Roman Catholics and other religions: developing new approaches
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Bristol
Unit of AssessmentTheology and Religious Studies
Summary Impact TypeCultural
Research Subject Area(s)
Language, Communication and Culture: Cultural Studies
Philosophy and Religious Studies: Religion and Religious Studies
Summary of the impact
The researcher's work on Roman Catholic attitudes to other religions,
socially and theologically, has impacted civic life, influencing
associations between religious people and groups to illuminate and
challenge cultural values and social assumptions. This impact has been
mediated locally (Clifton diocese web media), nationally (through the
Catholic Bishops' Conference and their officers, and through the Oxford,
Cambridge and RSA Examinations Board curriculum), and internationally
(through Georgetown University web resources for Christian-Muslim
relations). Stakeholders in these three zones report cultural and social
impact throughout the period of assessment through the researcher's work
on non-HEI groups and individuals.
The study concerns a single researcher, Professor Gavin D'Costa
(Professor of Catholic Theology since 2006), in two areas of research.
1. The first area is related to Roman Catholic theological attitudes to
the world religions in both official Catholic teachings since 1963 (marked
by the Second Vatican Council) and by Catholic theology of religions. This
research addresses three related sub-areas:
- The research findings call into question the influential three-fold
paradigm for understanding Christian attitudes to other religions. The
research proposed an alternative theologically oriented typological
approach, showing the earlier paradigm had implicitly favoured one
approach. See ,  (all cross references to section 3 below).
- The research findings question a major current of interpretation of
the Second Vatican Council which proposed the Council viewed other
religions as a means of salvation. The researcher shows the Council
regarded these religions as de facto, not de iure, means
of salvation at best. This has significant implications regarding
theology of religions and the practice of mission and interreligious
dialogue. See , , .
- The research findings have shown continuity and discontinuity to exist
within Catholic teachings on Jews and Muslims. There is radical
discontinuity in pastoral and social attitudes. There is significant
continuity in terms of the doctrine of God. This acknowledgment of `one
God' also generates a new research question related to interfaith
prayer. The practice of interfaith prayer has often arisen as a response
to common disasters (`9/11', the London Tube bombings, the 2004
tsunami). The researcher has developed a novel analysis of interfaith
prayer and worship within theistic religions. See , , , ,
2. The second area has grown out of the first. It deals with religious
pluralism in the public square. This research addresses two related
- What is the nature of Catholic public theology? The researcher has
examined the role of the Catholic university in a pluralist public
square, finding that such tradition-specific development of `knowledge'
facilitates genuine difference in pluralist societies. Following
Alasdair MacIntrye, the researcher has shown that at its best, this type
of Catholic learning is open to other religions. It can learn from and
be engaged with these religions through dialectics. See , .
- Can Catholic public theologies contribute to the debate in the social
sciences regarding pluralism and the public square? The researcher
develops one particular approach, drawing from his work on the Christian
university, engaging critically with social scientists like Rawls and
Habermas. The research advances a cautious acceptance of translating
Christian language into public discourse, but only by using natural
theology. The research approach is acutely aware of the secularising
force of such a process. Genuine plurality requires multiple forms of
discourse. See , , . To demonstrate how religions might
positively and constructively contribute to social and political
culture, the researcher has explored this in Catholic and Muslim social
theology. The research suggests that religious contributions could both
enhance democracy and the substantive values that make up the common
good within a pluralist society. See .
References to the research
 D'Costa. G. (2009) Christianity and World Religions: Disputed
Questions in the Theology of Religions (Blackwell-Willey, Oxford),
233 pp. Listed in REF2.
Funded by AHRC matching leave grant (£30k), with the highest score given
to this research project from the AHRC after completion on time.
 D'Costa. G. (2005) Theology in the Public Square: Church,
University, and Nation (Blackwell, Oxford), 264pp. Can be supplied
Funded completion: University of Bristol Research Fellowship covered
teaching costs (£4.5k).
 D'Costa. G. (2000) The Meeting of Religions and the Trinity
(Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York/ T & T Clark, Edinburgh), 187 pp.
Can be supplied on request.
The journal Reviews in Religion and Theology 8 (3), 2001, 232-50,
carried a panel discussion on the book, with an author response.
Spanish translation: La Trinidad y el diálogo interreligioso
(Secretariado Trinitario, Salamanca, 2006).
 D'Costa. G. (2011) (Co-authored with Paul Knitter and Daniel Strange)
Only One Way? Three Christian Responses on the Uniqueness of Christ in
a Religiously Plural World (SCM, London), pp. 3-46, 139-152, 185-98.
Can be supplied on request.
 D'Costa. G. (2012) `What does the Catholic Church Teach about Mission
to the Jewish People?', Theological Studies, 73 (3), 590-613.
Listed in REF2.
Plus responses commissioned by the editor of the journal (1) Edward
Kessler, `A Jewish Response to Gavin D'Costa', 614-28; (2) John T.
Pawlikowski, `A Catholic Response to Gavin D'Costa', 629-40.
 D'Costa. G. (2013) `Continuity and Reform in Vatican II's Teaching on
Islam', New Blackfriars, 94, 1050, 208-22. DOI: 10.1111/nbfr.12007
Details of the impact
- The researcher was invited by Archbishop of Canterbury to the on-going
Building Bridges Seminar series (2010 onwards) between Muslims and
Christians. The 2010 opening day aimed at public dissemination [f]. The
researcher participated in the panel debate `Religion and Modernity in
Christianity and Islam', chaired by the Archbishop (2010), which has had
more than 3,000 hits. The Archbishop's Special Advisor on Islam (ASAI)
comments that the researcher is a `real conduit between the academic
research community and popular teaching and dissemination' [c].
