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Gavin D'Costa (born 1958) is the Professor of Catholic Theology at the University of Bristol, Great Britain. He was Head of the Theology & Religious Studies Department (2002 - 2006), and has lectured at Bristol since 1993.

Gavin D'Costa
Born1958 (age 60–61)
Nairobi, Kenya
OccupationProfessor of Catholic Theology at the University of Bristol
Academic background
EducationUniversity of Birmingham, University of Cambridge
InfluencesJohn Hick, Karl Rahner, Karl Barth, George Lindbeck, Avery Dulles
Academic work
InstitutionsWest London Institute
University of Bristol


He was born in Kenya but came to Great Britain in 1968 and educated at Goldington Junior School in Bedford and afterwards at Bedford Modern School.[1] He went on to read English & Theology at the University of Birmingham under the theologian, John Hick. After graduating, he studied at the University of Cambridge before teaching at West London Institute and then at Bristol University.[2] His research interests include systematic Theology; Theology of inter-religious dialogue & Roman Catholic modern Theology, gender and psychoanalysis.

In 1998 he was visiting professor at Rome's Gregorian University. He has also worked on the Church of England and Roman Catholic Committee's on Other Faiths, advising these communities on theological issues. He also advises the Pontifical Council for Other Faiths, Vatican City.

Theological publicationsEdit

D’Costa’s first book, Theology and Religious Pluralism (1986)[3] followed Alan Race and developed the threefold typology of pluralism, inclusivism, and exclusivism in regard to the Christian theological approach to other religions. He critically examined the work of key representatives of each of these positions: John Hick as a pluralist, Karl Rahner, as an inclusivist, and Hendrik Kraemer as an exclusivist. D’Costa defended Rahner’s inclusivism that held to the universal love of God for all people as well as the necessity of Christ’s grace for salvation. The combination of these two axioms allowed that other religions could be, in principle, mediations of the saving grace of Jesus Christ. Their fulfillment would be found in Christianity, even if historically this did not happen. This fulfillment was a result of the causality of grace: all grace comes from and ends in Jesus Christ, and the Church is the sacramental form of Christ in the world today. Pluralism, D’Costa argued only emphasised the universal love of God and exclusivism, only the necessity of belief in Christ for salvation. Rahner’s position combined the two and provided the best model for inter-religious dialogue.

D’Costa has been a persistent critic of the approach of John Hick’s pluralism. In his second book, his doctoral work, John Hick’s Theology of Religions (1987), he tried to show that Hick’s claim that all religions lead to the same divine reality was problematic on three counts. First, it went against the orthodox claims of Christian theology, and in that sense could not be acceptable to Christian faith. Second, Hick’s claim could only be sustained if all religions were re-interpreted, so that his claim amounted to requiring that all religions conform to his demand that they abandon ultimate ontological convictions. Third, D’Costa tried to show that pluralism was internally incoherent, in so much as it made a privileged claim for its own position as the greatest truth, indeed, more true than any of the religions. In 1990, in response to a collection of essays by pluralist scholars edited by John Hick and Paul Knitter (The Myth of Christian Uniqueness: Toward a Pluralistic Theology of Religions), D'Costa edited an alternative collection, Christian Uniqueness Reconsidered: the Myth of a Pluralistic Theology of Religions.

In his next work, The Meeting of Religions and the Trinity (2000),[4] D'Costa seems to have shifted more towards exclusivism. He argues in this book, that there is no such position as pluralism as pluralism is technically a disguised form of exclusivism, either religious (as in the case of the Dalai Lama, in his study of modern Tibetan Buddhism; or in the case of Sarvapelli Radhakrishnan, the modern proponent of Advaita neo-Hinduism), or a form of modernity (in the case of Hick and the Roman Catholic theologian Paul F. Knitter, and the Jewish theologian, Dan Cohen Sherbok). Hence, these positions advocate that all religions are equal, but actually have an explicitly religious exclusivism (hence, for the Dalia Lama, there is no liberation until one has become a De Lug Buddhist monk, but one has endless lifetimes to achieve this; likewise for Radhakrishnan, but in this case a non-dual Advaitin experience of moksha is required for final release from the cycle of birth and death), or a secular modern exclusivism (an ethical rule, that derives from Kant and stands in judgment upon all religions). D’Costa defends a trinitarian approach to other religions, that refuses to see them as equal or provisional/imperfect forms of revelation or salvific means, but nevertheless acknowledges the grace of God operative within these traditions in a fragmentary and inchoate manner. D’Costa offers a close analysis of modern Roman Catholic magisterial documents to support his view. He argues that this position, best serves the goals of toleration, equality and respect, not pluralism or indeed, inclusivism. He relies heavily on the work of Alasdair MacIntyre and John Milbank.

