Judging by recent newspaper front pages, there's plenty of reason to be pessimistic about prospects for improved relations between Muslims and Christians any time soon.
But a short and readable new study by a Brandeis academic explores an ambitious movement by senior Muslims and Christians to find common ground for peace and against extremism. The paper, written by Joseph Lumbard, traces the fascinating evolution of "A Common Word," the series of face-to-face gatherings that have taken place between top-level delegations of Muslims and Christians of many denominations since 2008.
Lumbard, an American Muslim who was a signatory to "A Common Word," is assistant professor of classical Islam and Brandeis and chair of the Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies Program. He was an an adviser on interfaith issues to King Abdullah II of Jordan. His paper, "The Uncommonality of 'A Common Word'," was published last month by the Crown Center for Middle East Studies at Brandeis.
The outreach was launched by leading Muslim clerics and scholars after a lecture by Pope Benedict XVI in Regensburg, Germany, in 2007. The resulting letter from the Muslims to leaders of Christian denominations around the world was entitled, "A Common Word Between Us and You." The Vatican's initial response was cautious, Lumbard notes, but the process gathered steam, culminating in a major Muslim-Christian conference at Yale University Divinity School in July 2008, and a ground-breaking followup in November 2008 at the Vatican.
The official web site of A Common Word offers further details.
The process is very much alive. The latest encounter took place just last month, at Georgetown University in Washington. Jewish scholars also are participating. Praise has come from many quarters, not least Harvard theologian Harvey Cox, in a recent column in the Globe's Ideas section on "Why Fundamentalism Will Fail."
Lumbard writes: "We have no previous record of leading Muslim authorities representing all branches of Islam engaging the Vatican as a single voice." He expresses hope that "the positive effects of Christian-Muslim dialogue will spill over from the pens and lips of theologians to the 'minbar' and the pulpit, from where they can also reach into the schools and the streets."
About this blog
About James F. SmithJim Smith came home to his native Boston in 2002 to become the Boston Globe's foreign editor after spending 22 years abroad. He was previously based in Buenos Aires and Mexico City for the LA Times, and in Johannesburg, Tokyo and The Hague for the AP. In 2007 he became the Globe's national political editor, coordinating presidential campaign coverage. He is a Yale graduate, and has an MBA. He is married to Maxine Hart and has two sons, Matthew and Daniel.
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