Current Journal

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Founded in 2008 by a pioneering group of young scholars, the first issue of the Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue went online in February of 2008. Since that time the Journal, a peer-reviewed publication, has emerged as a significant forum for the exploration of interreligious engagement in theory and practice.

The Journal continues to pursue its original mission, seeking to "build an interreligious community of scholars, in which people of different traditions learn from one another and work together for the common good." As the Journal evolves, we are also making some changes. Most notably, the Journal has changed its name to the Journal of Interreligious Studies. This new name acknowledges both the breadth of past contributions to the Journal and the language employed in this emerging, interdisciplinary field. This name change dovetails with the recent creation of the "Interreligious and Interfaith Studies Group" at the American Academy of Religions (AAR).

Particularly in this issue, we are inspired by remarks made by Dr. Diana Eck at AAR 2013, in which she reminds us, "Scholarship should point our hearts towards the world."

Now more than ever interfaith education is a pressing imperative for higher education. As religious tensions rise in the United States and around the world, the need for critical and constructive pedagogies of interfaith education grows. Not only must students increase their own religious literacy to function in an increasingly religiously plural world, but they must also learn effective ways to communicate and collaborate across differences of faith and non-faith  (Jacobsen and Jacobsen, 2012; Patel, 2012; Patel and Meyer, 2011). In a recent study of religion in higher education, Jacobsen and Jacobsen, assert, “paying attention to religion has the potential to enhance student learning and to improve higher education as a whole” (Jacobsen and Jacobsen, 2012, p. vii).

While colleges and universities have long instituted academic courses on world religions and have offered co-curricular experiences for interfaith dialogue, few institutions have developed academic opportunities that fuse religious literacy, interfaith dialogue and multi-faith action. This paper intends to explore the possibilities for such a course through a critical analysis of the Intergroup Dialogue model as a pedagogical tool for interfaith education among undergraduate students.

This paper will contribute to the discourse on terminology connected to interfaith and interreligious studies, dialogues, and relations. At a closer look, the prefix “inter” in “inter-religious” may be problematic if one critically views the activities or situations it intends to describe. Let me elaborate a bit further on this.

The prefix “inter-” usually indicates a relation between stable, equal entities, where the boundaries between them are more or less fixed. In organized inter-religious relations, however, it is significant to acknowledge that relations established in the encounter itself are always situated in a broader context. This context is not only the immediate social, political, and religious current circumstances and geographical location, but also includes specific historical aspects, and in may include transnational spatial contexts if some of the participants have roots and relations to other geopolitical locations. The space of the dialogue is always connected to other spaces because the people involved are in motion. The discourse, the conversation and the group process in the dialogue have marks of other discourses, conversations and relations. In a critical perspective, this observation entails that   inter-religious dialogues are marked in different ways by internal and external hierarchies of power and authority connected to gender, culture, ethnicity and class.

In an inter-religious dialogue, the question of representation and the questions of who is to decide the topics, the aims and the premises are crucial. A premise of an inter-religious or inter-faith dialogue is that people from different religious backgrounds and affiliations are present. The question is: What about other human differences?

The term “interreligious studies” is still a relatively new one in academia but during the last decade, some universities (like my own in Oslo) have established new chairs and study programs with exactly this title. Since 2005, there has also been a European Society for Intercultural Theology and Interreligious Studies (ESITIS), which holds biannual conferences and publishes the journal Studies in Interreligious Dialogue. In 2013, AAR welcomed an Interreligious and Interfaith Studies Group under the double headings of “interreligious” and “interfaith.”

I seek to define interreligious studies as an academic discipline. Many associate interreligious studies primarily with theology and in the European context this particular term has mainly been used within faculties of theology. But interreligious studies also link up with important developments in the established field of religious studies.

In this paper I will argue that the Christian theology of religions in an Asian context requires a deconstruction of the theology of interreligious dialogue that has been conducted so far under the conventional typology of “exclusivism, inclusivism, and pluralism.” I think such a typology comes from the monotheistic Christian paradigm. Once that is done, we can begin to explore new theological possibilities emerging from the actual reality of the Asian Christians who have lived in and with the various religious traditions of Asia. I want to find out such a theological possibility in the Hua-yen Buddhist thought.

