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Professor to Focus on Fostering Interfaith Understanding
Beth Griffin
Source: Catholic News Service
Published: Monday, November 23, 2009
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NEW YORK (CNS)—Fordham University's new Laurence J. McGinley professor of religion and society said he hoped to devote his tenure to "seeking common ground on which we Jews and Christians and Muslims can recognize each other as men and women of faith in the Holy One."

Wearing the large medallion that signifies his new position, Jesuit Father Patrick Ryan delivered his first lecture as McGinley professor Nov. 18. He follows in the footsteps of Cardinal Avery Dulles, who held the chair from its creation in 1988 until his death in December 2008.

Father Ryan spoke on "Amen: Faith and the Possibility of Jewish-Christian-Muslim Trialogue."

He said it was Cardinal Dulles who encouraged him to study comparative religion at Harvard University.

The priest said the similarities and differences in Jewish, Christian and Muslim understandings of faith offer hope for a future of mutual understanding.

"For Christians the expression of their faith has often entailed the elaboration of creeds, organized statements of the content of faith or beliefs," he said. "But liturgy, sacred music, mysticism, asceticism and heroic charity have also played important roles as expressions of faith within the cumulative tradition of Christianity."

Father Ryan said the faith of Jews and Muslims is more commonly expressed "in life lived according to the law," Torah for Jews and Shariah for Muslims.

He said theology is more central to Christian faith than it is to Jews and Muslims and that Christians often misunderstand "the cumulative traditions and law-centered lives of observant Jews and Muslims."

He said he will use his tenure as McGinley professor to combat interfaith misunderstanding.
The three religions understand faith as a reciprocal expression of fidelity between God and humans, Father Ryan said. And each has a word to describe the divine-human bond as a covenant relationship.

Father Ryan said Hebrew Scripture uses "Amen" as an oath of fidelity and the Gospels use it to call attention to "certain radical sayings of Jesus" and signifies "the independence of Jesus as a teacher, deriving his teaching not from a previous authority but from his own intimate relationship with God."

He said "Amen" does not appear in the Quran, but Sunni Muslims and others use "Amin" as a response to communal prayers and certain readings from the Quran.

Father Ryan said Jews, Christians, Muslims and all who seek the meaning of existence are united by their roots as children of Adam and their conscious choice to accept the Lordship of God with an enthusiastic and joyful, "Amen!"

The McGinley lecture was delivered twice at Fordham, at the Manhattan campus Nov. 18 and the Bronx campus Nov. 19.

Each time, Father Ryan's address was followed by responses from Rabbi Daniel Polish of Congregation Shir Chadash in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and Amir Hussain, professor of theology at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. Father Ryan and both respondents were students of Canadian religious historian Wilfred Cantwell Smith at Harvard.

Polish said Jews interpret the covenant relationship with God both collectively and personally and most Jewish prayers, even the confession of sin, are written in the plural. He said, "In affirming the covenant, the Jew attests both to his or her faith in God and to his or her awareness of belonging to the covenant people."

The rabbi said Father Ryan's description of faith as reciprocal underscored the Jewish "notion that the attributes that are ascribed to God are also regarded as appropriate aspirations for those who would be faithful to God. ... The highest qualities of God are to be reciprocated in human behavior."

Polish said Father Ryan's emphasis on faith as an area of intersection among Christians, Jews and Muslims is significant because it "transcends the confines of the historic realities that have so often divided us in the most painful way or the traditions which enrich us and provide the vehicles by which we express our faith, but, at the same time, set us apart from one another."

"In recognizing the commonality of our experience of faith, we may come to recognize how we are joined in the most profound way," he said.

Hussain said, "It is the study of Muslims, not just Islam, which is important here."

He quoted Smith, saying: "Religion in any vital sense ... is not the rites, symbols, doctrines, of the system, but what these mean to a man. What he does with them and what they do to him. Religion lies somewhere in the interaction between men and their religious material."

Hussain said Father Ryan's efforts to promote interfaith dialogue and understanding have deep roots and are echoed in Muslim-Christian-Jewish conversations taking place throughout the Muslim world and on Jesuit campuses in Europe, the Middle East and the United States.

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