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Scriptural Reasoning ("SR") is one type of interdisciplinary, interfaith scriptural reading. It is an evolving practice in which Christians, Jews, Muslims, and sometimes members of other faiths, meet to study their sacred scriptures together, and to explore the ways in which such study can help them understand and respond to particular contemporary issues. Originally developed by theologians and religious philosophers as a means of fostering post-critical and postliberal corrections to patterns of modern reasoning, it has now spread beyond academic circles.



Scriptural Reasoning involves participants from multiple religious traditions[1] meeting, very often in small groups, to read and discuss passages from their sacred texts (e.g., Tanakh, the New Testament, and the Qur'an).[2] The texts will often relate to a common topic - say, the figure of Abraham, or consideration of legal and moral issues of property-holding.[3] Participants discuss the content of the texts, and will often explore the variety of ways in which their religious communities have worked with them and continue to work with them, and the ways in which those texts might shape their understanding of and engagement with a range of contemporary issues.[4]

A participant from any one religious tradition might therefore:

  • Discuss with the other participants his or her own readings of the texts from his or her own tradition
  • Discuss with them their attempts to make sense of the texts from his or her own tradition, and
  • In turn discuss with them the texts from their own traditions.[5]

Scriptural Reasoning has sometimes been described as a "tent of meeting" - a Biblical mishkan (Heb. משׁכן Ara. مسكن) - a reference to the story of Genesis 18. Steven Kepnes, a Jewish philosopher, writes:

Participants in SR practice come to it as both representatives of academic institutions and particular "houses" (churches, mosques, synagogues) of worship. SR meets, however, outside of these institutions and houses in special times and in separate spaces that are likened to Biblical "tents of meeting". Practitioners come together in these tents of meeting to read and reason with scriptures. They then return to their academic and religious institutions and to the world with renewed energy and wisdom for these institutions and the world.[6]


As originally conceived, SR was an academic practice involving theologians, religious philosophers, and text scholars, and was said to be aimed at 'repairing' or 'correcting' patterns of modern philosophical and theological reasoning.[7] That is, it was seen not only as a form of interfaith dialogue, but also as a form of philosophical or theological reasoning.[8] It has often been described as a 'postliberal' or 'postcritical' theological or philosophical movement.[9] Its purpose is sometimes described more simply as that of promoting the growth of 'wisdom',[10] or, more simply still, as 'humbling and creative' interfaith encounter[11] or 'deeper mutual understanding'.[12]

Basic featuresEdit

Most forms of SR exhibit the following basic features:

  • SR does not ask participants from different faith traditions to focus upon areas in which they are most nearly in agreement, or to bracket their commitments to the deepest sources of their traditions' distinct identities. SR allows participants to remain faithful to the deepest identity-forming practices and allegiances of their religious communities.[13]
  • SR provides a context in which the participants can discuss those commitments, and perhaps even become more self-aware about them. SR sessions therefore often highlight and explore differences and disagreements between religious tradition, and give rise to serious argument - in order to promote what has been called 'better quality disagreement'.[14]
  • SR does not assume any consensus between the participants as to how they understand the nature, authority or proper interpretation of the texts in front of them. Participants do not have to assume, for instance, that the Bible fulfills the same role for Christians as does the Qur'an for Muslims or the Tanakh for Jews.[15]
  • SR is said to rely upon the existence of honesty, openness and trust amongst the participants, and more generally upon the growth of friendship among the participants in order to provide an appropriate context for disagreement. It is therefore sometimes said that the key to SR is 'not consensus but friendship'.[16]
  • In order to encourage these relationships, the practice of Scriptural Reasoning is often located geographically with a view to engendering mutual hospitality - for example, by meeting in neutral academic spaces such as universities, or by peripatetically rotating between the houses of worship of different faiths. SR groups try to preserve an ethos of mutual hospitality with each participant being both host and guest, and to ensure parity of leadership, oversight or ownership.[17]


The term "Scriptural Reasoning" was coined by Peter Ochs[18] to name a group who now form the Society for Scriptural Reasoning (SSR)[19] The founders of this international group, formed in 1995, include Ochs himself, David F. Ford and Daniel W. Hardy[20] Its origins lie in a related practice, "Textual Reasoning" ("TR"),[21] which involved Jewish philosophers reading Talmud in conversation with scholars of rabbinics.[22] Peter Ochs was one of the leading participants in Textual Reasoning.[23]

The core practice of interfaith biblical study resembles already existing practices, such as that of the International Theology Conference at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem.[24]

The Scriptural Reasoning Society is an independent network of SR activity in the UK, not affiliated to the international Society for Scriptural Reasoning described above.

