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Response to Review no. 465

It is a pleasure to receive such a thoughtful review. It is very encouraging that Dr Webster judges that the book has met its objectives so successfully. His limited criticisms are, moreover, put fairly and sensitively.

The book was conceived as core teaching material for a new Open University course with the same title, which is now in its first year of presentation. For our students it is supplemented by three other set books: David Chidester, Christianity: A Global History (Harmondsworth, 2001); John Bossy, Christianity in the West, 1400–1700 (Oxford, 1985); and Callum G. Brown, The Death of Christian Britain: Understanding Secularisation 1800–2000 (2001). They are also provided with a series of five study guides that include extracts from a range of other primary and secondary sources. There are also five CDs, which include discussions with leading scholars: David Chidester, Averil Cameron, Jonathan Riley-Smith, Diarmaid McCulloch, Alister McGrath, William Radice, Callum Brown, Isobel Wollaston, Jenny Blain and Hugh McLeod. Such material is designed to complement and develop the coverage in the book under review.

Peter Webster’s ‘reservation about the approach of the volume as a whole’ ably identifies exactly the dilemma we faced in putting the collection together. We were determined to avoid producing a book that limited its coverage to Christianity; but in practice constraints both of space and of expertise among the available contributors meant that we could not come near to systematic coverage of other religious traditions. We would therefore like the book to be seen as an endeavour to set the history of Christianity in a wider religious context. In that respect, Gwilym Beckerlegge’s chapter performs a particularly valuable function in showing that when one moves ‘beyond’ Christianity, not only the subject matter but also the very categories of analysis (such as conversion) often need to be rethought. Susan Mumm’s chapter is also important precisely because its use of gender as an organising theme problematises the more institutional, and arguably patriarchal, approaches that are implicit in other chapters. While we could indeed have produced a book with a greater degree of intellectual tidiness, it would have been one that did less to open its readers’ minds to broader and different possibilities.

Peter Webster is correct in perceiving ‘the need for a considerably larger volume’. Part of the challenge and excitement of producing this book was the recognition that existing historical literature that deals explicitly with questions of interaction and conflict between religious traditions remains patchy in its coverage. As I write this response in the week that professedly Muslim suicide bombers attacked London, I am struck afresh by the timeliness of pursuing historical writing and teaching on this theme. There is much to be done, and I hope that others will be stimulated to build upon and extend the work done in this book.