He develops this position in his Theology in the Public Square (2005) [5] in relation to the importance of Christian theology taking a decisive public stance and developing a public voice, the latter mainly through the idea of a Christian university. This is so that theology returns to an appropriate ecclesial accountability, and begins to engage in all the intellectual disciplines to develop a Catholic culture. In so doing, D’Costa examines the way the discipline of religious studies is called into question. There is a study of the relationship between Hindu sati and the self-sacrifice of the Catholic saint, Edith Stein. D’Costa tries to show how there are analogies between religions and moves away from the question of whether there is salvation in other religions.

In Christianity and the World Religions: Disputed Questions in the Theology of Religions (2009)[6] D'Costa addresses four disputed questions in the field of theology of religions. First, he survey the entire field and looks at the various options offered in the last half of the twentieth century and takes us into the modern debate. He argues for a form of 'exclusivism' although he criticises the categories of pluralism, inclusivism, and exclusivism. Second, he calls into question the prevailing definition of 'religion' and argues that it is part of modernity's narrative and serves a certain rhetorical strategy (related to the privatizing of religion, and its reduction to cultic ritual acts robbed of their social and political significance). Third, he develops this point to show how Islam and Catholic Christianity might better contribute to the religious public voice and strengthen real debate in the public square. He claims that they might better preserve religious plurality than secular liberalism. Finally, he explores the doctrine of hell (and the circles within it: the hell of damnation and von Balthasar, limbo of the just, limbo of infants, and purgatory.

In 'Vatican II: Catholic Doctrines on Jews and Muslims' (2014)[7] D'Costa turns to the authoritative Conciliar documents of the Catholic Church to establish what doctrines of God and God's activity are to be found that relate specifically to the Jewish and Muslim religions. He discusses the hermeneutics of the Council documents and defends the view that the documents are either novel, continuous, and reforming - but not discontinuous with previous doctrinal teachings. He critically examines different approaches, both historical and theological, to the Council documents. D'Costa then establishes general doctrines related to other religions within which the doctrines on Jews and Muslims must be located. He argues that invincible ignorance was crucial in moving to a positive attitude to other religions, for they were no longer seen to explicitly and knowingly reject Catholic truth. He examines the drafts of Lumen Gentium 14-16 and Nostra Aetate 3-4 to show the positive doctrinal foundations for dialogue. In relation to the Jews, there is a rebuttal of the deicide charge and the alleged guilt of the Jewish people and an acknowledgement of the Jewish foundations of Christianity. Nothing else is established at this time even though after the Council, the Jewish covenant becomes the main focus of attention. In relation to Islam, there is a clear distance from the views of Massignon, while at the same time a clear affirmation of a creator God who is the final judge. This theistic commonality is the crown of the Council's teaching, but gained at the cost of not mentioning the Qur'an and Muhammad. From this doctrinal basis, D'Costa indicates some of the post-conciliar theological developments that have followed from the Council, although that is not the main concern of the work.

D’Costa looks at the question of the relationship to non-Christian cultural artefacts in a wider sense in his Sexing the Trinity (2000).[8] Here he engages with the thought of Luce Irigaray, the French feminist philosopher to show how she both illuminates questions regarding the nature of the trinity while at the same time being called into question by Christian theology. D’Costa is critical of aspects of patriarchal theology and its social consequences, while also being critical of elements of feminist theology. He offers a close reading of Islam, at least as presented through Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses and finally turns to artistic representations of the trinity in Hindu and Christian culture. This work anticipates D’Costa’s wider cultural interests developed in Theology in the Public Square.


