, the effort needs to go much further and should involve practitioners as well as scholars.  At one of those conferences, it was reported that in the middle of the twentieth century Louis Massignon, the great Catholic scholar of Islamic mysticism and Muslim-Christian relations, said, “It is too late for conferences; the only thing that matters now is the prayer of the heart.”  I could not agree with him more, but would add that Eastern Christians should play a leading role in making this vision a reality.  

AD: You note in several places (e.g., p.93, quoting the Ecumenical Patriarch) the problems with nationalism, which is something of a commonplace in Eastern Christian self-criticism. And yet I know some Eastern Christians, especially in the Arab world, who have been able to make common cause with Muslims precisely through pan-Arabic nationalism and nationalist organizations, and such co-operation has helped to keep tensions between the two under control. Is nationalism thus something of a proverbial double-edged sword? 

AS: Certainly Orthodox Christians have benefitted from nationalism in some ways since the notion of the modern nation-state began to spread from Western Europe to the East during the Enlightenment.  In fact, many of them initially viewed this in very positives terms, seeing it as an opportunity to fulfill their cultural, political, and religious aspirations more completely than had been possible under Ottoman rule.  This was true of Arab Christians as well except, unlike most other Orthodox peoples in the region, they did not separate out the religious component as a marker of their national identity, choosing instead to emphasize alongside their Muslim compatriots the heritage of their shared Islamicate Civilization as the primary basis (along with the Arabic language) for modern Arab nationalism.  I give several examples in my book of Orthodox Christians who were key leaders in the movement toward Arab Nationalism, such as Antun Sa’adeh, Constantine Zurayk, and Michael Aflak.  

Over time, those in many Orthodox societies also began to experience the darker side of nationalism, along with the other principles and programs of modernity that did not deliver as promised a more civilized and humane world.  Orthodox scholars and leaders started speaking about the ways in which nationalism was degrading relations between national churches and hurting the Orthodox Church worldwide on many levels.  Since that time nationalism has indeed been a persistent theme in Eastern Christian self-criticism.  Though I briefly summarized some of the key concerns with nationalism, what I really wanted to do in my book was bring to light the ways in which more and more Orthodox scholars and leaders have begun to think about its ramifications for intra-Christian and interfaith relations, especially those with Muslims.  I think many people are not aware that in a number of ways Muslims have had very similar experiences to their Eastern Christian brothers and sisters with modernity and in their responses to it.  This is changing, though, especially in places such as Lebanon, Turkey, and Albania through the leadership of Tarek Mitri, Metropolitan George (Khodr), Patriarch Bartholomew, and Archbishop Anastasios (Yannoulatos), among others.  For quite some time, they have been working alongside Muslims to create new models for human engagement that go beyond borders, languages, religion, and interests of the state and global corporations.  In Lebanon, for example, Christians and Muslims are recovering the best of their shared past, emphasizing religious pluralism and their long-standing cultural bonds as the basis for a new, postmodern nationalism.  Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has also been outspoken about the role Muslims and Eastern Christians can play together in bringing about a new paradigm for nationalism that will “overcome modernity from the inside,” placing emphasis on both the “rights of God and the rights of man.”  The great scholar of religion, Huston Smith once said that whereas Christianity teaches us to love thy neighbor, Islam teaches us how to love him.  Orthodox Christians are learning from Muslims and are discovering that by closely working with them they can reverse some of the negative consequences of nationalism and forge new paradigms for themselves and the world.

AD: You speak of the resurgence in some places of the "growing sentiment of anti-ecumenism" (p.98) and the notion of the "pan-heresy of ecumenism." I've seen and dealt with this myself. Do you think it is growing? How much of it may be a factor of the recent influx of converts to Orthodoxy, especially from more "liberal" Protestant denominations? 

AS: These trends correspond to a way of thinking that is unfortunately on the rise in virtually all of the world’s religious traditions.  Often called ‘fundamentalism’ – a term that is widely used but imprecise and/or misleading – this resurgent version of religiosity is a reaction to modernity and, despite what its proponents believe, is more often than not a de facto departure from the traditional religious sources and practices.  Unfortunately, this fundamentalist trend, which ironically is informed by the underlying principles of modernity, has made inroads in Orthodoxy over the past few decades.  Though this has not been adequately studied, anecdotal evidence from Orthodox scholars and leaders seems to indicate it is on the rise in recent years.  One of the ways it is expressed is through the sentiment of anti-ecumenism coming from certain groups and individuals in the Church.  At the same time, however, one can also detect growing support within world Orthodoxy (among scholars, clergy, and lay persons) for dialogue and common work with Christians of other traditions and those of other religions.  Within the North American context, it is possible that converts from both the more “liberal” Protestant denominations and the more “conservative” wing of the Evangelical movement (and more recently among some Catholics) have contributed to the increasingly polarized viewpoints in the churches on any number of issues.  However, I do not think this can explain the phenomenon of ‘fundamentalism’ (along with those who strongly speak out against it) that has taken root in some Orthodox majority countries, such as Russia and Greece.

