Interfaith is No Longer an Option, It’s a Necessity

Posted: April 11, 2011 in Uncategorized

This blog post was written by Dean Michael Cartwright, the head of UIndy’s Ecumenical and Interfaith Office.

1. Who are you? I am Dean of Ecumenical & Interfaith Programs at the University of Indianapolis. I also am a member of the faculty in the College of Arts & Sciences as Associate Professor of Philosophy & Religion, and an ordained minister in the United Methodist Church (Indiana Conference). And as a long-standing fan of Duke Basketball, I am True Blue!

2. What is your involvement with interfaith? In addition to the fact that I oversee the university’s office of ecumenical & interfaith programs, I have learned a great deal from interfaith engagement. Over the years, I have had the privilege of participating in scripture trialogue groups through the Society for Scriptural Reasoning I have also enjoyed the hospitality of friends who are Muslims and Jews, and from time to time I have also had the privilege of having persons of other religious traditions share a meal with me and my family.

3. Why are you involved in interfaith? My interest in interfaith engagement over the past decade has been prompted by three converging interests.  First, as a Christian theologian and ethicist, I have a longstanding interest in Jewish-Christian relations.  In particular, I am interested in the ways that Christians make sense of Judaism and vice-versa. Almost a decade ago, I had the privilege of editing a collection of essays with Peter Ochs, a Jewish theologian and philosopher. I learned a great deal from that scholarly collaboration about the different ways that Christians and Jews think about what it means to be children of Abraham.

Second, I have longstanding commitments to Christian peacemaking, which means that I have a stake in making dialogue possible between persons who have different allegiances and loyalties. While I regard nationalism as a more pernicious threat than I do religious identity, I also know that misunderstandings about how persons of different faiths practice their religions also exist. The process of eliminating ignorance and developing relationships is hard work, but I think that is what we are called to do as “royal ambassadors for Jesus Christ.”  “How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!” (Rom. 10:15)

Finally, as an educator, I believe that universities like UIndy owe it to students to provide them with opportunities to engage difficult topics of conversation. That is part of the reason why I taught the course on “Christian Approaches to Interfaith Engagement” (REL 299) last year. I am equally concerned to make extra-curricular opportunities available for student exploration.

4. How do you see interfaith affecting the future? As someone who is deeply committed to church-related higher education, I believe that Christian engagement with non-Christian religious traditions is already very important. But I anticipate that it will become even more important as students engage one another in a more diverse world. Once upon a time, it may have seemed like interfaith engagement could be an option to pursue, but that is no longer the case. Faculty and students alike must become more knowledgeable about the wide range of religious traditions that exist around them. And the EIP Office hopes to provide opportunities and incentives to help make that happen. With that in mind the Office of Ecumenical & Interfaith Programs is in the process of creating an annual recognition for Academic Excellence in Interfaith Exploration. We anticipate that this award will be given for the first time in the Spring of 2012.

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