D’Costa has been criticised by pluralists, inclusivists and exclusivists in various ways. The strongest criticisms have come from pluralists. John Hick, for example, argues that D’Costa’s claim that pluralism is just a disguised exclusivism is a form of word play and fails to deal with the substantitive difference involved in the pluralist position. Hick also claims that D’Costa fails to recognize the hypothetical nature of the pluralist position, and mistakes it for a religion. D'Costa's view of the descent into 'hell' by Christ as a manner of resolving the necessity of explicitly knowing Christ as the condition for salvation has also generated much discussion. His study on Vatican II has had two journal issues devoted to the book. The criticisms there vary regarding D'Costa's theological approach to the debate about continuity and discontinuity regarding Council teachings and specific claims made about the Council teachings regarding Jews and Muslims. For a list of critical articles, see note.[9]



  • D'Costa, Gavin (1986). Theology and Religious Pluralism: the challenge of other religions. Oxford, OX & New York, NY: Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN 978-0-631-14518-9. OCLC 12807103.
  • ——— (1987). John Hick’s Theology of Religions: a critical evaluation. Lanham, MD: University Press of America. ISBN 978-0-8191-6617-3. OCLC 16404874.
  • ———, ed. (1990). Christian Uniqueness Reconsidered: the Myth of a Pluralistic Theology of Religions. Faith Meets Faith. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books. ISBN 978-0-8834-4687-4. OCLC 21976208.
  • ———; Gill, Sean; King, Ursula, eds. (1994). Religion in Europe: Contemporary Perspectives. Netherlands: Kok Pharos.
  • ———, ed. (1990). Resurrection Reconsidered. Oxford, OX: Oneworld Books. ISBN 978-1-8516-8113-6. OCLC 35118246.
  • ——— (2000). Sexing the Trinity: Gender, Culture and the Divine. London: SCM Press. ISBN 978-0-334-02810-9. OCLC 45306597.
  • ——— (2000). The Meeting of Religions and the Trinity. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books. ISBN 978-1-5707-5303-9. OCLC 43615500.
  • ——— (2005). Theology in the Public Square: Church, Academy and Nation. Oxford: Blackwell. ISBN 978-1-4051-3509-2. OCLC 57893283.
  • ——— (2009). Christianity and the World Religions: Disputed Questions in the Theology of Religions. Oxford: Blackwell. ISBN 978-1-4051-7674-3. OCLC 276228967.
  • ———, ed. (2011). The Catholic Church and the World Religions. A Theological and Phenomenological Account. London: T&T Clark. ISBN 978-0-5674-6697-6.
  • ———; Crisp, Oliver; Davies, Mervyn; Hampson, Peter, eds. (2011). Theology and Philosophy: Faith and Reason. London: T&T Clark. ISBN 978-0-5674-1033-7.
  • ———; Evans, Malcolm; Momood, Tariq; Rivers, Julian, eds. (2013). Religion in a Liberal State. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-1-1076-5007-7.
  • ———; Harris, Emma Jane, eds. (2013). The Second Vatican Council: Celebrating its Achievements and the Future. London: T&T Clark. ISBN 978-0-5671-7911-1.
  • ———; Nesbitt, Eleanor, eds. (2014). Making Nothing Happen: Five Poets Explore Faith and Spirituality. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-4094-5515-8.
  • ——— (2014). Vatican II: Catholic Doctrines on Jews and Muslims. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-1996-5927-2.
  • ———; Thompson, Ross, eds. (2015). Buddhist-Christian Dual Belonging: Affirmations, Objections, Explorations. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-4724-6091-2.

Articles and chaptersEdit

——— (2010). "Pluralist Arguments: Prominent Tendencies and Methods". In Becker, Karl Josef; Morali, Ilaria (eds.). Catholic Engagement with World Religions. New York, NY: Orbis Books. pp. 329–344. ISBN 978-1-5707-5828-7.