- As a result, the researcher then worked with ASAI in four ecumenical
consultations on Christian attitudes to Muslims: Georgetown/Campion
Hall, Oxford Seminars (2010-11). These meetings provided a major
resource for Christian clergy, internationally and nationally, to engage
with Islam [g]. The researcher's findings were presented at Lambeth
Palace (2012) to Christian policy makers in Muslim-Christian matters.
- The researcher's work was discussed outside the academy in blogs, more
than 30 in 2012 alone. These include a three-part US blog, `Those who
never hear the gospel' discussing , with 162 exchanges [j], and three
separate blogs discussing , in two of which — `In Christ Alone' and
'The Myth of Religious Superiority' — there are 129 exchanges. In 2010,
the researcher's work was discussed in an atheist forum, `Dangerous
Arrogance: the Catholic Church must stop dehumanizing atheists', which
attracted 52 exchanges.
National level — UK
- The researcher's work on theology of religion and typologies , 
is recommended reading for the OCR Exam Board, A level GCE A2 module,
`Theology of Religions'. The researcher's earlier work has been on the
syllabus now for ten years. OCR is Europe's largest assessment agency
and operates in over 150 countries [e]. The Chief Examiner of OCR
comments: `Professor D'Costa's recent books are recommended reading and
good candidates are clearly benefitting from reading his books either by
directly referring to him in their exam papers or indirectly through
their critique of the traditional paradigm which is indebted to his
- Besides impact on schools, the researcher's work has impacted upon the
national Catholic Church. The researcher acts as an adviser to the
Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, Commission for Other
Faiths primarily through the Interreligious Adviser to the Catholic
Bishops' Conference (CBC). His research expertise was used to support
the CBC Interreligious Adviser on the UK Papal visit (2010),
specifically the meeting of faith leaders (Twickenham), and the
Westminster address (Westminster, London). The researcher made e-media
outputs on both events for the general public through the Clifton
Diocese website [i], ensuring impact on the UK Catholic population in
understanding their Church's teachings and social attitudes. The CBC
Interreligious Adviser claims that the researcher has `helped shape the
national line on these questions, and to avoid pitfalls in dialogue'
especially in relation to interfaith prayer and the Catholic
contribution to pluralist culture [b]. The CBC Interreligious Adviser
notes that the researcher's advice to the Archbishop overseeing
interfaith matters has `informed and benefitted his work nationally and
internationally' specifically in relation to Jewish relations and
interfaith prayer [b].
- The researcher's work has also impacted on the wider UK Christian
community. The national conference of `Churches Together in Britain and
Ireland' (Swanick, 2010) invited Archbishop Vincent Nichols and the
researcher as keynote speakers on `Church in the Public Square'. The CBC
Interreligious Adviser testifies that the researcher's input to this
event `shaped the discussions of the Interreligious Network UK' on this
theme [b]. 300 delegates attended and the talk was disseminated widely
Local — Avon
- The researcher acts as adviser and resource to the Clifton Diocese
Interfaith Officer (CDIO), (2000-13) and to the Clifton Diocese Director
of Adult Education (CDDAE). Impact has occurred in five areas of
disseminating research: (i) training in the education of priests; (ii)
training and educating deacons; (iii) educating catechists within the
Clifton Diocese; (iv) teaching lay people; (v) the production of videos
and podcasts for the Diocese website with a view to a much greater
audience than the church going communities of Clifton [i].
- CDIO claims the researcher's work helped in the `innovation of digital
media to disseminate and explain Church teachings' and `ensured a
positive relationship between the Catholic community and people of other
faiths within the diocese', and that the researcher helped `to
facilitate positive engagement between Catholics and Muslims through
local media, including BBC Radio Bristol and The Bristol Post'
[d]. The researcher's work has informed `policy changes and policy
thinking within the Clifton Diocese' [d]. CDDAE adds of the researcher's
impact on priests and deacons, of those that `might be called "policy"
makers... I am confident that their interaction with [the researcher]
has helped when considering policy about catechesis, doctrine, and
possibly in their own preaching methods' [a].
Sources to corroborate the impact
[a] Clifton Diocese Director for Adult Education (CDDAE). Corroborating
impact made at the local level in Avon Diocese and upon policy makers
within the diocese such as priests and deacons.
[b] Interreligious Adviser to the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England
and Wales (CBC). Corroborating impact at the national level: related to
help in organising the papal visit to the UK; advising the Archbishop
Chair of the Interfaith Committee; and impact on the wider Christian
community (Conference of the Churches Together in Britain and Ireland).
[c] The Archbishop of Canterbury's Special Advisor on Islam (ASAI).
Corroborating impact at the international and national level, especially
in terms of Christian-Muslim dialogue and the production of materials that
are used by clergy and policy makers working in this area.
[d] Clifton Diocese Interfaith Officer (CDIO), 2000-2011. Corroborating
the impact made at the local level and at the national level through
innovative making of electronic media.
[e] Chief Examiner for OCR Exam Board. Corroborating the impact of the
researcher's work upon this widely utilized A level which is popular at
the national and international level. Syllabus details can be found at:
[f] Link to discussion with Archbishop of Canterbury, Professor
Abdolkarim Soroush, Rev Dr Harriet Harris, Professor Caner Dagli, and
researcher about Christians and Muslims in the public square and the
impact of modernity on both traditions:
[g] Link to Georgetown/Campion Hall Seminar output in the form of a
number of papers that will be of use to clergy and policy makers working
at the Christian-Muslim interface:
[h] CTBI speech on Catholic theology and public discourse (in the form of
an mp3 download) and the discussion that followed, as well as the text of
the speech is available at:
[i] Clifton diocese web resources:
[j] Blogs (select example of the three part blog discussing the [a]):