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  • Religious Identity and Renewal in the Twenty-first Century: Jewish, Christian and Muslim Explorations ed. by Simone Sinn, Michael Reid Trice
  • Hans Gustafson
Religious Identity and Renewal in the Twenty-first Century: Jewish, Christian and Muslim Explorations. Edited by Simone Sinn and Michael Reid Trice. Leipzig: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 2015. LWF Documentation, no. 60. 210pp.

This volume addresses pervasive contemporary questions from various religious perspectives. In part I, Michael Reid Trice and Anson Laytner reflect on, “What is the radical question for religions tomorrow?” (11). Reid Trice poses, “What is the spirit of generosity that Jews, Muslims and Christians share from the heart of their communities?” (21), while Laytner insists the question for Jews today “still has to do with God’s apparent absence during the Holocaust” (38). Reid Trice’s hope is for a spirit of generosity, in which religious people might unite to refute the atrocities of the world. Laytner urges a revision of divine providence by drawing on a Chinese-Jewish view that emphasizes divine immanence and concludes “divine providence does not seem to play a role in [cancer, natural disasters, war, etc.]; a lot of what happens to us, individually and collectively, is simply a matter of luck” (51), and we are left to repair the world regardless.

In part II, John Borelli and Rabbi Shira Lander reflect on “Who determines when the religious voice is truthful or diabolical?” (11). Borelli examines the sea change in Catholicism commencing with Nostra Aetate and identifies nine remaining challenges for religions. Lander suggests that the question facing pluralists, who advocate for tolerance, is how to “relate to those with whom we share religious texts and traditions yet who seek to destroy us, who repeatedly resort to violence to promote or impose their universal, exclusivist triumphalism?” (80). To address this, she calls not for the dismissal and condemnation of others as lunatics, but rather for conversation with them. She urges taking “full responsibility for the harmful elements within our own traditions without fear that those who oppose us will use our words against us” (88).

In part III, David Fox Sandmel, Binsar Jonathan Pakpahan, and Nelly van Doorn-Harder reflect on “What makes a text sacred, and who has the authority to interpret it?” (12). Sandmel explores how rabbis have understood and reimagined the Torah throughout history, and the ability of the Jewish tradition to survive by [End Page 493] continually renewing and redefining itself. Pakpahan examines the role of memory in the formation of Christian identity and demonstrates “how the recent exploration of social memory in the biblical communities has shaped their identity” (114). Doorn-Harder reflects on Egyptian Coptic Orthodox theologian Matta el-Miskeen, who “reminds us that we should approach the Scriptures with respect and the right attitude and raise questions from the divine perspective, not our own” (138).

Part IV features contemporary “case studies” on formation, identity and community. Catherine Punsalan-Manlimos, Paul Moses Strasko, and Herbert Moyo examine religious identity in America’s Pacific Northwest, institutional challenges of Judaism in Germany, and religious identity in South Africa respectively. Celene Ibrahim-Lizzio’s chapter on the complexity of the religious individual and communal identity in Islam discusses critical theory and identity, national and communal Muslim identity, and queer identity among others. Suneel Bhanu Busi concludes the book with a study of Indian Dalit identity vis-à-vis Christianity and the caste system in India today.

This book is accessible to those at the undergraduate level with no presumed knowledge of the religious traditions. While addressing themes and raising questions, the contributors helpfully teach the basics of the traditions along the way. Overall, the book invites innovative thought within one’s tradition while in conversation with religious neighbors. It is appropriate for undergraduate and graduate courses, as well as lay reading groups. [End Page 494]

Hans Gustafson
University of Saint Thomas, Saint Paul, Minnesota


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