Christian Encounters with Iran
by Sasan Tavassoli
London; I. B. Tauris, 2011. pp 305.ISBN 978-1845117610
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John Clark, Chairman of the Friends of the Diocese of Iran writes:
One of the little known aspects of Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution is the changing interaction with Christianity by a section of the Shi’i thinkers and religious leaders (ulema).
Sasan Tavassoli, an Iranian Presbyterian minister now resident in the USA, examines these shifts in understanding in this publication of his Birmingham University Ph.D thesis. He does not focus on the situation of Christians in Iran itself but surveys three areas of interaction.
First he looks at the range of approaches found in literature on Christianity from Muslim sources produced in Iran since 1979. He detects a move from traditional anti-Christian polemics to a more descriptive and objective understanding of Christian thought, including a wide range of translation of the work of western theologians.
Second he provides an overview and analysis of the engagement of governmental and non-governmental dialogue and research centres based in Tehran and the religious city of Qum with Christians of other countries including the Church of England in the period of Ayatolloh Khatami’s presidency. This has sadly declined since 2005. These show a marked departure from traditional debates to a deeper search for mutual understanding.
Finally he undertakes a detailed study of the writings of three of the most prominent Shi’i Muslim intellectuals who, he believes, have set the stage for a more fruitful intellectual Muslim-Christian encounter for the next generation of Muslim thinkers.
His book supports the view that among the paradoxes of the Islamic Revolution there is an increased fascination, even among the younger generation of Iranians studying to become ulema, with the study of other religions.
Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, returning from leading the early dialogues between Church of England theologians and representatives drawn from the Iranian study centres, commented on the detailed knowledge of the Iranian representatives of Christian and Anglican theology and the seriousness with which they engaged with Christian thought. This important book, although expensive, provides an informed overview and background to what has been a hopeful trend in the currents of intellectual thinking in Iran.
Featured in Bible Lands, Winter 2011