Book Reviews

revealed all too clearly in their bafflement at the preoccupation with God and Incarnation evident in Luce Irigaray’s work, and their unremitting hostility to the largely female Vatican delegation at the 1995 UN Conference on Women in Beijing if feminist theology got its teeth into shifting some of the roadblocks to humans’ flourishing. The ‘feminine divine’ of Melissa Raphael and Beverley Clack might, then, indeed come powerfully into focus, and not just as part of the project of reconceiving the borderland of feminist theology with malestream philosophy of religion, well overdue for revision as all that is. Ruth Page and Linda Woodhead both want feminist theology to kiss the religious illiteracy of secular feminism goodbye, but feminist theology needs some new tools to make a substantial contribution to core doctrines and practices, perhaps by following Woodhead’s suggestion that feminist theology needs to learn how to assess the empirical grounding of religion. If there is a future for feminist theology, it may well require some adventurous refocusing of its agenda, and some new tactics for accomplishing it! ANN LOADES Durham University
doi:10.1006/reli.2000.0265, available online at on


Adnan Aslan, Religious Pluralism in Christian and Islamic Philosophy: The Thought of John Hick and Seyyed Hossein Nasr. Richmond, Curzon, 1998, £45.00 ISBN 0 7007 1025 6. A noticeable trend in inter-faith studies in recent years has been the increase in the number of analyses of Christian thought written by Muslim scholars. This trend is welcome, both because it goes some way towards balancing the vast body of Christian and European interpretations of Islamic thought, and because it subjects 
2000 Academic Press

Christian thinking to different, though not necessarily less valid, norms of judgment from those with which most Western readers are familiar. Adnan Aslan’s addition to this literature is an ambitious attempt to show how the ideas of a leading Christian and a Muslim philosopher of religion are not so widely applicable as they may at first appear. The author has chosen the main Christian exponent of the pluralist interpretation of the relationship between the religious traditions, and the person who in Islam comes closest to advocating this position. He examines their views on a series of inter-faith topics. But his intention goes beyond a comparison. In his introduction he explains his aim to be a Muslim response to the pluralist position, and it consists of criticisms of the various facets of Hick’s philosophy and a defence of traditional Islam against the changes that a pluralist restatement would require. In the end he is less courageous than he promises to be, but in refusing to compromise on Islamic truth, Aslan shows that, in this case at least, Hick’s theoretical paradigms cannot be smoothly translated into religious reality. Aslan begins by introducing Hick and Nasr, the one an heir of the European Enlightenment who has moved towards his pluralist position both from philosophical conviction and personal experience; the other an inheritor of Iranian Islamic thought who has come to favour the ‘perennial philosophy’, a metaphysical contention that within all statements of religious truth there is a core of unchanging wisdom. This contrast gives a clue at the start of the distinctive difference between the subjects of the study. It also offers a hint of the approach which Aslan must take to their ideas: he can subject Hick to rational analysis, while with Nasr’s thought he is ‘compelled either to endorse it or dismiss it altogether’. In the following two chapters, Aslan begins to delineate the thought of the two

At the same time he endorses Nasr’s depiction of human knowledge about God as a reflection of the imminent form of the Ultimate. Then in chapter three. But Aslan is too defensive about traditional forms of his own faith to take this step. and in this last chapter he more or less abandons him. he parallels it with his own Islamic ‘pluralism’ derived from the Qur’an. whereas that of Nasr is weak in that it claims that the One is present in all the many names by which it is called. attempt in their different ways to solve thus remain unaddressed in a mainstream Muslim context. This is understandable. after summarising Hick’s reinterpretation of Christian doctrines with the modifications the philosopher’s pluralist position imposes. There are some bold criticisms here. These points are largely incidental. and the possibility of scholars. with Hick proceeding upwards from the various human depictions of divinity to the reality to which they all relate and Nasr moving downwards from the One to its many manifestations. So while the book provides a creditable exploration of the two representatives of religious pluralism. Nasr emphasises the eternal. and there is a lack of full engagement with the two kinds of pluralism that might lead into Aslan’s own alternative formulation or an effective rebuttal. the subjects of the book. but without asking in what way. he appears to have realised that Nasr is not sound as a Muslim. Though they employ the same terminology. however. Chapter six exposes the central weakness of the book. irrespective of what beliefs may be expressed in the various faiths. Here instead. But he seems to confuse the pluralism of his two subjects with the open and tolerant inclusivism that Islamic scripture and history undoubtedly exhibit. By the end of chapter five. Throughout. The best Islamic parallel he can find for Hick’s philosophical pluralism is in fact an inclusive liberalism that extends welcome to non-Muslims but still affirms the unwavering truth of Islam. Aslan examines the two scholars’ reasons for regarding pluralist accounts of religion as necessary. leaves a gap of expectation that he does not appear concerned to fill. Hick’s account is deficient because it is unable to explain how human depictions and divine reality connect. Throughout his discussion Aslan is keen to subject Hick’s incidental references to Islam to particular scrutiny and to show that they fail to do justice to what traditional Islam has taught. In contrast. but the alternative he offers. and it fails to explore the many possibilities of Muslim scripture and thought. especially the exposure of the difficulty faced by both . which is the metaphysical and incipiently mystical restatement of Nasr. The pressing inter-faith problems which the two scholars. Aslan has presented Hick and Aslan as representatives of their respective faiths. For Aslan. In chapter four. And then in chapter five. abiding elements in religion. it neither offers a full-scale rebuttal of their positions nor explores the possibility of what an Islam restated in pluralist terms might be. he penetrates to the heart of their insights in a discussion of their understandings of the Real. His discussion is too brief to do justice to the distinction he seeks to make. they adopt different approaches. and in asserting that these are imparted from the divine he can be called religious in his basic impulse. In chapter two he argues that Hick is fundamentally secular in his claim that religion is a human construct in response to the divine and is thus liable to change with circumstances.410 Book Reviews scholars in bringing the huge diversity of divinities into a unified description without distorting them beyond the point at which believers would no longer recognise them. he takes issue with Hick’s claim that all forms of knowledge about the divine are no more than modes of human experience and lack any sanction as a revealed origin.

