Constructing Religious Identity in a Cosmopolitan World: The Theo-Politics of Interfaith Work, by Jeannine Hill Fletcher

The practice of interreligious dialogue has long concentrated on the challenges that competing religious beliefs hold for the creation of an interfaith community. Differing religious beliefs about the nature of human existence and the role of humanity in the world construct distinctive religious identities grounded in particular thought systems. These religious identities bind some members of the interfaith community together but simultaneously distinguish them from ‘others’. While attention to competing beliefs invites us to consider the role of religion in identity-formation, this focus tends to recognize ‘difference’ along only one axis with the distinction being among discrete faith communities. So the understanding goes: Christian identity is different from Muslim identity because Christians believe differently than Muslims.

This approach, however, when it is abstracted from material, social and embodied realities leaves little room to consider difference emerging from other areas and intersecting with religious belief to inform religious identities. The lens of gender, for example, invites us to ask: What difference does it make when we consider women’s experiences in the light of claims to religious truth and the formation of religious identity? Informed by feminist methodologies, I have argued that attention to gender makes a difference in the production of religious beliefs, in the experience of religious identities and in our theological conclusions about the multiplicity of religions. Analyzing the absence of women’s voices and experiences within this discussion and working out the logic of their inclusion, challenges abstract theological production with embodied, embedded and dynamic religious identities arising out of the intersection of gender and religion and being constructed across religious boundaries.

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