Interfaith Dialogue, Understanding Vital to All

In April of 2007, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon appointed former Portuguese President Jorge Sampaio as the first U.N. High … Continued

In April of 2007, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon appointed former Portuguese President Jorge Sampaio as the first U.N. High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations, a global campaign dedicated to bridging the divide between Islam and the West. In May, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair announced the establishment of the Blair Foundation, dedicated to fostering interfaith dialog. While in June, President Bush stated that he would appoint a U.S. envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference in order to listen and learn. All of these announcements were recognition, as 9/11 and conflicts in the Middle East and the Balkans illustrate, that one of humanity’s most pressing concerns is developing a deeper understanding of the world’s religions and their role in global affairs.

Our world is growing smaller. Nations are more interdependent, individuals more interconnected, and the global community less divided. Unfortunately, as our world has grown closer, it has become more polarized and prone to conflict. In such an environment, we deny or ignore others with values, customs, faiths and practices that are different from our own at our peril. We must work to build bridges between communities of faith and religious traditions, to foster interreligious understanding and interfaith dialogue. This common good must be our common goal.

Georgetown recognizes this challenge, and our Catholic and Jesuit heritage compels us to meet it. More than forty years ago, in the final document of the second Vatican Council, “Nostra Aetate”, the bishops of the Roman Catholic Church declared interreligious dialogue to be an essential aspect of Catholic life. More recently, in their last general congregation in 1995, the Society of Jesus identified interreligious dialogue as fundamental to their mission of service to the Church. It is our responsibility in the academy to provide today’s students with the tools and skills to make a difference in the world. By ensuring that interreligious understanding is one of the central themes of academic and campus life, we not only fully prepare our students to be global citizens and leaders in this new century, in this climate of religious pluralism, but we also best advance the cause of interreligious understanding.

Furthermore, nowhere is the engagement between conflicting and competing traditions, cultures and disciplines so constant and so part of daily life as in the academy. This engagement is embedded in our mission. Providing a place where bridges can be built between communities, including communities of faith, is one of our opportunities for greatest achievement, and one of our continuing challenges. At Georgetown, we have established a strong track record addressing interfaith issues and promoting interreligious dialogue. In 1968, we were the first Catholic university to hire a full time rabbi and nearly a decade ago, the first American university to hire a full-time Muslim Chaplain. Our other efforts include establishing the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affair; the Prince Alwaleed Center for Muslim Christian understanding; our Program for Jewish Civilization; and our doctoral program in religious pluralism and theology.

Additionally, in 2006, the University hosted the International Prayer for Peace Conference of the Community of Sant E’gidio, the first time that this largest, regularly held, interreligious gathering took place in the United States.

In keeping with our long-standing commitment to promote interreligious understanding, Georgetown has now joined in partnership with Washingtonpost Newsweek Interactive to provide Georgetown/On Faith. By engaging our scholarly resources in this web based conversation, we bring together intellectual leaders and the public for vibrant exchanges to provide knowledge, inform debate, promote greater dialogue across religious traditions, and enrich the interfaith discussion.

At its crux, the purpose of our new partnership is to promote global interreligious understanding, which is fundamental to global security and peace. That’s why the focus of this week’s “On Faith” is so important. “Muslims Speak Out” features prominent imams and other religious figures commenting on issues and questions facing the international community. Given that the lack of even superficial understanding between the West and Islam has grown so large that it poses serious challenges to the global community, this conversation is not only timely, it is an imperative for international peace and security.

By promoting informed dialogue and debate, this conversation will foster respect for both individual belief and the diversity of faith. It should also help remind us that in our personal faith journeys, in the pursuit of truth, spiritual growth and the common good, what we share is far greater than what separates us.

John J. DeGioia is president of Georgetown University.

By John J. DeGioia | 
July 21, 2007; 12:00 AM ET

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