Book Review: A History of Christian-Muslim Relations (Goddard)

A History of Christian-Muslim Relations (Goddard)Islam and its relationship with Christianity remains a subject very much on the minds of many in today’s world. Indeed, for much of the past fifteen years the Western world and its media has routinely faced the question, “What is Islam and how does it affect us?” What few people seem to understand, however, is that Christian interactions with Islam are far from a new phenomenon. Indeed, almost as far back as the beginnings of Islam itself (or, before Muhammad’s revelations, if you believe the legends), Christians have been wrestling with the claims—and often armies—of Islam. Therefore, many people need an introduction to this long and often forgotten history of Muslim-Christian interactions, an introduction that Hugh Goddard offers in A History of Muslim Christian Relations (Chicago: New Amsterdam Books, 2000). Although now fifteen years old, Goddard’s monograph has much to offer for those seeking to understand the shared influences and historical interactions between the world’s two largest religions. Continue reading

A Prayer for Comprehensive Exams

A Prayer for Students by Thomas Aquinas

Creator of all things, true source of light and wisdom, origin of all being, graciously let a ray of your light penetrate the darkness of my understanding. Take from me the double darkness in which I have been born, an obscurity of sin and ignorance. Give me a keen understanding, a retentive memory, and the ability to grasp things correctly and fundamentally. Grant me the talent of being exact in my explanations and the ability to express myself with thoroughness and charm. Point out the beginning, direct the progress, and help in the completion. I ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Thinking with the Early Middle Ages

“When the thinker thinks rightly, he follows God step by step; he does not follow his own vain fallacy.”1

14472374900_4a7e643a33_oStudying the Middle Ages is a complex process, not only for the plethora of information one must process in order to have a halfway-informed perspective into the period, but also for the multitude of ways in which contemporary—modern and postmodern—attitudes that illuminate Christian opinions of this important period of Christian history. One need look no further than the recent kerfuffle over President Obama’s remarks concerning the Crusades to realize that perspectives on the Middle Ages are varied and often ill-informed. Some commentators reacted along political lines,2 others out on religious grounds,3 and still others from a historical basis.4 But what everyone functionally agrees on is the fact that contemporary Western culture does not really understand medieval Western culture, at least not on their own terms or with any sort of sophistication or charity when it comes to something as verboten as the Crusades.5 Continue reading

Reflections on Suffering (Part II)

This article originally appeared on Conciliar Post.

GriefIn my yesterday’s post, I reflected on some of the answers which have been offered to the “question of suffering,” the query about why there is evil and suffering in the world if there is a good and all-powerful God. In today’s post, I hope to begin crafting an “answer” to this question—not an answer in an absolute sense, but rather an perception and understanding by which we can try to make some sense of suffering and loss.

How do we understand and respond to all of the suffering that we see and experience in the world? Douglas John Hall, in his book God and Human Suffering, makes the claim that perhaps it best to think of certain forms of suffering as somehow innate to the human condition—necessary consequences of the limitations of humanity.1 Put another way, freedom is always freedom within certain boundaries—perhaps human suffering arises due to our transgressing our boundaries.2 Plenty of philosophers have tackled this issue: when free agents are created, true freedom necessitates the possibility of using that freedom to engage in activities which inhibit the freedom of other agents.3 Oxford professor Mike Lloyd argues that a measure of free will for humanity is necessary in understanding the issue of evil and suffering, for without freedom there can be no justice (men cannot be held accountable for their actions unless they are free) and no love (the love of predetermined robots is not real love).4
Continue reading

Reflections on Suffering (Part I)

This article originally appeared at Conciliar Post.

BubblesWhy do we suffer? This is a question which, unfortunately, we all must ask at some point in our lives. The 2011-2012 academic year was a year in which this question took on a special relevance in my own life, first in a theology class devoted to wrestling with this question and then in my own life with the illness and death of my Grandfather. Life is painful when the lessons of the classroom become the lessons of reality.

Over the next two weeks, I want to offer some reflections on suffering and then propose a potential “answer” (the scare quotes are very intentional here) to the question of suffering. Today, I offer some basic insights into some of the proposed answers to the theological problem of evil and suffering. Proposed answers to this most hideous and painful of all questions have been labeled such things as the “retributive justice” or Classical view, the Consequences view, Meaningless suffering, the Apocalyptic perspective, and the Free Will argument for suffering. Continue reading

Book Review: Theology After Vedanta (Clooney)

Theology After VedantaTheology after Vedanta: An Experiment in Comparative Theology offers an important step forward in comparative studies, laying a foundation for a fruitful (re)reading and (re)working of theological conceptions in our pluralistic context. Working from a reading of Advaita Vedanta texts, Francis Clooney provides an experience of “reading together” Vedanta and Catholic theology which directs readers toward an inclusivist reading of traditions external to their own and offers a practical and relevant method for contemporary comparative theology. This review notes the important contributions of Theology after Vedanta, concluding that this work is an important contribution to the methodology of comparative theology, the practice of textual comparison, and the reading of Advaita Vedanta. Continue reading