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Interfaith Inform: March 22, 2022
Kaufman Interfaith Institute


Interfaith Insight
Doug Kindschi
Director, Kaufman Interfaith Institute, GVSU
Our faiths shape our prejudices and our ideals
How do our faiths shape our prejudices as well as our ideals?
Whether it be the motivations of Christian white supremacist groups or violent acts of anti-Semitism, these prejudices and attitudes have a long history. Each of our religious scriptures and texts are read in multiple ways leading to different actions. These interpretations have been centuries in the making and understanding this history can help us understand why some prejudices as well as some of our ideals persist today. 
Fortunately, we have a distinguished historian coming to help us sort this out.  Dr. David Nirenberg is known for his wide-ranging scholarship on the interaction of Christians, Jews and Muslims that has led to multiple books and major awards. His first book, Communities of Violence: Persecution of Minorities in the Middle Ages, published in 1996 by Princeton University Press, explored the ways conflict shaped the interactions among the various religious communities of that time. His book Neighboring Faiths: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, Medieval and Modern, published by the University of Chicago Press in 2014, draws direct connection between the relationships of the faiths of that period and and their relations in the present.
In this latter book he pays “close attention to how Muslim, Jewish, and Christian neighbors loved, tolerated, massacred, and expelled each other – all in the name of God – in periods and places both long ago and far away.”  But he continues, “No matter how wrongheaded or bizarre these ways of a distant past may seem, they have something to teach us about how we think and act today.”
Nirenberg describes how the three religions are interdependent and constantly transforming themselves by interacting with each other. He warns against what he calls a dangerous fantasy, that “if only all converted to the truth we could live together in peace.” He also believes that it is a false hope to think merely knowing more about each other would necessarily lead to loving each other more. He presents a more realistic “hope that we can become a bit more self-aware, more critical of the ways we have learned to think with and about our neighbors, and that this critical awareness can have an impact on how we then act in the world.”
He calls it a neighborliness “in thought,” meaning “that believers in all three faiths define themselves and their place in this world and the one to come by thinking in terms of the other faiths.” He shows how throughout history “Muslim, Jewish, and Christian communities have imagined and reimagined themselves by thinking about and living with each other.” Our faith traditions “have never been independent of each other,” he adds, but “have constantly transformed themselves, reinterpreting both their scriptures and their histories.”
Nirenberg’s other books illustrate the breadth of his scholarship, dealing with aesthetic theology and the understanding of Judaism in Christian painting and poetry, as well as the history of anti-Semitism. He even co-authored a book with his mathematician father on a philosophical history of number and being human.   
His career at the University of Chicago has included faculty appointments in social science, history, and the Divinity School. He held an endowed chair as a Distinguished Service Professor, and was the founding director of a center for Culture and Society. Nirenberg has also held administrative positions as Dean of Social Sciences, Executive Vice Provost, and most recently as Dean of the Divinity School. 
Nirenberg was recently selected to lead the prestigious Advanced Study Institute for in Princeton, N.J, whose founding professor was Albert Einstein and has included many other famous scientists and scholars. He began his new appointment in February this year as its Director and Leon Levy Professor. We are so honored that he will be returning to our community to present this year’s lectures for the Interfaith Academic Consortium. He was here previously in 2008 speaking on the theme One God, Three Scriptures: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam at the Consortium conference held at Aquinas College. 
The Interfaith Academic Consortium was created in 2000 by Sylvia Kaufman with memberships from eight area colleges, universities, and theological seminaries. It holds conferences annually in the years when there is not a major triennial Jewish-Christian-Muslim Dialogue. Details for this year’s conference are as follows:
Theme:  Judaism, Christianity and Islam: How do our Faiths Shape our Prejudices and our Ideals?
      Afternoon lecture: Race and Religion, in History and Today
      Evening lecture: Anti-Judaism Past and Present 
When:  Wednesday, April 6, 2022 
Where: Grand Valley State University – Downtown Pew Campus
Loosemore Auditorium 
401Fulton St W, Grand Rapids, MI 49504
Conference Schedule 
1:00 pm Registration 
2:00 pm Race and Religion, in History and Today 
3:30 pm Refreshment Break 
3:45 pm Panel Discussion 
6:30 pm Mini-Dessert Buffet 
7:00 pm Anti-Judaism Past and Present
Available also on live stream.  Participation is free but registration is required.
Sign-up here:

2022 Interfaith Academic Consortium Conference 

April 6, 2:00 PM & 7:00 PM

This conference will feature Dr. David Nirenberg, Director and Leon Levy Professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton N.J. His leactures will explore the relationship between race and religion in history and today, as well as, the past and present landscape of anti-judaism.  
Science of Polarization: Michigan Religious Leaders Training

March 29, 10:00 AM - 3:00 PM

The One America Movement invites West Michigan religious leaders to come together for an interactive workshop to learn why toxic polarization happens and ways that they can help combat it. 

For an archive of previous articles
click here.
For more resources on interfaith dialogue and understanding, see this week's Ethics and Religion Talk column hosted on The Rapidian.