Christian Couple Funds World’s First Interreligious University

Christian Couple Funds World’s First Interreligious University May 17, 2011

An extraordinary moment for purporters of inter-religious education and dialogue occurred yesterday at the the Claremont School of Theology, a seminary of the United Methodist Church.  A Methodist couple and long-time trustees of the school gave $50 million to establish Claremont Lincoln University, the nation’s first interreligious university, which will share a campus with Claremont School of Theology starting this fall.  This new consortium brings the well-established Christian school of theology together with the Academy for Jewish Religion, California, and the Islamic Center of Southern California to offer professional religious education in their respective traditions.  The consortium also hopes to eventually add schools in Buddhist, Hindu and other traditions.

All the schools will contribute to a unique shared curriculum offered through Claremont Lincoln.  The university will also offer masters and doctoral programs that allow specialization in areas such as interreligious studies, comparative religions, conflict resolution, sustainability, politics and religion. Its first official classes begin this fall.

Behind this single largest gift to Claremont School of Theology since it was founded in 1885 are Joan and David Lincoln, lifelong Methodists who believe in the power and potential of the Golden Rule for repairing the world.  Joan is a noteworthy ceramic artist who as served as mayor and other public offices in Paradise Valley, Arizona, and David is an entrepreneur and philanthropist. I had the opportunity to follow up with Mr. Lincoln with a few more questions on the day of the announcement:

What compelled you to make this substantial gift to Claremont at this time?

Joan and I are particularly pleased with the idea of creating a multireligious university that reflects the power and potential of the “Golden Rule.”  We need to get the world’s religions together to address the world’s problems. Heretofore, they’ve been working mostly independently. We need to get them to cooperate and collaborate to address intractable problems between the religions that haven’t been addressed yet. That’s why we’re setting up this university.

As a Christian, how do you see your call towards engaging other faith traditions?  How is your commitment towards this new school of inter-religious learning an expression of your faith?

We are all God’s children. I have my beliefs as a Christian, and others have their beliefs, and I respect their beliefs and they should respect mine. The one thing all the religions have in common is the Golden Rule, and that’s what it says – treat others how you’d like to be treated. If we do that between religions, we’ll learn to get along and not fight.

What do you see as the potential strengths and possibilities of the Claremont Lincoln University?  What are your hopes for this new institution?

We’re hoping this will create more harmony in the world among people in general, and across religious lines in particular, especially if this new model is copied, so that all the religions begin educating their clerics side by side with interaction, instead of segregating religious education the way it’s done now.

We’re also hoping Claremont Lincoln will have good think tanks for various intractable religious issues to suggest solutions. When the religious leaders from opposite sides in places like the Palestinian and Israeli conflict or the Northern Ireland conflict begin pressuring their governments with solutions for peace that involve compromising and other peace-making techniques, the governments will begin listening. Then everyone can get on with the business of living and making the world a better place instead of just defending themselves. We hope this new University will better equip our future leaders to address global problems where religious cooperation is needed to reach solutions and repair the world.

Where have you drawn your inspiration and motivation for Christian service in the world over the years?

My Christian faith means a lot to me, and since the world’s other religions mean a lot to the people of the other faiths, then those religions mean a lot to me also. I don’t really like to say “Christian ethics,” I just like to say “ethics.” Because the Golden Rule is behind all the ethics, and we have that in common with all religions, it’s not just a Christian concept. If we apply it right, we’ll all learn to get along.

For more information about the new Claremont Lincoln University, visit

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