The Ethics of Interreligious Ritual Participation


  • Jon Paul Sydnor Emmanuel College, Boston



insider-outsider, Protestant Christians, ritual participation, interreligious dialogu, interreligious ethics


Under which circumstances should Protestant Christians participate in the ritual of the religious other? And when should we invite the religious other to participate in our own rituals? These questions raise a host of theological and ethical issues. This chapter will analyse several cases of interreligious ritual participation from a variety of analytical perspectives. The discussion is of critical contemporary importance, as people of faith enter into situations of interreligious practice more frequently. Whether attending a roommate’s synagogue, a neighbour’s mosque, a relative’s church, or a coworker’s temple, opportunities to transgress ritual boundaries are numerous. At the same time, the permutations of the various interreligious situations severely complicate any analysis. Nevertheless, the interreligious decisions we make have spiritual implications for the individuals involved, sociological implications for their communities, and political implications for the broader society. Since the decisions are so consequential, we must make them with theological and ethical awareness. This chapter elucidates some theological and ethical implications of interreligious ritual participation. It concludes by offering guidelines for participation in the rituals of other religious traditions, while acknowledging that the variety of possible situations demands a contextual ethic.

Author Biography

Jon Paul Sydnor, Emmanuel College, Boston

Jon Paul Sydnor teaches at Emmanuel College. He is also theologian-in-residence at Grace Community Boston.


Adams, Tony E. 2008. “A Review of Narrative Ethics.” In Qualitative Inquiry 14(2): 175–194.

Bell, Catherine. 1998. “Performance.” In Critical Terms for Religious Studies, edited by Mark C. Taylor, 205–224. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Bell, Catherine. 1992. Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Bullinger, Heinrich. 1562. “What it Means to be Baptized.” In The Second Hel¬vetic Confession.

Cornille, Catherine. 2002. “Introduction: The Dynamics of Multiple Belonging,” in Many Mansions? Multiple Religious Belonging and Christian Identity, edited by Catherine Cornille, 1–6. Maryknoll: Orbis.

Driver, Tom F. 1996. “Transformation: The Magic of Ritual.” In Readings in Ritual Studies, edited by Ronald L. Grimes, 170–187. New Jersey: Pren¬tice Hall.

Farwell, James. 2004. “Baptism, Eucharist, and the Hospitality of Jesus: On the Practice of ‘Open Communion’.” Anglican Theological Review 86:2 (Spring 2004).¬cles/86.2_farwell.pdf

Hilkert, Mary Catherine. 1993. “Experience and Tradition: Can the Center Hold?” In Freeing Theology: The Essentials of Theology in Feminist Per¬spective, edited by Catherine Mowry LaCugna, 59–82. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco.

Jennings, Theodore W. 1996 [1991]. “On Ritual Knowledge,” in Reading in Ritual Studies, edited by Ronald L. Grimes, 324–334. New Jersey: Pren¬tice Hall.

Kim, Jung Ha. 1999. “’But Who Do You Say That I Am?’ (Matt 16.15): A Churched Korean American Woman’s Autobiographical Inquiry.” In Journeys at the Margin: Toward An Autobiographical Theology in Asian-American Perspective, edited by Peter C. Phan and Jung Young Lee, 103–112. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press.

Kwan, Julia. 2005. Eve and the Fire Horse. Vancouver: Mongrel.

Michaels, Axel. 2004. Hinduism: Past and Present. Princeton: Princeton Uni¬versity Press.

Moyaert, Marianne. 2011. Fragile Identities: Towards a Theology of Interreli¬gious Hospitality. New York: Rodopi.

Pieris, Aloysius S.J. 1995. “The Buddha and the Christ: Mediators of Libera¬tion.” In The Myth of Christian Uniqueness: Toward a Pluralistic The¬ology of Religions, edited by John Hick and Paul F. Knitter, 162–177. Maryknoll: Orbis.

Parker, Radha J. and H. Richard Shelton. 1996. “A Typology of Ritual: Paradigms for Healing and Empowerment.” Counseling and Values 4:2.

Ross, Susan A. 1993. “God’s Embodiment and Women.” In Freeing Theology: The Essentials of Theology in Feminist Perspective, edited by Catherine Mowry LaCugna, 185–210. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco.

Sax, William S. 2010. “Ritual and the Problem of Efficacy.” In The Problem of Ritual Efficacy, edited by Johannes Quack, Jan Reinhold, William S. Sax, 3–16. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Staal, Frits. 1996 [1979]. “The Meaninglessness of Ritual.” In Readings in Ritual Studies, edited by Ronald L. Grimes, 483–494. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

Stephenson, Barry. 2015. Ritual: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford Uni¬versity Press.

Tillich, Paul. 1957. Dynamics of Faith. New York: Harper Colophon.

Tillich, Paul. 1951. Systematic Theology. Volume 1. Chicago: University of Chi¬cago Press.

Tracy, David. 1995. “Modernity, Antimodernity, and Postmodernity in the Amer¬ican Setting.” In Knowledge and Belief in America, edited by William M. Shea and Peter A. Huff, 328–334. New York: Woodrow Wilson Center.



How to Cite

Sydnor, J. P. (2017). Interformation: The Ethics of Interreligious Ritual Participation. Interreligious Studies and Intercultural Theology, 1(2), 187–205.