Reform thinking 1

June 2, 2006

The opinion pieces about Colin Slee's sermon ("A beacon of hope or dogmatic analogy?" May 19) revealed as much about the writers' understanding of the Reformation as it did about the contemporary state of Islam.

I heard this sermon and I am puzzled as to why Alan Williams thinks the analogy with the Reformation "will be perceived by Muslims as deeply patronising", when the analogy with the Renaissance will not.

More puzzling is the contrast drawn by Madawi Al-Rasheed between the European Reformation, which "needed a pope for a Luther to emerge" and what he calls the "transformation characterised by the fragmentation of religious authority". That was the crucial characteristic of the Reformation, as the review of Andrew Pettegree's Reformation and the Culture of Persuasion (Books, May 19) indicated.

Sermon analogies are always to some extent rhetorical devices, and Slee's chronological analogies between Judaism, Christianity and Islam were unconvincing. But we should recall what happened to the Protestant churches when they crossed the Atlantic and were refashioned in a newly democratic society where all authority was questioned.

The most interesting question today is whether non-authoritative religion is pos-sible, and there is no point in seeking the answer fromreligious authorities, even academic ones.

David M. Thompson Cambridge University

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