Fiddes on the Roots of Religious Freedom

Paul S. Fiddes (University of Oxford) has posted The Root of Religious Freedom: Interpreting Some Muslim and Christian Sacred Texts.  The abstract follows.

A comparison of a recent Open Letter from Islamic scholars entitled A Common Word Between Us and You (2007) with an earlier Christian text, A Short Declaration of the Mistery of Iniquity by Thomas Helwys (1612), shows that both locate a claim for religious freedom in a theological appeal to the sovereignty of God. Both also state or imply a claim for freedom of conscience with the same theological grounding. A Common Word proffers an exegesis of the Qur’anic text Aal ‘Imran 64 in which the phrase ‘that none of us should take others for lords besides God’ is understood as a defence of religious liberty. Three reasons are offered for this interpretation: consistency with the commentary tradition, the situational need for religious co-existence and a hermeneutic in which love is predominant. The Mistery of Iniquity proffers an exegesis of New Testament texts, and especially John 18:36 (‘My kingdom is not of this world’), which similarly roots religious freedom in the sovereign claims of God over human life. This ‘theological’ approach seems to have resonance with an unease about the anthropocentric nature of ‘human rights’ as expressed recently in some Christian theology. However, there are gains in setting a theological approach alongside an appeal to human rights rather than allowing one to suppress the other. Comparison of the two texts under consideration, and of the reasons why they adopt the hermeneutic they do, allows us to understand how an assertion of religious freedom might be framed in terms that carry conviction within different religious communities.

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