In 2007, independent Islamic authorities in London issued a fatwa[25] advising Muslims about participation in the practice of Scriptural Reasoning.[26]


Scriptural Reasoning began as an academic practice. Examples of academic SR include the Scriptural Reasoning Group of the American Academy of Religion,[27] the Scriptural Reasoning in the University group (which evolved from the Scriptural Reasoning Theory Group [28]), Scriptural Reasoning project at the Center for Theological Inquiry in Princeton,[29] the Scriptures in Dialogue project founded by Leo Baeck College, and the SR Oxford group of the Scriptural Reasoning Society ("Oxford School") founded by the Centre for Muslim-Christian Studies, Oxford and the Interfaith Alliance UK.

Scriptural Reasoning has also become a "civic practice" in the community, examples of which include the Central Virginia Scriptural Reasoning Group sponsored by Eastern Mennonite University, at St Ethelburga's Centre for Reconciliation and Peace at St Ethelburga's Bishopsgate, the SR Camden and SR Westminster groups of the Scriptural Reasoning Society sponsored by Camden Faith Communities Partnership, Liberal Judaism (United Kingdom) and different places of worship in London.

Civic developments from Scriptural Reasoning carrying different names, include the Faith and Citizenship programme of London Metropolitan University, and Tools for Trialogue, a youth project of the Three Faiths Forum, which develops modes of scriptural study for young people in schools and local communities.


Theologian Adrian Thatcher has questioned whether Scriptural Reasoning flattens theological differences in the way the three traditions approach their respective Scriptures, noting especially "the paucity of references to Jesus Christ" in the essays in The Promise of Scriptural Reasoning (see, e.g., Ford and Pecknold 2006), and asking whether this "may indicate … the further erosion of Christocentric biblical interpretation."[30]

Another theologian, James M. Gustafson, questions the claim he believes implied by Peter Ochs' descriptions of Scriptural Reasoning that it "has not only the capacity, but also the authority to correct 'modernist reason'" – and asking whether Scriptural Reasoning has been sufficiently open to the critical discourses fostered in modernity. His claims have been responded to directly by S. Mark Heim.[31]

Christina Grenholm and Daniel Patte ask whether SR "presupposes a view of Christianity as a separate nation with clear borders and set markers" and whether it lacks a "critical perspective that would reveal that there are different kinds of 'scriptural reasonings.'"[32]


