Charles L. COHEN, Paul F. KNITTER and Ulrich ROSENHAGEN, eds. The Future of Interreligious Dialogue: A Multireligious Conversation on Nostra Aetate. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2017. pp. 327. $40.00 pb. ISBN 978-1-62698-245-1. Reviewed by Michael J. TKACIK, Saint Leo University, Saint Leo, Florida 33574


This book is a product of a conference sponsored by the Lubar Institute for the Study of Abrahamic Religions held at the University of Wisconsin-Madison which brought together leading scholars from various religious traditions to examine Nostra Aetate from a myriad of different vantage points.  The contributing authors have yielded an invaluable resource for those engaged in interreligious dialogue via presenting the seminal role Nostra Aetate has played in shaping such dialogue since its promulgation as well as the shortcomings inherent to the Declaration, and by providing insightful and challenging suggestions pertinent to the future of interreligious dialogue. The essays contained within this volume would prove to be edifying and helpful to seasoned scholars in the field, as well as to those whose immersion into interreligious dialogue and pedagogy are in their fledgling stages.

For those new to interreligious dialogue, the book serves as a kind of primer for doing work in the field and provides a comprehensive review and consideration of Nostra Aetate and the subsequent seminal writings in this area of study, thus providing the reader with a history lesson and theological grounding vis-à-vis interreligious dialogue. John Borelli proffers a succinct yet compelling survey of the origin, history and Conciliar context of Nostra Aetate, while Paul F. Knitter bespeaks of the document in terms of ushering in a new “axial age” in religious consciousness. Additionally, Jeannine Hill Fletcher offers an assessment of the Declaration through a religio-racial lens whereby the fruits of the Declaration illuminate unifying ideas about race and religion operative in wider society stemming from the document’s theological anthropology, political ecclesiology and missiology, but is ultimately tempered by Christian supremacism and a “sliding scale of cultures.” An essay penned by Dwight N. Hopkins offers an analysis of the Declaration by placing it into conversation with central tenets of black liberation theology thereby drawing forth fresh impetuses for antidiscrimination, social justice and community building.

Just as the aforesaid proffer an assessment of Nostra Aetate proper as well as through the lenses of contemporary social issues, the essays which offer analyses from the perspectives of the various religions offer both an assessment of the Declaration itself as well challenging considerations of the document’s shortcomings which must be addressed if interreligious dialogue is to advance.  Although each and all of the essays are rich in wisdom and pregnant with compelling recommendations, the following essays were particularly engaging: Fr. John T. Pawlikowski’s consideration of a renewed theology of Christianity’s bond with Judaism; Rabbi Shira L. Lander’s consideration of the Jewish imagination; Riffat Hassan’s A Muslim Woman’s Perspective on Interreligious Dialogue and Nostra Aetate; and Rita M. Gross’s and Jeffrey D. Long’s responses to Nostra Aetate from Buddhist and Hindu perspectives, respectively.  Pawlikowski powerfully calls upon Christians to produce a theology of Jewish-Christian relations devoid of all vestiges of supercessionism via advancing “Incarnational” Christologies in favor of “Messianic” and “Blood” Christologies which remove the Jewish people from any continuing role in redemption.  Lander arouses Jewish self-awareness in a manner that while acknowledging that the Jewish imagination has historically been linked to a perception of the Jewish people as “scorned,” “unjustly victimized” and “constantly endangered” also calls for the aforesaid not to give way to a distrust of outsiders which impedes deeper interreligious dialogue in favor of self-advocacy—the point is not to forget the past, but to understand how collective memories impact current dialogue.  Appealing to cardinal principles inherent to Islam, Hassan offers insights into the complementary dialectic which exists between Islamic and Christian anthropologies and notions of grace. Gross invites readers to embrace theological diversity and cites Buddhist considerations of attachment/clinging to temper absolutizing and universalizing any one religious view while espousing the import of religious efficacy in transforming persons. Lastly, Long articulates a Hindu inclusivism informed by the Vedas and the teachings of Swami Vivekananda which parallel that of Nostra Aetate in a manner that evades relativism while deeming truth and salvific efficacy available to all sincere seekers.

Common throughout much of the collection is an affirmation of Nostra Aetate’s move beyond religious exclusivism and its theological anthropology which offers much to interreligious dialogue and collaboration in terms of catalysts for shared commitments to human dignity, ethics, spirituality and socio-cultural goods. Also throughout is attention to the significant remaining tension/contradiction inherent to the Declaration which continues to challenge the advance of interreligious sharing, namely the affirmations of the truth, goodness and holiness operative in the various religious traditions coupled with Christian claims of Christological and soteriological supremacy. Just as the need for greater interreligious dialogue, listening and learning is ongoing, so, too, is the search for an eschatological-teleological soteriology which enables one to faithfully adhere to the truth, grace and holiness within one’s own religion while respecting and affirming the same for adherents of other religions. Perhaps the task of “our time” is to cease subordinating and/or deeming other religions deficient by avoiding theological hubris and accompanying claims of definitiveness and exhaustiveness for one’s own.