To illustrate this trend in general terms, I devoted a section in chapter five of my book to ‘Greece: A Case Study in Opposing Voices in the Church.’ There I discuss the open attitudes expressed by those associated with the Volos Academy for Theological Studies in contrast to the more ‘fundamentalist’ orientation (which includes what they refer to as the “pan-heresy of ecumenism”) represented by those who organized a conference in Thessaloniki in 2004 on “Ecumenism: Origins-Expectations-Disenchantment.”  These very different orientations and understanding of Orthodox thought and practice in the postmodern age come to bear on attitudes toward Islam and Orthodox Christian-Muslim relations today.  This is why I felt it so important to address in my book. 

AD: You mention (p.115) the inability of Christians and Muslims in some places "to come up with a shared religious basis for human rights." I've heard some scholars and theologians argue that such a religious understanding of rights is impossible, theologically, for Islam because its notion of God, and its theological anthropology, do not allow for any idea of rights--that such notions could only arise in a Christian context.  What are your thoughts? 

AS: I find such claims by Christians about Islam, though one hears them more frequently from social scientists and politicians than theologians, to reveal not only their lack of understanding about the religion but also their unwillingness to take a close look at their own civilization’s record on human rights.  Nearly all Muslim majority countries have signed the International Declaration of Human Rights and those who have criticized certain aspects of it and/or not signed it do so because, in the words of Aziz Sachedina (one of the best authorities in the West on Islam and human rights), they find some of the language “prejudicially anti-religious and politically hegemonic.”  We should remember that this document was written during the colonial period and consider the possibility that, at least to those who suffered under European hegemony, some of the language could reflect the prejudices and injustice of that age.  Despite these and other concerns, even the most conservative and anti-Western Muslim scholars would support the view that human beings have basic rights and should be treated with dignity, because, as the Qur’an says, every human person carries with them the breath of God. 

For Muslims it is important not only to emphasize the civil and political rights of individuals, but also the rights of the human community.  Muslims scholars and others are justified, in my view, when they point out the hypocrisy of the United States, which to this day has still not ratified the Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights because of the political ramifications of acknowledging humans have a right to education, food, equal pay for equal work, and health care.  The vast majority of Muslim countries have signed and ratified the covenant and those who have objected to it do so for the same reason they object to the Declaration of Human Rights, not because they believe Islam does not afford such rights to human beings.   Based on my research and training on Islam, I agree with Sachedina’s conclusion that Islam’s ethical, legal, and theological traditions are compatible with the essentially secular construct of human rights, as it is expressed in the Declaration.  I think both Christian and Islamic theology support, even more thoroughly than secular liberalism, the rights of the human beings and our responsibilities to each other within the global human community.  The fact that there are high levels of human rights abuses in some Muslim majority countries today derive more so from cultural and political factors than from purely religious ones. 

AD: You note (p.166) of a similar problem in both Orthodoxy and Islam: often "deliberately misleading information about their shared past." (This is a problem also often denounced by the great Byzantine historian Robert Taft.) Why would it be deliberate? What is to be gained by a less than scrupulously truthful narration of the past?  
AS: It is deliberate because as human beings we so often choose to construct identity around our biases and prejudices instead of the complicated web of connections in which we live in the real world and the pain that is often associated with coming to terms with the truth about ourselves, our communities, and our history.  As Tariq Ramadan once said, we judge the religious other’s truth by their practices, but ourselves by our principles and not by our actions.  This intellectual double standard causes us to pass judgment unfairly upon those of other faith traditions while forming a skewed view of ourselves, both our past and our present.   This is especially the case for Orthodox Christians and Muslims today as they search for their identity in a world that often seems hostile to them and their religion as it had been expressed and lived by so many past generations.  