  1. ^ "Goan Voice UK: supplement on : Dr Gavin D'Costa". Retrieved 17 November 2017.
  2. ^ "Professor Gavin D'Costa - University of Bristol". Retrieved 17 November 2017.
  3. ^ Knitter, Paul F. (17 November 1988). "Review of Theology and Religious Pluralism: The Challenge of Other Religions". Journal of the American Academy of Religion. 56 (1): 142–144. doi:10.2307/1464840. JSTOR 1464840.
  4. ^ D'Costa, Gavin (29 June 2000). "Meeting of Religions and the Trinity". A&C Black. Retrieved 17 November 2017 – via Google Books.
  5. ^ "Wiley: Theology in the Public Square: Church, Academy, and Nation - Gavin D'Costa". Retrieved 17 November 2017.
  6. ^ "Wiley: Christianity and World Religions: Disputed Questions in the Theology of Religions - Gavin D'Costa". Retrieved 17 November 2017.
  7. ^ D'Costa, Gavin (28 August 2014). "Vatican II: Catholic Doctrines on Jews and Muslims". Oxford University Press. Retrieved 17 November 2017 – via Oxford University Press.
  8. ^ "Sexing the Trinity by Gavin D'Costa - Paperback". Retrieved 17 November 2017.
  9. ^ Academic Journals Gerard Loughlin, 'Paradox and Paradigms: Defending the Case for a Revolution in Theology of Religions', New Blackfriars, 66, 777, 1985, pp 127-35 Alan Race, 'Christianity and Other Religions: Is Inclusivism Enough?', Theology, 89, 1986, pp 178-86 Schubert Ogden, 'Problems in the Case for a Pluralistic Theology of Religions', The Journal of Religion, 68, 1988, pp 493-507 H Döring and P Schmidt-Leukel, 'Interreligiöser Dialog als ökumenisches Problem, in: Catholica', Vierteljahresschrift für ökumenische Theologie, 44, 1990, 221-41 L. Philip Barnes, ‘Continuity and development in John Hick's theology’, Studies in Religion/Sciences Religieuses, 1992, 21, 4, 395-402. John V. Apczynski, ‘John Hick’s Theocentricism: Revolutionary or Implicitly Exclusivist?’, Modern Theology, 8, 1, 1992, 39–52 Ian Markham, 'Creating Options: Shattering the ‘Exclusivist, Inclusivist, and Pluralist’ Paradigms’, New Blackfriars, 74, 867, 1993, pp 33-41 John Hick, ‘Straightening the Record: Some Responses to Critics', Modern Theology, 6, 1990, 187-95 Peter O’Donovan, ‘The Intolerance of Religious Pluralism’, Religious Studies, 1993, 29: 217-229 John Hick, ‘The Possibility of Religious Pluralism: A Reply to Gavin D’Costa’, Religious Studies, 33, 1997, pp 161-66 Judson Trapnell, 'Indian Sources on the Possibility of a Pluralist View of Religions', Journal of Ecumenical Studies, 35, 2, 1998, pp.210-34 (in response to the 'Impossibility of a Pluralist view of religions' in Religious Studies - above) Paul Knitter, 'Catholics and Other Religions: Bridging the Gap between Dialogue and Theology', Louvain Studies, 24, 1999, pp. 319-54 Tim Winter, 'The Last Trump Card', Studies in Interreligious Dialogue, 9, 2, 1999, pp.133-55 Terrence Merrigan, 'For Us and for Our Salvation': The Notion of Salvation History in the Contemporary Theology of Religions’, Irish Theological Quarterly, 1999, 64, 4, 339-348 Extended multi-review of my book The Meeting of Religions and the Trinity, (three reviewers: John Hick, Dan Cohn-Sherbok, John Peacock), with a response from me, Reviews of Religion and Theology, 8, 3, 2001, pp.232-50 (editor Isabel Wollaston) Rose Drew, ‘Reconsidering the Possibility of Pluralism’ Journal of Ecumenical Studies, 40, 3, 2003, pp. 245-66 (in response to the 'Impossibility of a Pluralist view of religions' in Religious Studies – above A James Reimer, ‘Public Orthodoxy and Civil Forbearance. The Challenge of Modern Law for Religious Minority Groups’, The Conrad Grebel Review, 21, 3, 2003, pp.96-111 Przemyslaw Plata, ‘Gavin D’Costa’s Trinitarian Theology of Religions’, Louvain Studies, 30, 2005, pp. 299-324 Julie Clague, ‘The