"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, July 29, 2011

Christians and Muslims in Iran

Christian-Muslim relations in Iran are much more complicated than many realize. Iran has a reputation for being a "theocracy" run by bomb-seeking crazies, but such images overlook many things, including the fact that Iran has one of the oldest Christian populations in the entire region, and that some Christians are still able--not easily, to be sure--to struggle to exist there in a way that could not be said about, e.g., the so-called great friend of the West, Saudi Arabia, where Christianity is outlawed entirely.  

Two recent books help shed light on the plight of Christians in Iran, one historical and the other contemporary.

The first of these is the fourth and latest volume in a series devoted to the topic: C. Jullien, ed., Chrétiens en terre d'Iran IV: Itinéraires missionnaires: échanges et identités (Peeters, 2011), 235pp.

The publisher gives us the following summary of the book's contents:
Peter Burns, «Hagiographia satis legendaria. Einige Beobachtungen zum Mar Behnam-Martyrium (BHO 177)»; Florence Jullien, «Stratégies du monachisme missionnaire en Iran»; Vittorio Berti, «Idéologie et politique missionnaire de Timothée Ier, patriarche syro-oriental (780-823)»; Marco Bias, «Rendre à César pour rencontrer Dieu. La mission politico-religieuse de l'évêque Israyel chez les Honk'»; Alexander M. Schilling, «Autour des mages arabisés. La vie de Zoroastre selon Girgis ibn al-'Amid al-Makin»; Angelo Michele Piemontese, «La traduction persane de l'évangile par Leopoldo Sebastiani».
The second book brings us up to date: Sasan Tavassoli, Christian Encounters with Iran: Engaging Muslim Thinkers after the Revolution (International Library of Iranian Studies) (London, 2011), ix+305pp.

About this book, the publisher tells us:
The interface between the current Shi‘ite landscape and Christian thinking is of the greatest significance for the shifting political and religious dynamics of the Middle East. Sasan Tavassoli here examines Iranian Shi‘ite thinkers’ encounters with Christian thought since the Islamic revolution of 1979, and provides insight into the cultural and intellectual climate surrounding Christian-Muslim dialogue in contemporary Iran. The literature on Christianity in Iran reveals a wide range of approaches and attitudes, and Tavassoli demonstrates that traditional polemics are giving way to a more descriptive and subjective understanding of Christian thought. He also studies Muslim-Christian dialogue and research conducted and supported by governmental as well as non-governmental organizations, and offers a close examination, with interviews, of the work of three prominent liberal religious intellectuals--Abdol Karim Soroush, Mostafa Malekian and Mojtahed Shabestari. Placing contemporary Shi‘ite thought in the broad historical context of pre- and post-revolution Iran, Tavassoli relates concrete religious, cultural and socio-political realities to the themes and orientations in the latest phase of the Shi‘i Islam-Christianity encounter, and offers fresh insight into the dynamism of contemporary Islam and the religious complexities of the Muslim world.
The publisher also helpfully gives us the table of contents:
* Acknowledgements * A Note on Translation, Romanization and Dates * Iranian Shi‘ite Thinkers and the Christian Faith: A Theological Perspective * Factors in Muslim-Christian Intellectual Encounters and Dialogue in Contemporary Iranian Society * Iranian Shi‘ites and the Christian Faith: A Survey of Iranian Publications on Christianity * Muslim-Christian Dialogue: Some Organizational Encounters  * Iranian Shi‘ites and Christian Thought: A Look at Three Liberal Religious Intellectuals * Iranian Shi‘ites and the Christian Faith: Where Have They Come From and Where are They Heading? * Bibliography of Works in English * Bibliography of Works in Farsi
I look forward to having this latter book expertly reviewed in Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies in 2012.

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