An exciting week for interreligious dialogue and the future of theological education: Claremont School of Theology, the historic United Methodist Seminary in southern California, announced this week that it is “going interfaith” and forming teaching partnerships with a Jewish academy and an Islamic center. This radical move for Claremont represents a courageous and exciting departure for theological education; a vision that imagines Christians, Jews and Muslims not just hosting interfaith conversations, but actually learning together in the classroom.
In the press conference, CST President Jerry Campbell remarked: “Each of our groups has come to believe that this vision is the proper vision for us at this time, and in fact there are many signs in our world that God is moving faster in this area than our religions; and that we need to get in on that … We want our future religious leaders to understand the landscape in which they will be leading. We want them to be able to see “the other” as neighbor, friend, and co-worker. We want to be able to facilitate love among our different traditions in order that we can begin to solve the big problems.”
In response to the critics of such a model for educating future Chrisitan leaders, Campbell says: “We’re not trying to create a hybrid. If you come here as a United Methodist, we hope you leave here as a much wiser United Methodist, someone who understands his or her neighbors, which in California and much of the world is a multi-cultural and multi-religious mix. We need leaders who understand other cultures and religions and can work with them. I believe that it is a road where God is saying, “I’ve given you all these gifts – science, medicine, agriculture, love. There are no human problems that you shouldn’t be able to address. What I’ve also done is given you diversity, so now, what are you going to do to begin to bring the human family together? How are you going to do it? You have all of these gifts, how are you going to work together to use them for the betterment of humankind?”
Apparently the school has already seen a larger pool of applicants for the fall semester as a result of this news.
Another interreligious conversation, albeit on the lighter side, is happening over at Diana Butler Bass’ blog today. Bass invites us to consider (as her 6th grade daughter was asked to do in her final for her world religions class), “If Buddha, Shiva, Muhammad and Moses all had dinner together, what do you think they would talk about?”
Stumped? Visit the Patheos Library and compare the religions side-by-side to learn about their differences and what they indeed might say to each other that would represent their respective paths. And then imagine such an interreligious conversation and see where it leads…