Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Interfaith series at Lutheran Seminary will tackle 'gender and sexuality' and 'war and peace'

Series on ‘Tough Texts’ aims to dispel distrust
between Christians, Jews and Muslims

PHILADELPHIA, PA (January 15, 2008) – “Tough Texts” is the title of a spring Interfaith Dialogue Series set for three Sunday afternoons from 2 to 5 p.m. in March and April at The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia (LTSP). The series will involve Christian, Muslim and Jewish presenters each day, and a rich opportunity for conversation with the presenters and in small groups. Clergy, Rabbis and Imams are invited along with any concerned lay leaders.

Each day the presenters will focus on foundational scriptures from their tradition in terms of three subthemes: “Identity and the Other” (March 30); “Gender and Sexuality” (April 6) and “War and Peace” (April 13). At the outset of each day, each tradition’s presenter will speak for 20 minutes. The presenting panel will take clarifying questions briefly. Small interfaith groups will discuss what they have heard and frame questions for the panel, then come back into the plenary to pose their questions. The day will conclude with a light supper and opportunity for informal conversation.

Planning co-sponsors with the seminary are the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia, the Neighborhood Interfaith Movement (Mt. Airy), The Institute for Interreligious and Inter-Cultural Dialogue at Temple University, the Philadelphia Dialogue Forum and Reconstructionist-Rabbinical College of Wyncote, PA. The series is made possible through the generous contributions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Global Mission Department and other donors.

“Sadly, in the face of tragic world and local events, mistrust and stereotypes abound between the three Abrahamic traditions,” says Mark A. Staples, convener of the Interfaith Task Force that has planned the series over the past 15 months. “Sometimes we feel powerless in the face of such episodes, but we believe a way to dispel the distrust is to have meaningful conversations close to home. We hope this series will be the start of an annual program of this type.” Staples said the keynote presenters for each day live regionally in hopes dialogue might become ongoing. He added that the conversation between interfaith planners has been “a dialogue within a dialogue that has been gratifying and exciting.” Sister Maria Hornung of the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia said the series is designed to go a step beyond some dialogue programs she’s observed. “It will certainly help people to discern what we agree on as has been done before,” she said. “But it is equally important to take an honest look at our differences so we can dispel misunderstandings.”

For the March 30 topic “Identity and the Other” (To what extent is my faith the one true faith?), the Christian presenter will be the Rev. Dr. Walter Wagner, who teaches at Moravian College and the seminary, who’s been instrumental in Muslim-Christian dialogues and who helped to establish the Institute for Jewish-Christian Understanding at Muhlenberg College; the Jewish presenter will be Dr. Lewis Ricardo Gordon, Laura H. Carnell Professor of Philosophy, Religion and Judaic Studies at Temple University; and the Muslim Presenter will be Dr. Sanaullah Kirmani, who teaches Peace Studies and History at Goucher College.

For the April 6 topic on “Gender and Sexuality” the Christian presenter will be the Rev. Dr. Wil Gafney, associate professor of Hebrew and Old Testament at LTSP; the Jewish presenter will be Dr. Laura Levitt, coordinator of the Greater Philadelphia Women’s Consortium and director of the Jewish Studies Program at Temple University, where she teaches in the Religion department and the Women’s Studies program, and the Muslim presenter will be Dr. Constance Carter, who’s held adjunct faculty teaching posts at Temple and Villanova universities as well as at the College of New Jersey. She has more than 40 years of experience in social work and career development.

For the April 13 topic on “War and Peace” the Christian presenter will be Dr. Paul Mojzes, Professor of Religious Studies at Rosemont College; the Jewish Presenter will be Rabbi Leonard Gordon, Rabbi at the Germantown Jewish Centre in Philadelphia’s Mt. Airy section, and who has taught Comparative Religion and Rabbinic Literature at Columbia and Brown universities, and the Muslim presenter will be Dr. Khalil Malik, a Lansdale, PA physician involved with The Peace Center in Bucks County and as a member of the National Executive Board of the Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam, USA.

Cost for attending all three sessions is $65 -- $25 per session for attending one or two events in the series. Student discounts apply and scholarships are available for those who are in need and desirous of attending. The series wishes to exclude no one because of inability to pay. Information on student discounts and how to register is available at Questions or requests for information may be addressed to Staples at or by telephoning him at 215/248-7352.

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