Judith BERLING, Understanding Other Religious Worlds: A Guide for Interreligious Education. Faith Meets Faith Series. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2004. Pp. 146. $ 20.00 pb. ISBN 1-5074-516-7.
Reviewed by Nathan KOLLAR, St. John Fisher College, Rochester, NY 14618

If anyone teaches or intends to teach religions other than their own, this book must be read. If you are an administrator of a Religious Studies or Theology department and intend to revamp your curriculum to be more inclusive, you should read the first four chapters of this book. If you are thinking about ways to bring the lives of those other than Christians into your school of theology, you should not do so without reading the first six chapters of this book. This book summarizes the best thought on why we must learn about other religions, why learning about other religions is necessary to understand our own religion, and why contemporary models of learning and understanding are necessary to learn about these other religions. At the same time the author also summarizes the best of current research about how to learn about other religions. Simply put, the pedagogies used by most teachers of religion and theology—lecture, term papers, and final essay exams—are not adequate for learning about one's own faith or the faith of others. So, if you use these methods as the principle means of teaching and assessment, realize that they may provide you with a grade but they do not provide you, or your students, with the truth about the other religion.

If you do wish to move beyond these traditional pedagogies, this book is not a step by step teacher's cookbook enabling you to produce the best class. Instead it gives you the tools to creatively engage the students and yourself in the teaching-learning event appropriate to the particular time and place of each class. In two appendices, it gives you a selected annotated bibliography for choosing texts dealing with other religions and for further reading on teaching and learning about religions. Throughout the book you will find checklists of when certain types of learning take place or what may be done to use types of learning. Although text books are recognized as necessary, the author challenges every teacher, student, and department with the statement: "If the book is too readable and accessible, if the language and ideas of the book do not stretch or challenge the reader's familiar assumptions, then the book probably does not represent its distinctive tradition very well." In the age of consumer education and publication such a clear, and understandable claim, if adhered to, will lead many a teacher of introductory courses into the unemployment line because usually a good teacher in such an age is one who satisfies students, not one who challenges them.

The learning of another's deep motivations, values, choices and facts is never easy. That is why this book is valuable. Not only because of what it suggests for inter-faith learning and teaching but because much of what it says is applicable to intra-faith learning. In most instances in the United States there is deeper animosity among people of the same faith than among those of different faiths. A book written to "... understand and establish good relationships with persons of other religions" will prove its worth if it is applicable to all religious relationships. Certainly if "we need to respect and understand the religions of our neighbors so that we do not unfairly slander or malign them"—"give false witness about them"—then we need to do so in respect to all our neighbors, especially those of the same faith but of a radically different theology. If, out of the six critical aspects of learning in a diverse world, we need to "...engage understanding and interpretation, not merely the mastery of information..." we need to do so for our co-religionists whom we disagree violently with over the meaning of our own religion.

There is much to read, understand, and apply in this book to both our teaching and learning about those who are not of our religion as well as those who are. Would that all Theology and Religious Studies teacher's would read this book.


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