The Secular and Religious Other in Muslim-Christian Encounter: Theorizing the ‘Shifting Third’

Dr Paul Hedges
Associate Professor of inter-religious studies, S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

Muslims and Christians never meet in a vacuum, but always in relation to a variety of other contexts and factors. In the contemporary world one of the most important of these is the secular state and ideologies of secularism, which often provide a backdrop to the encounter especially in Western nation states.

It can be argued that the secular makes a meeting place on equal terms between the religions, but can also be perceived as threatening by either or both communities, yet can also become an ally of one against the other. The secular therefore appears as what may be termed a ‘Shifting Third’, an extra dynamic within the Muslim-Christian encounter which is not static but interacts with each tradition and the encounter in different ways.

Likewise other religious traditions, perhaps most notably Judaism, also affect Muslim-Christian encounters as a dynamic and changing partner in the relationship depending upon the time and context. Such religious Others may also be spoken of as another ‘Shifting Third’, which is not a numerical marker but another player within the binary relationship of the two traditions.

This talk will both assess aspects of the contemporary Muslim-Christian encounter, especially as it is impacted by other discourses such as secularism and Judaism, as well as introducing the theoretical concept of the ‘Shifting Third’.