Take the epistemology of interreligious dialogue seriously: Belief, religious diversity, and interreligious dialogue as a virtuous doxastic practice

Mara Brecht, Fordham University


The reality of religious diversity has long presented a problem for Christian theology. Historically, theologians construe this problem as soteriological and eschatological in nature: what is the relationship between religious others and Christian doctrine of salvation? More recently, theologians address religious diversity as a soteriological and epistemological problem: what is the status of the beliefs of religious others and what does this mean for salvation? This dissertation works to push the theological conversation on religious diversity even more squarely into epistemological territory. Specifically, what are the ways in which religious beliefs are shaped by the encounter with religious others? Drawing on the experiences documented by research on a women's interreligious dialogue group, I posit that the experience of engaging with religious others through interreligious dialogue leads to strengthened religious belief. This contradicts the claims of epistemologists of religious disagreement, which see interreligious dialogue as an occasion for discovering epistemic disagreement—disagreements that should lead to weakened or defeated religious belief Given these contradicting notions of the significance of religious diversity for religious belief, I propose to construct a religious epistemological model that is adequate to the experiences of those who actually engage in interreligious dialogue. Contemporary, alternative epistemologies and Aristotelian virtue theories provide resources for constructing such a model, which I call the virtuous doxastic practice epistemological model. This model posits that beliefs are formed by being the outcome of exercise of intellectual virtue, which are learned in the context of community, involve checks for reliability, and are productive toward the end of communal, epistemic flourishing. On this theory, religious beliefs attain the highest level of justification by being presented to the scrutiny of religious others and maintained in the context of interreligious dialogue. That is, when a person shares her religious beliefs, convictions, and attitudes with those who believe differently than her, she comes to hold to these beliefs, convictions, and attitudes in renewed way. For this reason, the dissertation concludes with a proposal for the Roman Catholic Church to view interreligious dialogue as a constitutive component of Christian faith formation, rather than an activity that is potentially problematic or even ancillary to other Christian practices.

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Recommended Citation

Brecht, Mara, "Take the epistemology of interreligious dialogue seriously: Belief, religious diversity, and interreligious dialogue as a virtuous doxastic practice" (2011). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3452805.