Scriptural Reasoning 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 meeting, very often in small groups, to read and discuss passages from their sacred texts. The texts will often relate to a common topic - say, the figure of Abraham, or consideration of legal and moral issues of property-holding. 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.
A participant from any one religious tradition might therefore:
In turn discuss with them the texts from their own traditions.
Discuss with them their attempts to make sense of the texts from his or her own tradition, and
Discuss with the other participants his or her own readings of the texts from his or her own tradition
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" 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.
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. That is, it was seen not only as a form of interfaith dialogue, but also as a form of philosophical or theological reasoning. It has often been described as a postliberal or postcritical theological or philosophical movement. Its purpose is sometimes described more simply as that of promoting the growth of wisdom, or, more simply still, as humbling and creative interfaith encounter or deeper mutual understanding.
3. Basic features
Most forms of SR exhibit the following basic features:
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 Quran for Muslims or the Tanakh for Jews.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The term "Scriptural Reasoning" was coined by Peter Ochs to name a group who now form the Society for Scriptural Reasoning SSR The founders of this international group, formed in 1995, include Ochs himself, David F. Ford and Daniel W. Hardy Its origins lie in a related practice, "Textual Reasoning" "TR", which involved Jewish philosophers reading Talmud in conversation with scholars of rabbinics. Peter Ochs was one of the leading participants in Textual Reasoning.
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.
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 advising Muslims about participation in the practice of Scriptural Reasoning.
Scriptural Reasoning began as an academic practice. Examples of academic SR include the Scriptural Reasoning Group of the American Academy of Religion, the Scriptural Reasoning in the University group which evolved from the Scriptural Reasoning Theory Group, Scriptural Reasoning project at the Center for Theological Inquiry in Princeton, 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 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 Ethelburgas Centre for Reconciliation and Peace at St Ethelburgas 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, and asking whether this "may indicate … the further erosion of Christocentric biblical interpretation."
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.
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."