In a very recent blog entry here (“A memory from southeastern Austria”), I recalled an experience that I had many years ago in connection with an interfaith “trialogue” in Graz, Austria. I’ve been asked to say something more about that experience, so here’s a bit more — which will take two installments to record fully. (One of my purposes in maintaining this blog is to work on autobiographical sketches.)
I had come to know the late James Sorenson, who, as it happens, was a principal sponsor of an ongoing international “trialogue” that had been convened under the leadership of Leonard Swidler and under the auspices of what had long been known as the National Conference of Christians and Jews but later renamed itself the National Conference for Community and Justice. By the time I came along, the trialogue group had already met together for a week or two the year before, and possibly once or twice prior to that. (And many of them had known each other for years, anyway, since they were all professonally interested in interfaith dialogue and frequent participants in interreligious meetings.)
In any case, Jim Sorenson decided that he wanted me to join the group. So he had me call Gillian Sorenson, of the National Conference, in order to introduce myself. (She was, by the way, the wife of Theodore “Ted” Sorenson, which was rather stunning to me. I felt amazingly connected to history when I spoke with her.)
Ms. Sorenson wasn’t precisely thrilled about including me in the group, and she raised some substantial objections to doing so. Personal relationships, she explained, are vitally important in such sensitive matters as interfaith dialogue. But this group had already spent considerable time developing good personal relationships, and I would be a new and potentially disturbing intrusion. And, candidly, as a Latter-day Saint Islamicist, I wasn’t a completely compatible fit with either the Christian element of the trialogue group or the Muslim group. Which group would I “represent”?
I reported to Jim Sorenson that she wasn’t interested in having me the join the trialogue.
An hour or so later, she called me to indicate that, upon reflection, I would make a very good addition to the group.
So I found myself joining the group for the first time in the southeastern Austrian city of Graz, the second largest urban area in Austria after Vienna and the capital of the province of Styria (German Steiermark).