This volume brings together two series of Perry Schmidt-Leukel’s lectures: the first on religious pluralism delivered in 2014 at Zhejiang University in China (Part 1), and the second on interreligious theology delivered in 2015 as the Gifford Lectures at the University of Glasgow in Scotland (Part 2).
Part 1 includes six chapters addressing religious pluralism in Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Chinese religions. The pluralist approach is throughout contrasted with naturalist, inclusivist and exclusivist alternatives. The discussion in each chapter illustrates Schmidt-Leukel’s claim that “any pluralist approaches will also need to be developed in ways specific to the respective religious traditions.” [p. 7] Providing further clarification, Schmidt-Leukel writes: “Pluralism is not, as so many of its critics hold, a metatheory beyond or even independent of the real religious traditions. It is not something like a new religion claiming its own superiority above all others. On the contrary, pluralism can exist only as Christian pluralism, Jewish pluralism, Muslim pluralism, and so on.” [pp. 7–8] The important point to make here, with reference to the Gifford Lectures as well as the logic of this volume, is that for Schmidt-Leukel “the relationship between religious pluralism and interreligious theology is that of a hermeneutical circle." [p. 113] You can’t have one without the other, and each one informs (and is informed by) the other.
The first chapter in Part 2, “From Religious Pluralism to Interreligious Theology”, fleshes out the connection more explicitly, but the substance of Schmidt-Leukel’s proposal––theoretical as well as practical––comes in Chapter 9, “Interreligious Theology: Principles and Methodology”. Schmidt-Leukel there outlines four key principles, and then four methodological issues, of interreligious theology. The four key principles of interreligious theology are that 1) it begins with a theological credit of trust, 2) entails the unity of reality, 3) is tied to the interreligious discourse and 4) is an open process. [pp. 130ff.] The four methodological points are that interreligious theology should be 1) perspectival, 2) imaginative, 3) comparative and 4) constructive. [pp. 139ff.] Several examples of inter religious theology follow (in chapters 10–13) with a final chapter elaborating Schmidt-Leukel’s “fractal interpretation of religious diversity”. Drawing explicitly upon the Polish mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot, Schmidt-Leukel argues that “the differences that can be observed at the inter religious level are, to some extent, reflected at an intrareligious level in the internal differences discerned within he major religious tradition, and that they can be broken down at the intrasubjective level into different religious patterns and structures of the individual mind.” [p. 233]
The volume concludes with six observations on “The Fruitfulness of the Theory”, the sixth of which I found most interesting; namely, that, in Schmidt-Leukel’s estimation, “the perspective of the cognitive science of religion needs to be complemented by that of transcendental philosophy. As part of a fractal interpretation of religious diversity, a transcendental analysis would have to inquire about the transcendental conditions that not only permit but possibly even require the evolution of different manifestations of religion.” [p. 245]