What Holds Us Together

October 6, 2008

Author: Jane Dammen McAuliffe

Source: America: The National Catholic Weekly


If the second half of the 20th century could be called the ecumenical era, the initial decades of this century signal the start of the interfaith era. In the years following the promulgation of Nostra Aetate, the Catholic Church took early leadership in outreach efforts to other religious traditions, but it was a rather lonely leadership. Now many other Christian denominations have begun their own programs of interreligious dialogue. Since 2002, for example, an Anglican initiative convened by Archbishop Rowan Williams in collaboration with Georgetown University has sponsored an annual gathering in places like London, Doha, Washington, Sarajevo and Singapore. In both plenary assemblies and intensive working sessions, an invited group of Christian and Muslim scholars engage in the close study of Biblical and Koranic passages pertinent to a particular theological topic. Such sustained exegetical analysis can open rich veins of theological reflection, while the continuity of a core group of participants allows intellectual trust to build.

Recent interfaith outreach has not been limited to Christian initiatives. A letter issued last October by 138 Muslim leaders addressed to the heads of all major Christian denominations captured wide attention. Entitled “A Common Word Between Us and You,” this document draws upon scriptural texts from both traditions, seeking to foster a conversation about the commonality of love of God and love of neighbor in Christianity and Islam. A number of those addressed, including Lambeth Palace and the Vatican, have taken steps to respond to the October letter. Organizations without a religious affiliation have also become quite active in this sphere. Institutions as diverse as the U.S. State Department’s Office of Public Diplomacy, the World Economic Forum and the United Nations have launched programs to enhance interreligious and intercultural understanding. The social and political concerns sparked by recent world events and by accelerating demographic shifts have put interfaith relations on the agendas of many groups for whom this subject had not previously been a focus of attention.

See also: Interfaith