The practical and dynamic interaction between doctrine and community is where Anderson’s interest lies. Anderson. Pain and its Ending: The Four Noble Truths in the Theravada Buddhist Canon. though in this chapter these are very particular to early work in Buddhist studies. £40. providing a useful set of references.idealibrary. Richmond. and to suggest that seeing them in terms of dit * * thi more accurately reflects their complex frame of reference.0266. four and five focus on analyses of reference to the Four Truths in all three of the canonical pit *akas.. . its commentaries and other non-canonical Pa ¯ li texts. With specific reference to the Four Noble Truths. Accordingly. she seeks to trace references to the Truths in Therava ¯ da material. A variety of academic disciplines is drawn on and interpretive schema are discussed. Bechert [ed. Chapter six provides a survey of scholarly writings on the Four Noble Truths over the last two centuries. on ‘Cultivating Religious Experiences: Doctrine and Dit * * thi’.2000. 1992). Anderson sees a threefold relationship among religious experience. but it is a pity that in discussing the dating of the canon in relation to the dates of the Buddha. There is cited only one work after Étienne Lamotte’s 1958 L’Histoire du Bouddhisme Indien: Hajime Nakamura’s Indian Buddhism: A Survey with Biblio- . The aim seems to be to question the sense in which it is appropriate to think of the Four Noble Truths as a Buddhist ‘doctrine’. The introductory chapter includes chapter-by-chapter preambles. first makes the point that (with some noteworthy. The Dating of the Historical Buddha. Curzon. In this book. noting ‘pedagogical techniques and results that claim to lead to the attainment of nibba ¯ na’ (p.1006/reli. ‘Dating the  2000 Academic Press Buddha: A Red Herring Revealed’ (in H. 1999. an extensive revision of Anderson’s doctoral dissertation. 32 and passim). This is all fairly straightforward. Chapter one.Book Reviews a Qur’an-based pluralist theology of religions is not put to the test.]. noting differences in interpretation of the Truths. Göttingen. she tells us. and it does so by means of ‘the category of dit * * thi’ (p. Chapter two recounts and compares the canonical accounts of the Buddha’s enlightenment and suggests that the Four Noble Truths. should be seen not as doctrine but as a symbol both of the Buddha’s enlightenment and of the possibility that enlightenment can be achieved by others. 2) and discussing the Truths as both doctrine and symbol. without questioning the complex relationship between those doctrines and what Buddhists actually experience. when present in such accounts. available online at http://www. which incorporates their function in the religious community and the way the community has related them to particular religious experiences. in a religious community’ and ‘the ways in which doctrines serve explicitly non-doctrinal purposes within a community’ (p. DAVID THOMAS University of Birmingham doi:10. no reference is made to Richard Gombrich’s important article. xi+255 on 411 Carol S. Chapters three. in a narrow propositional sense. and noted. not just as doctrinal proposition but also as symbol and effector of religious transformation. an introduction to the structure and content of the Therava ¯ da canon.00 ISBN 0 7007 1065 5. its language and the historical development of the canon. Part 2. the approach centres on ‘what people do with doctrines . 30). exceptions) much scholarly work on Buddhism regards the texts as a ‘repository of doctrines’ (p. . viii). The chapter therefore seeks to examine this relationship. Vanderdoeck & Ruprecht. doctrine and cosmology as providing a way to understanding the place of the Truths in Therava ¯ da tradition.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful