IIC Newsletter 4: January 1996
The Eco-Human Crises: Interreligious Dialogue and Global Responsibility

The second International Interfaith Centre lecture was given by Professor Paul Knitter of Xavier University on 23 November at Trinity College Oxford. The theme was: The Eco-Human Crises: Interreligious Dialogue and Global responsibility. The respondent was Dr Farid Esack, a Muslim from the University of the Western Cape, South Africa, and Shahin Bekhradnia, an Oxford Zoroastrian, chaired the event.

Prof Knitter is well known as a leading Catholic theologian whose book “No Other Name?” made a major contribution to the religious pluralism discourse. Prof Knitter’s new study, “One Earth, Many Religions: Multifaith Dialogue and Global Responsibility”, was launched shortly before his lecture and more directly addresses a “this-worldly soteriology”.

The Danson Room at Trinity was full as Prof Knitter sensitively explored his chosen area of concern, focusing on justice as a cooperative enterprise demanding an emphatic ‘yes’ from persons of all religious traditions. As Dr Esack suggested, such an approach is not without its difficulties: whose justice? what are the criteria for deciding on the justness of particular situations? are certain ‘victims’ excluded from ‘just’ action?

Prof Knitter believed the poor of the world should be given a priority of privilege which would make theological and dialogical reflections a second step. Wherever differences distance people of faith traditions, a sense of global responsibility and solidarity, keeping in mind always the hermeneutical privilege of the oppressed, will bring about a liberating praxis that could help heal the world. “On the basis of a richly diverse yet unified analysis of the causes of suffering, always acting with and not just for the marginalised, this interreligious community of praxis will act together for justice, for peace, for ecological sustainability”.

He identifies four components of this engagement: compassion, conversion, collaberation and comprehension, and argues that base human communities, modelled on those in Latin America, offer a dynamic location for their effective interaction and development. Such communities encourage “the resolve to make critical, transformative links between religious values and those suffering due to eco-human injustice”. Being involved in such a globally responsible dialogue requires both an intra-personal as well as an inter-personal perspective. Prof Knitter did not neglect the possibility of breakdown in such encounters. He suggests that those involved must, as a last resort, “oppose without excluding”. Positively, however, and needfully today, such “liberative dialogues” are totally non-violent, physically, psychologically and culturally. The planet and its poor must now wait and see how people of faith respond.


For two hours during the morning following this lecture, Prof Knitter led a seminar, initiated by Alan Race, organised by the IIC, and held at the home of Prof Keith Ward, Christ Church, Oxford, on “Christ and the World Religions”. Rev Alan Race, editor of World Faiths Encounter, chaired the meeting which included several Oxford theologians and members of the IIC staff. The discussion ranged around certain christological theses proposed by Prof Knitter, some of which were challenged by Christians present and representatives of other faiths. Language and its explicit meaning, especially when established terms are used to express new ideas, was a key issue. Can there be authentic listening when such language, heavy with history, is heard outside of its particular community context, and can there be intra-community understanding when particular language is identified with inclusivist perspectives yet newly used in pluralistic paradigms? IIC staff were able to enjoy further conversation with Prof Knitter on this theme at a conference in Ireland on “Religions and Pluralism” where he was a key presenter.

Prof Knitter’s contribution to the IIC programme, his warmth and sensitivity, were much appreciated and we are happy that he has agreed to be one of the Centre’s International Consultants. Our thanks to him, Farid and Shahin, and all who supported the event, particularly Trevor Williams of Trinity College.

* The full text of Prof Knitter’s lecture for the IIC will be published in World Faiths Encounter.

Sandy Martin