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Third Annual Interfaith Conference: Sacred Texts that Unite and Divide

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On Tuesday, February 16th, Sacred Heart University hosted the Third Annual Interfaith Conference with the theme of “Sacred Texts that Unite and Divide” from Jewish, Christian and Muslim perspectives. The panel was organized with the collaboration of Peace Islands Institute, Connecticut, Congregation Mishkan Israel, Respect Graduate School, and Fountain Magazine. Dr. Ayse Kubra Coskun from Yale University moderated the discussion; the panelists include Rabbi Herbert Brockman of Congregation Mishkan Israel in Hamden, Father Anthony Ciorra of Sacred Heart University, and Dean Halim Calis of Respect Graduate school. After a brief opening by ­Dr. Ciorra mentioning the open letter of the Pope Francis about the need for dialog -or triolog- among the Abrahamic traditions. He also shared words of a German theologian on how the world peace depends on the dialog between religions. After Dr. Coskun introduced speakers to the audience, each in historical order presented examples from sacred texts of their tradition for fifteen minutes.

Rabbi Brockman shared three verses (26-28) from the book Genesis, which summarizes the creation and its order, essence, and intention. He said that these verses tell us about man, and how God created ‘Adam’ in His image. “Reading these verses, no one can claim that our ancestors are superior than others. As a Jew, I cannot think a better example explaining the unified nature of this message.”, Dr. Brockman said. Then he shared verses from Exodus (15:3-4), and mentioned problematic understandings of the narrative on the song of victory sang by children of Israel after drowning of Egyptians that were chasing them through the sea. He said that it is prohibited to celebrate any military victory in Jewish tradition, that is why even Hanukah is kept as a minor celebration.

Fr. Ciorra started his presentation by stating that it is impossible to understand the Christian scriptures without understanding the Jewish text, which is called ‘Old Testament’ in Christian tradition. He said that one can interpret Bible only by thoroughly studying it with required tools. Otherwise sacred texts can be used in a divisive nature by some people. In this context, he listed the criticism methods on the text as: literary, historical, source, and redaction. After sharing the story of the good Samaritan as a uniting example, he listed verses from Bible (Mathew 18:9, Luke 14:26, Mathew 10:34-36) that are often misinterpreted with problematic strictly literary approaches.

Dean Calis first explained the principles of Qur’anic exegesis: historical reports, linguistic analysis, asbab al-nuzul (occasions of revelation), and Qur’anic context. Then he exemplified the use of these principles over some verses of Qur’an with positive and negative statements about nonbelievers. He emphasized that anti-dialog circles misinterpret such verses by ignoring principles of Qur’anic exegesis. They isolate these verses from the Qur’anic context, and try to extract universally binding principles from specific occasions. On the other hand, he also stated that Islamic scholars, who approached same verses with proper methods draw the clear conclusion that Qur’anic criticism are directed against wrong behavior, incorrect thought, resistance to truth, the creation of hostility, and undesirable characteristics. Then he concluded his talk by briefly touching to the uniting natures of Qur’anic praise of “Others”, Islamic faith regarding previous scriptures and prophets, and social responsibilities according to Islam.

At the end of the night, panelists answered the questions from the audience, and shared real-life examples that are showing how sincere practice of sacred texts always united people of different faiths. They emphasized the need and importance of interfaith dialog to build a peaceful future together.

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