Erin M. CLINE. A World on Fire: Sharing The Ignatian Spiritual Exercises with Other Religions. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University Of America Press, 2019. pp. xi+284. $29.95 pb. ISBN 9-780813229775. Reviewed by James T. BRETZKE, S.J., Marquette University, Milwaukee, WI 53233.


Cline, who teaches comparative theology at Georgetown, made a 19th Annotation Spiritual Exercises retreat with Kevin O’Brien, S.J. who introduced her to the possibility of adapting the Exercises for members of non-Christian religions. This book is part of the fruit of that experience. The first two rather over-long (90+ pages) chapters deal with some of the more global questions revolving around the legitimacy and possibility of adapting the Christian focus of the Spiritual Exercises to retreatants who have little direct, personal faith experience with Christianity, and who are not investigating the possibility of becoming Christian themselves.  Then in the next three chapters she brings her comparative theology & philosophy perspectives to this project with specific chapters which give a brief overview of the particular religious tradition before turning to concrete considerations on adapting the Exercises to adherents of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism.  Certainly her basic methodology and insights could be transferred to other religious traditions as well.  A short Conclusion reaffirms her thesis that such adaptations are both theologically defensible and necessary.

Cline’s intended audience is clearly those with a basic knowledge of the Exercises, though she does rehearse the basic structure and dynamics of the Four Weeks in each of her chapters.  A somewhat more puzzling unasked (and therefore unanswered) question is whether there will be a critical mass of directors in this intended readership which themselves would in fact be called upon in significant numbers to give the Exercises to these non-Christians. But for those in that number who wish to consider more about how to adapt the Exercises to Hindu and Buddhist believers her reflections will likely be helpful.  Less convincing, in my view, is the practical helpfulness of the chapter on Confucianism because it presumes a non-Christian, but strong Confucian adherent and that population group frankly is rather limited. 

What might have really opened up both application models and readership would be if Cline had focused instead on those Christians coming out of religio-cultural traditions that are significantly informed by these other religious traditions. In other words, how might we approach adapting the Exercises to a Japanese or Korean Christian coming out of a culture that has been significantly impacted by Buddhism and Confucianism?  Unfortunately, that is a line of discussion Cline does not pursue.

Certainly there is also some transfer value to her work for some of the areas of comparative theology and inter-religious dialogue, though Cline does not really enter into these discussions themselves herself.  This reader has some reasonable background in Buddhism and Confucianism, so there was not the same level of novelty and insight that was found in the chapter on Hinduism.  Similarly, those already familiar with the Exercises will find much here to refresh their understandings and applications in their experiences of both making and giving Ignatian retreats.