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  • Monopoly on Salvation? A Feminist Approach to Religious Pluralism
  • Rita M. Gross
Monopoly on Salvation? A Feminist Approach to Religious Pluralism. By Jeannine Hill Fletcher. New York: Continuum, 2005. 155 pp.

Given that most practitioners of Western feminist theology, whether Christian or some variety of post-Christian, display remarkably little interest in issues of religious diversity and interreligious dialogue, I was both curious about this book and delighted to see someone combining the words “feminism” and “religious pluralism” in a book title. However, I was also curious as to what this author might construe as a “feminist” approach to religious diversity. These days it is fairly common for a book written by a woman to contain the word “feminism” in the title, even though there may be little specifically feminist content in the book. Additionally, I have been [End Page 205] somewhat skeptical that there is a specifically feminist approach to issues of religious diversity. My issue with many other feminist theologians is not especially their lack of a specifically feminist approach to issues of religious diversity but their lack of knowledge about and interest in any religion other than Christianity and its near relatives.

What I found is a good addition to the rather considerable library of theologies of religious pluralism written by Christian theologians. And there is a specifically feminist angle to the arguments made in this book, or at least an angle on issues of religious diversity that I have not seen utilized by others, the vast majority of whom are men, who have written such books.

The five chapters of this book follow a predictable outline. The first chapter is devoted to framing the contours of the Christian theology, which will be the basis for Fletcher’s entire approach to religious pluralism. An informative chapter on the history of the encounters of some Christians with members of other religions follows this. The third chapter, predictably, reviews and critiques the by now familiar Christian theologies of religious diversity—exclusivist, inclusivist, pluralist, and particularist. These chapters of review and critique are followed by two constructive chapters, one of which offers Fletcher’s specifically feminist suggestions and the other of which discusses how a Christian could honor both specific loyalty to Christianity and the ethical requirements imposed when one recognizes the theological legitimacy of religious diversity.

The approach to Christian theology outlined in the first chapter frames Fletcher’s inquiry throughout the entire book. Given that the author is a Christian, it is not surprising that her theology of religious pluralism turns on her understanding of the terms “God” and “Jesus of Nazareth.” According to her, Christian theology revolves around two poles. The first of these is that God is an “incomprehensible mystery” (p. 9), which, for her, opens the possibility that people who are not Christians might have valuable insights into that which Christians call “God.” The other pole of Christian theology is the distinctively “Christian affirmations about what is known of God through Jesus” (p. 16). Balancing the incomprehensibility of God and the specific affirmations about God is the difficult task of someone seeking to construct a Christian theology of religious pluralism. According to Fletcher, a third component is also needed in a theology of religious pluralism. Theologians must also take account of the “complex nexus of personal, social, political, and religious contexts” (p. 21) in which their work occurs.

The second chapter of this book contains an interesting account of some historical encounters between Christians and members of other religions. Much of the information contained in this chapter would be unknown to many readers of this book. One of the encounters supplied the title for the author. In 1609, a Hindu debater challenged Roberto de Nobili (1577–1656), a Jesuit missionary to Southern India who lived the lifestyle of a Hindu saṅnyāsi (mendicant). The debater said of de Nobili’s theological claims: “Does this man alone know God? Does he alone have a monopoly on salvation?” (p. 51). Though Fletcher speculates that early Christian encounters with people of other religions may have involved a measure of mutuality and equal interchange, by the time Christianity had become well established in Europe and [End...