How does the Qurʾānic discourse depict the phenomenon of religious diversity, specific other religions and, more generally, the religious ‘other’? While seemingly simple, this question, in fact, is rife with significant theological and practical implications. Theologically, it is intimately connected to the understanding of God and God’s action in the world. It is also intertwined with the understanding of humankind and the purpose of human creation. In fact, this rich question in many ways defines the theological relationship between God and humankind; the Qur’ān’s depiction of religious otherness and the religious ‘other’ is also—and always—a depiction of God and the religious ‘self.’

In this paper, I will examine a Buddhist response to religious and sectarian diversity on the Tibetan plateau in the nineteenth century. I am interested in: (1) how the inclusion of responses to religious diversity from different cultures and time periods affects the conversation in interfaith and interreligious studies; and (2) whether or not it is accurate, acceptable, or productive to use interfaith and interreligious vocabulary in our discussion of responses to religious diversity in different cultures and historical contexts. Following a discussion of Shabkar’s non-sectarian activities and their historical context, I will explore the ways in which such a case study in the history of religion can broaden and enrich discussions in the emerging academic field of interreligious and interfaith studies.

During the academic year 2012-2013, the University of Rochester (“U of R”) went through a collaborative process of creating a Statement of Policies of Affiliation for religious communities that serves students on the U of R campus under the auspices of the Interfaith Chapel. An older document, “The Covenant,” had been in effect since the early 1990s. However, because the scope of the religious diversity on campus had changed significantly since that time, it became necessary to re-visit the procedure by which religious communities affiliate with the university through the Interfaith Chapel. The goal was to create a policy that would recognize all of the affiliated religious communities equally, not privileging any historical group and offering all groups equal opportunity to access university resources and support.

In the process of drafting the new Statement of Policies of Affiliation, a host of issues arose, many of which exemplify the challenges that come with a religiously diverse community. Many of the tensions and issues that we confronted as we thought through how religious communities would co-exist in our university environment parallel the issues that arise in local communities in our contemporary society as the United States adjusts to the increased religious diversity of our cities, towns, and villages. In addition, the issues that arose as we struggled to define how we would create and live in an “interfaith” university community offer insight into what makes “interreligious” or “interfaith” studies as an academic discipline unique and distinct from the study of comparative religion.

Now the LORD said to Abram,

“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall [be blessed/bless themselves/find a blessing].” (Genesis 12:1-3)

Probably more than any other in the Hebrew Bible (or what Christians call the Old Testament), this passage—the so-called “Call of Abraham”—is regularly used to explain not only why God chose Israel but also what God’s larger plan is for the world. I should clarify, however, that this is almost exclusively with respect to Christian interpreters, or those with an interest in Christian theology. This is a crucial point, and in some ways is the crux of my reflections in this paper: It seems to be taken for granted by many Christian interpreters that Genesis 12:1-3 is not only an important passage but a key passage, one that explains God’s election of Israel and unlocks the meaning of the rest of the Bible. Further, it needs to be underlined that this is in distinction to Jewish readers, those who usually understand the passage to be important, but for other reasons. In this short paper I will examine why this might be so and I will suggest that readings of this type can in fact be harmful for Jewish-Christian relations, inaccurate with respect to election theology, and can reveal a subtle form of supersessionism that is best avoided.

Religious diversity, along with debate around religious belonging, pluralism, and inclusion, has become an increasingly fraught topic in American public discourse and public life. While many scholars – particularly those at seminaries or those within fields such as comparative theology – have been concerned with such matters for many years, academic interest in the applied realities of religious diversity has remained a relatively niche topic. In light of this, I am interested in the intersection between the emerging academic field of “interfaith” or “interreligious” studies and its application to experiences of religious diversity beyond the classroom. In exploring these topics, I will argue that interfaith/interreligious studies can foster learning with wide civic relevance, and thus has implications for higher education beyond seminaries or religious studies departments. From there, I will offer a constructive framework for thinking about the learning outcomes of this emerging field, namely what I call “interfaith literacy.” I will conclude with a discussion of concrete resources for teaching interfaith studies to undergraduates at four-year institutions with these applied civic goals in mind.

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