Managing Director's Note: Occasionally our partners are interested in collaborating directly with writers and readers of State of Formation. If you are interested in the opportunity below, please follow up with Ed directly at foley [at] ctu.edu Thanks!
My name is Ed Foley, a Catholic priest and theological educator, who teaches worship and practical theology at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. My inquiry and request for any input regards a topic I am pursuing for my sabbatical, i.e., interfaith theological reflection.
Definitions: For the past 3 or 4 decades, many Christian educators have emphasized theological reflection as an essential part of training people for ministry. While there are multiple definitions of theological reflection, one common definition by James and Evelyn Whitehead  is that theological reflection is “the process of bringing to bear in the practical decisions of ministry the resources of the Christian Faith.” Other definitions are less focused on pastoral decision making, such as that of Killen and de Beer  who speak of theological reflection as “The discipline of exploring our individual and corporate experience in conversation with the wisdom of a religious heritage.”
Personal History: Since 1992 I have taught theological reflection to students in our professional doctoral program (the Doctor of Ministry Degree). A number of those students ministered in countries with large Muslim populations, such as Pakistan. Often they had experiences of working on shared social service projects with Muslims (e.g., rebuilding houses in the Hazara district of Northern Pakistan after the earthquake of 2005), and wondered aloud whether it was appropriate for them to engage not only Christian resources, but also Islamic resources in their reflection. Some also wondered whether theological reflection between Muslims and Christians who shared such common work was also possible. We also matriculated a few Muslims in the program (from Indonesia, Egypt and Turkey) and began to experiment at a very rudimentary level with “interfaith theological reflection.”
Difficulties: Even within Christian education, theological reflection is viewed as problematic for many reasons. For example, some think it is too academic an enterprise, while others are concerned that its goal is focused on problem solving some problem, and many do not like the name. Trying to engage believers across religions in such a process multiplies these problems. I am aware that “theology” is not an appropriate category in many belief traditions, that personal experience may not be viewed as a source of revelation, or that sharing faith is something only done within one’s own faith family.
Promises: At the same time, it seems that sharing faith across religions is a promising and even necessary enterprise. From the viewpoint of my own social/religions location, given the composition of contemporary U.S. society, Roman Catholic ministers (both lay and ordained) have to respect and engage leaders of other faiths and religions. What a boon to be able to equip them not only with knowledge and respect, with motivation to work together for the common good, but also with principles or skills for reflecting on that shared work in view of their diverse faith traditions.
The Consultation: Given this admittedly very brief introduction (and I would be happy to offer more detail to any who wish to contact me) it would be very enlightening for me to learn a number of things from the participants in the State of Formation community:
1) Do you have any experience of “inter-religious faith sharing” (my working language for rethinking “theological reflection), or knowledge of others doing so?
2) What do you think the “goals” of such “inter-religious faith sharing” could (or should?) be?
3) Do you have instincts or experiences that would suggest how such a process of inter-religious faith sharing could be more effective or fruitful?
4) Do you have any instincts or experiences of things to avoid in such a process?
5) What do you think this process should be called?
6) Would you distinguish between interfaith dialogue and what I am calling “inter-religious faith sharing” and if so, how would you do so?
Gratitude: Thank you, in advance, for any wisdom you can share to guide this admittedly inexperienced traveler on this interfaith journey of sharing and respect. I am immensely grateful.
Photo by Kevin Dooley, via Flickr Creative Commons.