Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions
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2009 Parliament

Symposium on Educating Religious Leaders for a Multi-Religious World

The Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions, with the support of The Henry Luce Foundation, has coordinated with 15 theological institutions to explore ways to increase education for interfaith leadership in North American theological schools. Institutions strongly acknowledged the urgency of interfaith engagement and the preparation of a religious leadership equipped with knowledge and understanding of the plurality of faith traditions in the contemporary world. To that end, under the leadership of Dr. Paul Knitter of Union Theological Seminary, each of the 15 institutions engaged students through a course in preparation for the Parliament, brought a group of students to attend the 2009 Parliament, as well as planned and are participating in the 2009 Parliament’s Symposium on Educating Religious Leaders for a Multi-Religious World.

This symposium was designed by the selected institutions, each of which are already engaged in creative interfaith work, to answer this key question: “How might seminaries foster significant teaching/learning opportunities for the development of a new generation of leaders equipped to serve in the challenging milieu of today’s multi-cultural, multi-religious world?” Each session will begin with a panel discussion of the days’ topic, a small group conversation, and a closing reflection.

Sessions include:

1. Educating Religious Leaders for a Multi-Religious World:

4 December 2009 4:30 – 6:00 PM

In this session, students and faculty will address the question: Why is multi-religious education needed in seminaries and theological institutions? It will explore the various reasons why the issue of “the religious other” is impinging on the awareness of, and calling for new answers from, believers in all religious traditions. Among the different contexts that are stirring these questions and calling for new forms of interfaith engagement are: 1) Pastoral: the growing perplexity many ordinary believers feel about the reality and vitality of so many other religions. 2) Theological: how to reconcile an understanding of other religions with the traditional understanding of one’s own. 3) Civic: the complexities of being “good multi-religious neighbors” in societies that are becoming ever more multi-religious. 4) Political: In a world in which religion is playing an ever more significant role in geo-political relationships, religious believers feel the need to foster interreligious cooperation toward a world of peace, justice, and ecological sustainability.

2. Educating Religious Leaders for a Multi-Religious World:

5 December 2009 4:30 – 6:00 PM

Faculty and students will try to explore, both intra-religiously within their own tradition and inter-religiously in conversation with members of other traditions, the problems and the possibilities they face in trying to promote within their own community a greater awareness of and interaction with other communities. We will try to face problems honestly but sensitively, for the “religious other” often appears as a threat to one’s own religious identity and as a denial of certain beliefs about uniqueness or superiority that have been part of one’s own tradition. Such problems must be embraced carefully, creatively, and patiently. But this session wants to put greater stress on the positive resources that can be found in each tradition – resources that call members of each tradition to humility about one’s own claims, openness to the beliefs and practices of others, and love and compassion towards all, no matter how different they may be. We also want to examine how the “critical issues” in our suffering and threatened word can also provide resources for greater cooperation in so far as these issues provide new contexts and possibilities for religions to collaborate practically even when they may differ doctrinally. – Each school will bring some particular texts or statements from their own tradition that can serve as assuring and creative resources for an open engagement with others.

3. Educating Religious Leaders for a Multi-Religious World:

6 December 2009 4:30 – 6:00 PM

In this session we want to temporarily put aside, as it were, differences of doctrine or teaching and look at what might be recognized as the virtues that one must bring to the table of dialogue. In attempting this we will draw guidance from Catherine Cornille’s new book, The im-Possibility of Dialogue. She calls upon all religious persons who feel the need for dialogue to examine what seem to be the virtues needed to truly engage in a conversation with others that will bring greater insight and collaboration. Among such virtues are: humility regarding one’s own understanding and claims; commitment to the truth and values that one has found in one’s own tradition; a trust in the interconnectedness that makes conversation between religions possible despite daunting differences; empathy by which one attempts the complex but necessary task of trying to understand the religious other from within the other’s own world of belief and imagination; hospitality, by which we truly open ourselves to learn from the other with whom we are seeking a relationship of friendship. – Besides discussing the nature of these and other dialogical virtues, we will explore together the skills needed in applying them and living them in partnership with religious others.

4. Educating Religious Leaders for a Multi-Religious World:

7 December 2009 4:30 – 6:00 PM

In this session we want to look carefully at and learn from concrete examples in which learning about or engaging with religious others have been successfully carried out. We will also want to learn from efforts that have not been so successful and ask why. Such practical initiatives of inter-religious engagement will be gathered from different categories and contexts of encounter: 1) Examples of everyday living together: the experience of living together as members of different religions in the same neighborhood, or village, or school. How do people “naturally” or spontaneously deal with their differences? How do they create communities that still honor diversities? 2) Examples of interreligious study: techniques or methods of enabling people to grasp and learn from the texts and teachings of other traditions. How can this be done in a way that opens strange new worlds in an engaging manner but also in an assuring, non-threatening manner. What are the “pedagogies of interreligious education”? 3) Examples of sharing in each other’s religious practices and spiritualities. What are the possibilities and limits, the hopes and the fears, of actually sharing each other’s spiritual practices of prayer, meditation, celebration? 4) Examples of interreligious action: how have religions found themselves challenged and then enabled to work together in confronting common problems in their neighborhoods, nation, world. How does “dia-praxis” enable “dia-logue”?

5. Educating Religious Leaders for a Multi-Religious World:

8 December 2009 4:30 – 6:00 PM

It is impossible to describe the contents of this session in advance since it will be working with, and trying to draw insights and conclusions from, the experience of students and faculty both in the sessions of our Symposium as well as in the broad experience throughout the official sessions and the many interpersonal encounters during the Parliament. We will seek to formulate concrete, practical next steps both to carry on this interreligious and international collaboration between institutions that train religious leaders, as well as further actions for promoting a greater awareness of and engagement with other religions in our individual schools and institutions.

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