The question of how Orthodox Christians should relate to members of other faiths has taken on particular urgency in the past few decades given the rising pluralism of our globalized world. Moreover, this question has particular urgency with respect to Muslims, with whom Orthodox Christians have had particularly close and complex social and political relationships since the seventh century. In this essay, I argue that a systematic and academic consideration of Islam and Islamic history is an important desideratum of contemporary Orthodox theology. Specifically, I suggest that the question Orthodox theologians should seek to answer with respect to Islam is: Does the Holy Tradition of the Orthodox Church take a specific theological position toward Islam?
In order to answer this question, I argue that Orthodox theologians should use the philosophical categories of patristic theological anthropology to draw insights from the specific data of common historical experience between Orthodox Christians and Muslims. This essay provides a discussion of some of the best academic literature available on the topic of Orthodox theological approaches to Islam, and suggests ways forward based on the accomplishments of the scholars discussed here.
Toward a New Field: The past century of Orthodox theological development has witnessed dramatic strides in the understanding of Orthodoxy’s relationship with other faith traditions. Unprecedented levels of religious pluralism and the recent flourishing of globally-connected theological reflection has dramatically transformed how Orthodox theologians view our faith’s relationship with the world’s immense religious and cultural variety. Yet I would argue that modern Orthodox theological reflection on Islam remains an unfinished, but highly urgent, item on the agenda of global Orthodoxy. I suggest that the question Orthodox theologians should seek to answer with respect to Islam is the following: Does the Holy Tradition of the Orthodox Church take a specific theological position toward Islam? If so, what is this position? The answer may be much more complex than the question. If Tradition is in fact multi-vocal on this question, what voices within Tradition are addressing Islam, and what are they saying? Moreover, as I have argued elsewhere, how we as Orthodox Christians understand Holy Tradition is not only theologically decisive for ourselves, but has serious ethical consequences for those around us.