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Encounter Other Faiths Face-to-Face: Summer Scholars 2011

by Lifelong Learning Staff

Summer Scholars will visit Al Farooq mosque in Atlanta.

 Learn how to engage in interfaith cooperation – not just political discourse – with Muslims, Jews, Hindus, and Buddhists, during Summer Scholars 2011, July 18-21 on the Columbia Seminary campus.

When it comes to thinking about Muslims, “we think politically and call it religious exploration,” says Mark Douglas, in his book, Believing Aloud: Reflections on Being Religious in the Public Square.

Our tendency is to be “less interested in understanding Islam – the world religion – than in knowing how the political actions of nominal Muslims are likely to affect us.”

Arab-American Moustafa Bayoumi agrees:[1]“Prior to September 11, 2001, most Americans … thought very little about Arab Americans or Muslim Americans. It was not part of their imagination. After September 11, it IS part of their imagination.

“The difference is that, now, if you’re an Arab American or a Muslim American, everyone has an opinion about you, without knowing anything about you. That can be a problematic space to inhabit.”

How can we become more engaged in learning about the faith – not  just the potential political impact – of Muslims, Jews, Hindus, and Buddhists?

Douglas suggests we find places to meet and talk with people who are not like us. Spending time with people who are different from us helps us to “make wider connections, recognize the limits of our own vision, … [and] be surprised by the new things we may see….”

Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth of Nations, agrees:[2]  
“We are enlarged by the people who are different from us,” agrees “That needs cultivating and would lead us into the 21st century full of blessing, not full of fear.”
With just such interfaith encounters in mind, we invite you to attend Summer Scholars 2011 - “KNOWING Our Neighbors: A Purposeful Interfaith Encounter.”

With pastors, church professionals, and lay leaders, come discover what Christianity has to say about interfaith cooperation.

“We’ll talk with leaders from other faith communities, visit their houses of worship, and learn how to initiate interfaith cooperation within our own congregations or communities,” says co-keynoter David Fraccaro.

“Increasingly, Muslims, Jews, Christians, Hindus, and other communities of faith are engaging with one another,” Fraccaro says. “These encounters can lead to conflict or cooperation. What direction will your congregation go?”

Fraccaro, an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ,  heads the Interfaith Youth Core’s “Stranger to Neighbor” program, training congregations and diverse communities to build interfaith coalitions committed to “welcoming the stranger” in our midst.

Small group sessions during this event will give you the opportunity to reflect on how your own interfaith encounters (or lack of them) have shaped your relationship with other faith traditions.

A panel of four faith traditions – Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim – will talk about their interfaith ethic – their experiences and hopes, and the challenges they see. Participants will be encouraged to ask frank questions and discuss their concerns.

“We will visit a Muslim mosque and a Jewish synagogue, and reflect together on those experiences,” says Ben Campbell Johnson, the other keynoter for this event.

An ordained Presbyterian pastor, Johnson is author of the book, “Beyond 9/11: Christians and Muslims Together – An Invitation to Conversation.”

Since retiring from the Columbia Theological Seminary faculty in 2000, Johnson has been developing and leading programs to explore and advocate for Christian/Muslim understanding and relationship.

The final day of this event will focus on practical ways participants can initiate interfaith cooperation in their own congregations or communities – from small first steps of trust-building to more extensive program development.

To register online or see the detailed Schedule for this event, click here: and scroll down to the July events.

[1] In an interview on program called, “When We Meet,” on Wisconsin Public Radio’s “To The Best of Our Knowledge”
[2] Sacks spoke in an 11/11/10 interview on National Public Radio’s “On Being.”