Last week in The Medium, Ovais Shah covered John Esposito's lecture series on pluralism between the Abrahamic faiths. Below is an interview by Ovais with Dr. Kurt Anders Richardson, a professor in Comparative Abrahamic Theology, discussing Esposito's views
The Medium: Professor Richardson, how do "we" know Professor Esposito in Canada or the West?
Kurt Richardson: Esposito introduced himself as a North American religion scholar whose early interest in Islam has proven itself to be prescient at a time when there was little interest in the subject. As a Georgetown University professor and with over 40 books to his name, he has led the Western world in positive and constructive descriptions of the religions of Muslims in the world.
TM: In present times, there is a notion of a Clash of Civilizations that was put out by Samuel Huntington in his book. What implications does Huntington's thesis has on Muslims, Jews, Christians and the interfaith relations between these three of the world's religions? Also, what effect does the discourse of Islamophobia, Orientalism and terrorism have on Muslims and their relations with Jews and Christians?
KR: I think that in recent years, Huntington's thesis has placed a greater burden on individuals in modernity. The Clash of Civilizations' paradigm essentially blocks the international friendship among the religions which would exist far more extensively than it does. As Esposito cites, there are religious leaders who use religious slogans to denigrate the Islamic world. But at the same time, some of the most the outlandish criticisms of Islam are from secular, right wing sources that use religion for political ends. It is indeed difficult to regard the Muslim world as its vast majority truly exists: a majority segment of humanity that is intensely monotheist and committed to ethical norms that are fully consistent in belief with the best of their Jewish and Christian neighbors. Between Islam and Christianity, the world is overwhelmingly 'Abrahamic' in its religious orientation. Global Islam must not be assessed or measured according to extremism, which is rejected by all widely recognized Muslim leaders. At the same time, Western religious leaders should mediate the message of the co-partnership of Islam as a friend to all things humane and peaceable. Of course, Judaism and Christianity take their own denigration in a world shared with secularism; but it is at least partially comforting that they too help to bear the brunt of anti-religious criticism.
TM: In your opinion, what is really the "future" of Muslim-West and Muslim-Christian relations? What do you envision—is it the same as Esposito's point of view, who argues that more work at building bridges has to be done than ever before in today's uncertain times?
KR: Well yes, Esposito points out that it is important not to shy away from the modern assessment and embrace of monotheistic religion. What is at stake is a truth of peaceful co-existence that does not require the surrender of fundamental beliefs between one religion and the other. What is most crucial is a well-developed understanding of the religious of Islam among its non-Islamic neighbors.