A newsletter for friends of the Global Mission Institute, Luther Seminary
Global Vision - Spring 2010
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Parliament of the World's Religions: Student Reflections
Attending the Parliament of the World Religions was an amazing experience. The numerous sessions I attended were thought-provoking and made an impact on me.
One session in particular continued to peak my reflection and thoughts: "The Challenge of Islamophobia and the Media: How Innovative Dialogue is Changing the Landscape." The focus of the session shared how the negative media portrayals of Islam and Muslims get in the way of non-Muslim efforts to improve relations with the Islamic world. This session opened up my own views and perceptions of Islam and how that links to the views and perceptions non-Christians have of Christianity.
This session ties into one of the purposes of the Parliament: to increase interreligious dialogue among faith groups. In doing so, we strengthen our own tradition because in talking with others, we learn more about ourselves.
As a student of church history, the Parliament of the World's Religions exposed me to an incredible new world of religious history that I had not expected. It can never be overstated how influential and inspirational our workshops in inter-religious dialogue were at the Parliament.
My highlight was the tapestry of sacred culture that was revealed to me and how my religion has existed in that tapestry throughout history. Each of our faiths developed, recoiled, fought and adjusted to the introduction of the other faiths through time.
So much of our Scripture speaks of paganism and its fight against it. To be able to sit with a pagan (and a Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, etc.) and discuss the long history of our faiths was something that I will never forget. It has changed my ideas of history and faith forever.
The Parliament of the World's Religions event was amazing. I did not know how many religions and spiritual groups there are in the world, and I consider myself to be fairly well informed in that area. I went to the Parliament excited to learn, encounter, engage and listen. All of those things happened.
One eye opening encounter for me was a session on African American Muslims. My encounters with Islam have been through international travel, study and, in the U.S., working with new immigrants, primarily from the Somalia, but also from Ethiopia, Liberia and various Middle Eastern countries. In attending this session, I realized that my knowledge about African American Muslims stopped with Malcolm's death; my image was the Nation of Islam as it was at that time, not what it evolved in to.
One topic I would like to explore further is Lutheran theological resources for inter-religious dialogue. Amongst the theological students, our group realized that we were one of the few who tapped in to our confessional background for resources for inter-religious engagement. Some Lutheran themes that come to mind in this topic are: justification by faith, understanding of conversion, two kingdoms, natural law, uses of the law, logos, and the Word. This is quite a list, so I'll just have to take it one step at a time!
Attending the Parliament of the World's Religions was eye-opening. Going into the seminars, I was very interested in the relationship between religion and the media.
The topic was personal to me because of my experience living in Central Asia. After we'd been married for a year, my wife, Taryn, and I went to Uzbekistan as Peace Corp volunteers. We were placed with a Muslim host family that embraced us and shared their home and culture with us. Unfortunately, our time was cut short because of the government's violent response to peaceful protestors of the dictatorship that posed as a democracy (not a religiously motivated action). We came home after four months, but part of the appeal for me to attend the Parliament of the World's Religions was the fact that I would be able to engage with Muslims further and hopefully deeper than we were able to do with our host family. When we returned to America, I found that I was in a similar position as one of the presenters, Karen Hernandez-Andrews—that of a Christian who was a Muslim apologist.
Two of those sessions featured the executive director of CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations)-Chicago branch, Ahmed Rehab and were called The Challenge of Islamophobia and the Media and The Role of Media in Conflict Resolution.
Rehab was working in the business world before 9/11 hit. Seeing the response and encountering the negative stereotypes that all Muslims faced post 9/11, caused him to learn to become a spokesperson for Muslims. CNN and Fox News call Rehab when something (usually negative) happens in the Muslim world. In the Conflict Resolution session, Rehab explained that for many in our society, 100 percent of their knowledge of Muslims comes through the media. If he has an opportunity to put a positive face to Islam, it is important that he is articulate and accurately represented.
Being a Lutheran means that I must help my congregants be able to love the other to break stereotypes of fear and to help educate them that many of our main tenets and theological groundings are much more similar to the world faiths than we may think. If I can help to further spread the message of love, then I can continue to help further Rehab's mission of eradicating hate and fear.
Read a recap of the Parliament.
Learn more about the Parliament of the World's Religions