Despite America’s reputation as a melting pot of races and creeds, unease and confusion still seem to be the predominant state of interfaith relations in this country. Members of faiths from Catholicism, Judaism, Hinduism, or Islam often are aware only of the most superficial or negative facets of other faiths.
In an attempt to bridge that gap and promote interreligious respect and understanding, Santa Clara University is holding a series of a dozen lectures exploring the public significance of sacred texts from diverse contexts and faith traditions.
The series is being presented by the University’s Ignatian Center for Jesuit Education. Some of the speakers are high-profile representatives of their faiths, such as Hindu Ravi Gupta, who met Pope Benedict XVI upon his first visit to the U.S., and Muslim Ingrid Mattson, who spoke at President Obama’s first inaugural interfaith prayer service.
Titled Sacred Dialogue: Interpreting and Embodying Sacred Texts Across Traditions, speakers in this series will discuss important aspects of their respective faiths’ sacred texts.
Michael Fishbane, of the University of Chicago, will kick off the lectures on Jan. 22 with a talk on “Creating a Culture of Care: Hebrew Scripture and Jewish Tradition on Charity and Hospitality.” Judaism has always demanded that followers provide care, respect, and understanding to the poor, from the early days where a portion of farmers’ fields were left for the wandering poor, to more-modern interpretations of charity and hospitality, he said. “Judaism has various normative regulations and duties—the Halakha—but how you deal with those in certain moral situations has evolved over time,” Fishbane said.
He said Judaism is a religion of vast scriptural interpretation. Many types and spiritual levels of interpretation will be presented to show the diverse approaches to the subjects of care and charity in Judaism.
Another speaker, Ravi M. Gupta of the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, on Feb. 5 will discuss “Creation and Chaos in Hindu Sacred Texts.” He says sacred texts such as the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, and the Bhagavata Purana offer a holistic way of looking at creation or innovation, processes which Americans generally revere. Positive creation can arise from mistakes and new problems can arise when addressing another problem. Hindu texts recognize the process of creation to be “a series of successive challenges,” says Gupta.
“We solve one, and from that we produce a second challenge. That cycle of problem-solution, problem-solution, points to the fact that a problem is a source of productivity,” he says. “and sometimes solutions to problems, even within human relationships, are borne from conflict.”
Another talk, on Feb. 20 by Ingrid Mattson of Huron University College of the University of Western Ontario, Canada, will cover “Sacred Dialogues Across the Qur'an,” including the role of that text in the daily lives of Muslims.
“This winter lecture series seeks to promote an ethic of dialogue across religious traditions,” said Michael C. McCarthy, S.J., director of Santa Clara University’s Ignatian Center. “[It] offers an opportunity to go beyond the surface of popular and sometime polarizing rhetoric, so that we might collectively engage issues of public import through the resources of diverse sacred texts and traditions.”
Also as part of the series, the Ignatian Center will host an exhibit Feb. 15 to June 30, featuring art celebrating and created from sacred texts. More on the exhibit can be found at www.scu.edu/ic/institute/exhibit.
Gupta said the lecture series is an important opportunity for audience members of any faith. Such dialogue has value “in a way that publishing a paper in an obscure journal would not,” he says. “It’s the balance of bringing academics into conversation with the larger world, and one religion into conversation with another.”
The series begins on Jan. 22 and continues through March 14. A full list of events, dates, and times can be found at www.scu.edu/ic/institute.