Modernity itself has caused Orthodox Christians and Muslims to turn against each other in societies where previously they had lived in harmony.  The reasons for this are complex and layered, varying somewhat by local or regional context.  There is no denying, though, that part of the problem is that some have tried to make Islam the scapegoat for past and present problems of Eastern Christians. With the breaking up of the Ottoman Empire, all too often this trend became part of the national narratives created to support newly formed modern states in which the national Orthodox Churches played a central role.  To make this point in my book, I quoted Tarek Mitri, former World Council of Churches Programme Secretary for Christian-Muslim Dialogue, who did a great job of explaining how this dynamic has worked in the modern period.  He has argued that ancestral history is fabricated rather than inherited and that the current tensions (and even hatred, at certain times and places, between Eastern Christians and Muslims) are “inculcated…more by modern discourse than by memory.”  In an age where Eastern Christians and Muslims have increasingly found themselves competing for the same scarce resources, it can sometimes be easier to believe that things have always been bad between them or that they somehow come from very different places historically.  As Mitri put it, “If the past does not meet the needs of the present, another one can always be invented.”  In fact, with the advances of modern technology and the power of media, this has become easier than ever.  I think this is at the root of why books such as those written by Bat Ye’or and Serge Trifkovic have gotten some attention.  They tell people what they want to hear and match the biases and hatred toward Islam and Muslims that Western civilization has been nurturing for a very long time, arguably since the time of the Crusades.  Unfortunately, this malignancy has spread to the Christian East and unless it is addressed it will only pull us further apart from our long-time Muslim neighbors (at least in the central homelands of Orthodoxy), as well as from our own authentic selves.

AD: You deal with the work of Bat Ye'or (pp.192-96), who has attracted some controversy and been rather strongly criticized by scholars such as Sidney Griffith. You accuse her (and Serge Trifkovic) of using "methods that are intellectually dishonest." Say more about this. I'm not sure I see what you mean by "intellectually dishonest." I think there is ample room to criticize her book--as I have myself done--but I also think (as Griffith said in his review of her work) we have to recognize that she has, whether we like it or not, forced the question of dhimmitude upon us when too many people, for present felt political purposes, would prefer to ignore it.  Thoughts? 

I would encourage readers to look at what I say specifically about these books (esp. Trifkovic’s) to see how I reach the conclusion that they are intellectually dishonest.  However, in general terms I find their works dishonest because they tell only part of the story, do not give the full context, and/or seem to proof-text with historical, literary, and scriptural sources to support their starting point, which is a distorted, pre-determined conclusion about Islam.  The problem is, as Hugh Goddard put it, they judge the ‘medieval world of Islam by modern Western criteria’ without applying the same standard to their own medieval ancestors.   In terms of the treatment of religious minorities, the historical evidence is clear that by comparison, when properly contextualized, Islamicate civilization ranks among the highest of all. 

As for the question of “dhimmitude,” I find the argument that it has somehow been ignored or covered up to be unconvincing.  Orthodox theologians and scholars who have written about Eastern Christians under Islam have not in any way neglected the subject.  In fact, I do not know of any general account or scholarly article about the treatment of Orthodox Christians under Muslim rule that does not reference the Islamic legal construct of the ahl al-dhimma, the Millet system, the payment of jizya, and the practice of devshirme.  I discuss all of these in my book too.  There were certainly negative aspects to living under Muslim rule, but there were many positives as well, which include receiving protection and having relative freedom to continue practicing one’s religion without the fear of persecution.  I do not like Bat Ye’or’s the use of the term “dhimmitude” because it implies, quite intentionally I am sure, that Christians were living in a state of servitude akin to slavery.  This simply was not the case.  In fact, there are many examples of Eastern Christians holding positions of high prestige or influence within one or another Islamic Empire/Dynasty.  Moreover, the application of a special legal category, and associated regulations, to a religious minority was not unique to Islam.  Actually, Muslim legal scholars got the idea from the Persian Empire.  Yet why do we not associate this with Zoroastrianism?  One can find examples of similar treatment of religious minorities in the Byzantine Empire.  It is hard for a person of today to understand, because of our modern biases on the relationship between religion and politics, but religion, citizenship, ethnicity, and identity were closely related in pre-modern times.  Too often, perhaps because of the pervasive negative portrayal of Islam in Western culture, we wrongly associate something that was true of all great civilizations at the time only with Islamicate Civilization.  

AD: You end by noting (p.240) that "this study points to the need for further research into relations between Muslims and other Eastern Christian communities," including the Oriental Orthodox and the Eastern Catholic Churches. Are you at work on such further research now, or have you shifted focus onto other projects?  

AS: This is an important area for research and I do hope to contribute something to it at some point.  Right now, however, in addition to some smaller tasks, I am focused on a project loosely titled Orthodox Christians, Muslims, and the Environment.  I am examining the perspectives of key Muslim and Orthodox leaders in debates surrounding the global environmental crisis and testing the hypothesis that their unique experiences and responses to the postmodern age, as well as the possibilities of their future common work in ecology, could make key contributions towards efforts to save the planet.  Other topics of research on which I hope to publish over the next several years include further regional studies on Eastern Christian-Muslim relations, mysticism in association with Muslim-Christian relations (as I discussed in an earlier comment), and Eastern Christians as a bridge between Islam and Western Christianity in the twenty-first century. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Anonymous comments are never approved. Use your real name and say something intelligent.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...