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August 5, 2009
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Common Ground

Islam, Christianity, and Religious Pluralism

Christian-Muslim interaction is a reality today in all corners of the globe, but while many celebrate the commonality of these traditions, significant differences remain. If these religions cannot be easily reconciled, can we perhaps view them through a single albeit refractive lens? This is the approach Paul Heck takes in Common Ground: To undertake a study of religious pluralism as a theological and social reality, and to approach the two religions in tandem as part of a broader discussion on the nature of the good society.

Rather than compare Christianity and Islam as two species of faith, religious pluralism offers a prism through which a society as a whole—secular and religious alike—can consider its core beliefs and values. Christianity and Islam are not merely identities that designate particular communities, but reference points that all can comprehend and discuss knowledgeably. This analysis of how Islam and Christianity understand theology, ethics, and politics—specifically democracy and human rights—offers a way for that discussion to move forward.

About the Author

Paul L. Heck is an associate professor in the Department of Theology at Georgetown University. He is the author of The Construction of Knowledge in Islamic Civilization and editor of Sufism and Politics: The Power of Spirituality.


"Heck's easy prose and Islamic learning make it a delightful journey for the reader."—Reviews in Religion and Theology

"This is a sophisticated little book and well worth reading. ... A well-argued defence of a pithy insight, drawing on the wisdom and experience of countless Muslims and Christians."—The Way

"The author combines historical perspective and knowledge of sources with informed contemporary analysis, a rare blend in current Islamic scholarship. . . . Common Ground represents a new style of interreligious writing which combines scholarly excellence and spiritual pursuit, two aims often conceived as mutually exclusive. Recommended reading for anyone interested in widening his or her perspective on issues that are pivotal to Muslim-Christian conversations and to present-day debates on Islam's "compatibility" with the West."—Islamochristiana


"This is that rare book, accessible to the nonspecialist but suffused in scholarship and learning. What makes it unique is the breadth of examples that reveal the complexities of both traditions. "—Amir Hussain, associate professor of theological studies, Loyola Marymount University

"This engaging, well-written book establishes many points of contact between the Christian and Muslim traditions. Through an insightful reading of relevant sources, Paul Heck helpfully suggests fruitful new trajectories for meaningful dialogue between these two faith communities in a pluralist world."—Asma Afsaruddin, associate professor of Arabic and Islamic studies, University of Notre Dame

"Common Ground is an uncommon book; it is accessible yet learned, passionate yet scholarly, balanced yet candid. More than another study on method in comparative religion or a generic discussion of piety and skepticism, Paul Heck offers us a profound inquiry into the lived realities of Christian and Muslim beliefs and practices. Few books engage religious pluralism with such lucid command of historical materials and their contemporary relevance for religion, ethics, and global politics."—Eric Gregory, Department of Religion, Princeton University

"This book grows out of an all-too-rare combination of qualities: a breadth of scholarship about the Islamic tradition and a depth of affection and respect for Muslims themselves. Specialists no less than the general reader will find it full of valuable insights."—Daniel A. Madigan, SJ, Department of Theology, Georgetown University

"A truly impressive book. Heck always has fresh and thoughtful things to say precisely because he eschews the vague platitudes and timid etiquette of incuriosity masquerading as respect. Calling both traditions to see themselves as what they should be—vehicles for their faithful to seek ever-deeper relation with God, and ever-fuller and more vigorous membership in the communion of the saints—Heck's book will be remarkably fruitful for future Christian-Muslim dialogue. The world is a little less dark with this book in it."—Charles Mathewes, The University of Virginia, and editor, The Journal of the American Academy of Religion

"Paul Heck's search for theological common ground between Islam and Christianity is a remarkable [work] in comparative theology, written in a clear and accessible style. He highlights the often unnoticed parallels in the deep structures of Christian and Islamic religious thought, while the articles of faith remain in counterpoint in their creedal expression."—Sidney H. Griffith, Institute of Christian Oriental Research, Catholic University

"As a Catholic scholar with deep expertise in the academic study of Islam and personal experience in diverse Muslim societies, Heck takes up the call to find common ground between the teachings of the world's two largest religious communities. Tackling issues such as justice, democracy, human rights and competing truth claims, Heck's lucid, sympathetic, and historically informed reflections open new vistas in interfaith dialogue while engaging and informing his readers about a dynamic Muslim world, facing many of the same challenges as the contemporary West."—Marcia Hermansen, professor, Theology Department and director, Islamic World Studies Program, Loyola University (Chicago)

Georgetown University Press

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