Christa: Symbolizing My Humanity and My Pain’, Feminist Theology, 2005, 14, 1, 83-108. Pamela Chrabieh and Jean-François Roussel, ‘Théologies pragmatiques et dialogue interreligieux : une pratique et une discipline de la parole plurielle’ , Studies in Religion/Sciences Religieuses, 2005, 34, 3-4, 375-390. Miroslav Volf, ‘Johannine Dualism and Contemporary Pluralism’, Modern Theology, 21, 2, 2005, 189–217 Norbert Hintersteiner, ‘Engaging Religious Plurality: Secular Awareness and Traditonary Procedure. A Response to Gavin D’Costa’, Studies in Interreligious Dialogue: 17, 1, 2007, pp. 46-60 Terrence Tilley, ‘Christian Orthodoxy and Religious Pluralism: A Rejoinder to Gavin D’Costa’, Modern Theology, 23, 3, 2007, pp. 447-454 Terrence Tilley & Gavin D’Costa, ‘Concluding our Quaestio Disputata on Theologies of Religious Diversity’, Modern Theology, 23, 3, 2007, pp. 463-468 Angela Pears, Claiming the right to educate: insider/outsider in practical and contextual theology’, International Journal of Public Theology, 1, 3, 2007, 408-20 (414-20 discussion of my work) John Sullivan, ‘Catholic Higher Education: A Review Article’, Heythrop Journal, 49, 5, 2008, pp. 860-867 John G. Flett, ‘In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit: A Critical Reflection on Trinitarian Theology of Religion of S. Mark Heim and Gavin D’Costa’, International Journal of Systematic Theology, 10, 1, 2008, 73-90 Julia Baudzej, ‘Re-telling the Story of Jesus: The Concept of Embodiment and Recent Feminist Reflections on the Maleness of Christ’, Feminist Theology, September 2008, 17, 1, 72-91. David H. Kelsey, ‘Theology in the University: Once more, with feeling’, Modern Theology, Volume 25, Issue 2, 2009, 315-27 Paul A. McDonald Jnr., ‘Studying Christian Theology in the Secular University’, Journal of the American Academy of Religion, 2010, 1-34 Rik Van Nieuwenhove, ‘Catholic Theology in the Thirteenth Century and the Origins of Secularism’, Irish Theological Quarterly, 2010, 75, 4, 339-354 Ambrose Mong, ‘Approaches to inter-faith dialogue: Trinitarian theology and multiple religious belonging’, The Asia Journal of Theology, 24, 2, 2010, 285-311 (Comparison of Phan and D’Costa) Edward T. Oakes, ‘Descensus and Development: A Response to Recent Rejoinders’, International Journal of Systematic Theology, 13, 1, 2011, 3-24 Marianne Moyaert, ‘Soteriological Openness to Hermenetuical Openness’, Modern Theology 28:1 January 2012, 25-52 Mara Brecht, ‘What’s the Use of Exclusivism’, Theological Studies, 73, 2012, 33-54 Martin Ganeri, ‘Tradition with a New Identity: Thomist Engagement with Non-Christian Thought as a Model for the New Comparative Theology in Europe’, Religions, 2012, 3, 1054-1074 Wouter Biesbrouck, ‘The Use of (Post-) Conciliar Texts in Gavin D’Costa’s Theology of Religions,’ Gregorianum , 94, 4, 2013, 739-56 Wouter Biesbrouck, ‘Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus, Sed Extra Mundum Nulla Damnatio: Reappropriating Christ's Descent Into Hell For Theology of Religions.’ Louvain Studies (2013) T. A. Noble, ‘Only Exclusivism Will Do: Gavin D’Costa’s Change of Mind’, Wesleyan Theological Journal, 48, 1, 2013, 62-72 Christian Jacobs-Vandegeer, ‘The Unity of Salvation: Divine Missions, the Church, and World Religions’ (Comparison of Dupuis, D’Costa and Longergan), Theological Studies, 75, 2, 2014, 260-283 Gerald O’Collins, ‘The Church and the Power of Prayer for “the Others”’, Horizons, 41, 2, 2014, 211-29 (Comparison of Dupuis, D’Costa, Sullivan on the topic). Nova et Vetera, 1, 2017: Symposium review of Vatican II. Doctrines on Jews and Muslims Louvain Studies, Fall 2017, 40, 3: Symposium review on Vatican II. Catholic Doctrines on Jews and Muslims

External linksEdit