What is Scriptural Reasoning?


The Premises of "Scriptural Reasoning"

Scriptural Reasoning (SR) is a model of inter-religious study of the three Abrahamic traditions.  The inspiration for the model arose partly from comparative Jewish practices of biblical, midrashic, and talmudic studies. (See, for example, the essays in Textual Reasonings: Jewish Philosophy and Text Study at the End of the Millennium, edited by Peter Ochs and Nancy Levene.) The idea is to take what has been learend in the interplay between Jewish forms of reading and postmodernity and extend those learnings in the arena of Jewish-Christian-Muslim dialogue.

What does "scriptural reasoning" have to contribute to this dialogue? Too often it is assumed, both by experts in conflict resolution and diplomats alike, that religion is always the problem and never part of the solution to the inter-ethnic and inter-religious conflicts raging in the world today. This assumption is strengthened by the observation that usually it is the most fervent adherents of a religious tradition who initiate or at the very least exacerbate these conflicts. In addition, among Jews, Muslims, and Christians, the irony is that those who contribute most to religious conflict seem to be those who live their lives with greatest fidelity to their scriptural sources. It is then assumed to be self-evident that appeals to Scripture (Tanakh, New Testament, or Qur'an) have no place in the work of peace-making and bridge-building among religious Jews, Muslims, and Christians.

However, scholars of what we call "scriptural reasoning" have introduced and tested a competing set of hypotheses:

  1. That these three different Scriptures and scriptural traditions actually contain the greatest source of peace and mutual understanding: narratives of each community's love of the One God and of each community's resolve to embody God's Word in their lives;
  2. That the potential for profound religious dialogue was already introduced and tested late in the medieval period: in Muslim Spain and in several later contexts of scholarly exchange in late medieval France and Italy;
  3. That this nascent dialogue was interrupted by the political, economic, and religious revolutions that marked the beginning of what we call modern Western civilization;
  4. That, after centuries of terrible conflict, political and religious, this civilization introduced a competing model: an effort to achieve religious peace by eliminating religious difference, either through secularization of religious elites or through assimilation of any two of the Abrahamic religions to the cultural and political of the other one;
  5. That, while the modern model has made some lasting contributions to inter-religious peace, it has also given rise to the most destructive inter-ethnic and inter-religious conflicts the world has ever known;
  6. that there is strong evidence that the modern model cannot simply correct its own errors;
  7. that the modern model must therefore be repaired and supplemented by additional models;
  8. that scriptural reasoning offers one such model.