Beginning a Conversation
Scriptural Reasoning and the Bahá’í Faith
By Ben Schewel
Presented at the Irfan Colloquia Session #88 (English)
Bosch Bahá'í School: Santa Cruz, CA, USA
May 28-31, 2009.
Presented Saturday, 19:30-20:30
Scriptural reasoning (SR) is a recent and increasingly important interfaith movement, influencing both the academic study of, and interreligious relationships, between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, although members of other faiths are beginning to participate as well. The purpose of this paper is to present the aims, methodology, and underlying principles of SR and to evaluate if and to what extent the Bahá’í scholarly community can be involved in the practice. SR is a practice of group study centered on Abrahamic scripture, i.e. the Tanakh, the New Testament, and the Qur’án, by a diverse community of scholars, theologians, and religious leaders from all three faiths. The format of SR is centered on the principle of unity in diversity, seeking to create a community of rigorous scriptural interpreters unified not in a specific interpretation of scripture, but rather in the collective practice of interpretation. With roots in traditional exegetical practices and contemporary hermeneutics, SR seeks to reinvigorate current religious thinking and to provide a meeting ground in which religious thinkers can form strong and meaningful relationships with other religious thinkers beyond their immediate religious community. SR is not designed to replace the communal practices, beliefs, and modes of discourse of any of the involved faiths. As one of the founders of SR states, “Participants in SR practice come to it as both representatives of academic institutions and particular ‘houses’ (churches, mosques, synagogues) of worship. SR meets, however, outside of these institutions and houses in special times and in separate spaces that are likened to Biblical ‘tents of meeting’. Practitioners come together in these tents of meeting to read and reason with scriptures. They then return to their academic and religious institutions and to the world with renewed energy and wisdom for these institutions and the world.” From this perspective, though the principles, methodology, and aims of SR are not distinctly Bahá’í, SR’s conscious self-limitation allows for Bahá’ís to safely be involved in the practice. Furthermore, SR provides a number of timely and important opportunities for the Bahá’í scholarly community: it provides entry points for the Bahá’í scholarly community to deepen and unify its collective discourse, to engage and develop relationships with Jewish, Christian, and Muslim scholars and leaders, to promote increased dialogue and improved relationships between the four communities, and to introduce the Bahá’í Writings to the participants involved in the practice.
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