  1. ^ It is most commonly described as involving Jews, Christians and Muslims (Ford 2006; Mudge 2008, p. 33; Campbell 2001; Gaylord 2006, p. 327; Burrell 2006, p. 708; Clooney 2008, p. 28; and Hauerwas 2008, p.19, n.43); for the inclusion of Hindus, see Heim 2004.
  2. ^ Mudge 2008, pp. 33, 123; Clooney 2008, p. 28.
  3. ^ For the thematic nature of many SR discussions, see Mudge 2008, p. 123; for collections of themed essays emerging from such discussions, see issues of the Journal of Scriptural Reasoning.
  4. ^ For SR’s engagement with contemporary issues, see Mudge 2008, p. 124.
  5. ^ Higton 2008 provides a transcript and analysis of an SR group's conversation about a particular Qur'anic passage; for more general descriptions of SR, see Adams 2006, pp. 240–244; Bailey 2006 and Ford 2006.
  6. ^ See Kepnes 2006, p. 368. Note that Kepnes’ handbook is pointed to by various third party sources as an appropriate description of SR. See, for example, Anglican Communion Network for Inter Faith Concerns (NIFCON) 2008, p. 6 and Clooney 2008, p. 252.
  7. ^ Mudge 2008; Lamberth 2008, pp. 460–461; Campbell 2001.
  8. ^ Smith 2008, pp. 469–472.
  9. ^ For 'postliberal', see Pecknold 2006, p. 339; Smith 2008, pp. 469–472 or Heim 2004; for 'postcritical', see Soulen & Soulen 2001, p. 140; Mudge 2008; Lamberth 2008.
  10. ^ Torrance 2009, p. 128.
  11. ^ Anglican Communion Network for Inter Faith Concerns (NIFCON) 2008, p. 6.
  12. ^ Clooney, 2008: p.28.
  13. ^ See the section of Ford 2006 on 'Core Identities in Conversation'.
  14. ^ "Unlike some other kinds of interfaith dialogue, we aim not to pretend a consensus between our often divergent religious teachings and practices, but rather we seek to understand our disagreements more deeply through scripture study - and build friendships out of that better quality disagreement." Scriptural Reasoning Society n.d.. Cf Kepnes 2006, p. 368 - 'SR is about serious conversation between three religious traditions that preserves difference as it establishes relations.'
  15. ^ Batnitzky 2008, p. 484: ‘I do not mean to suggest that Ochs' view of scriptural reasoning requires a shared theology as a prerequisite for dialogue.’ David F. Ford gives the following maxim for SR: 'Acknowledge the sacredness of the others' scriptures to them (without having to acknowledge its authority for oneself) - each believes in different ways (which can be discussed) that their scripture is in some sense from God and that the group is interpreting it before God, in God’s presence.' Ford 2006, p. 349, emphasis added.)
  16. ^ The phrase is coined in Adams 2006, p. 243; for other examples of its use see Scriptural Reasoning Society 2007 and Abernethy 2007. It builds on earlier claims such as that of Kepnes 2006, p. 367 that SR 'builds sociality among its practitioners'. Cf the claim in Society for Scriptural Reasoning 2006: 'After about three sessions of this kind, a successful group should begin to nurture a sense of friendship in study and an emergent sense of direction'. For a third-party description of the importance of friendship in SR, see Torrance 2009.
  17. ^ See Scriptural Reasoning Society 2007, p. 2: 'It may be appropriate for meetings of a Member Scriptural Reasoning Group to take place in rotation between different venues associated with different faiths, or for meetings to be hosted at a neutral venue such as a secular university or community centre.'
  18. ^ Mudge 2008, p. 123; Hauerwas 2008, p. 19 n.43. Note that the phrase can also be found in some other contexts – sometimes in apparent dependence upon SR usage, as in Campbell 2006, p. 60; '"scriptural reasoning" for Paul is necessarily a social and communal activity rather than being purely individual and personal.' Note that Campbell had already written on SR before using the term this way: Campbell 2001. Other uses, like that of Donnelly 2009, seem to be unconnected to SR.
  19. ^ Ford 2007, p. 278.
  20. ^ Ochs 2006, p. 147 n.3; Torrance 2009, p. 128; Afzaal 1998, pp. 3–5 describes the importance of Basit Koshul in the extension of this practice to Muslims.
  21. ^ See The Journal of Textual Reasoning
  22. ^ Ochs 2006, p. 147, n.4, Ford 2006, p. 3: 'Scriptural reasoning had its immediate origins in "textual reasoning" among a group of academic Jewish text scholars .... on the one hand, and philosophers and theologians, on the other hand....'. Lewis S. Mudge speaks of ‘a traditional Jewish practice being opened, as an act of hospitality, to others.’ (Mudge 2008, p. 123)
  23. ^ Ford 2006, pp. 3–4 describes the involvement of Ochs in Textual Reasoning. The fullest description of Textual Reasoning can be found in Ochs 2002 and Levene 2002 (and in the rest of the book from which those essays come); for some of the ways in which TR relates to SR see Hardy 2002.
  24. ^ Burrell (2006, p. 78) suggests similarities between SR and Hartman Institute activity; see also the Hartman's Institute programme overview
  25. ^ Fatahllah, Al-ansari & Al-Salamoni 2007
  26. ^ '...groups are now welcomed in major UK mosques - a feat achieved through a fatwah (a scholarly opinion on a matter of Islamic law) accomplished by the Society.' (i.e., the Scriptural Reasoning Society.) 'Drawing upon fundamental Islamic teaching, the fatwa lays down guidelines that enable Muslims to feel comfortable in participating in the dialogue' (Williams 2009)
  27. ^ See Mudge 2008, p. 33; Clooney 2008, p. 28.
  28. ^ See Society for Scriptural Reasoning 2005.
  29. ^ See Gaylord 2006, p. 327.
  30. ^ See Thatcher 2008, pp. 193–4, n.1.
  31. ^ Gustafson 2004, pp. 37–39; Heim 2004.
  32. ^ Grenholm & Patte 2005, pp. 16 n.14.


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