Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Dignity of Difference: Interfaith Learning in Rochester

For those interested in interfaith dialogue and learning, June is a banner month here in Rochester, New York.  On Sunday, June 2 at the RIT Inn and Conference Center, a community sponsored interfaith conference entitled “Dignity of Difference: A Day of Interfaith Learning” will take place from 1:00-5:15.  The conference is free and open to the public, although advance registration is encouraged.  The conference registration can be completed online at This conference will feature a keynote address by Gustav Niebuhr, associate professor of newspaper and online journalism in the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University and author of the book Beyond Tolerance: Searching for Interfaith Understanding in America. There will be two one hour class sessions following the keynote address during which time participants may choose from a broad array of topics ranging from basic introductions to the major world religions to more advanced seminars in particular religions or experiential sessions such as Zen Buddhist Meditation and Sufi Chanting.  Prof. Niebuhr will facilitate the closing session at the end of the afternoon of learning. 

This conference seeks to offer participants the opportunity to learn about religions other than their own and to meet and talk with people who practice those religions.  The conference focuses on how and where the different religious traditions are alike and where they are different, with the intent that participants will come to value the differences between religious traditions rather than fear them.  Often people think that interfaith dialogue is all about finding the least common denominator, or somehow, watering down the rich religious traditions of the world so that they are acceptable to all.  At this conference, students will learn how to recognize, respect and celebrate the differences that exist between the world’s religions and to see those differences as sources of wisdom.  They will also have the opportunity to meet people from other religious traditions with whom they might then make connections beyond this conference.  Many faith communities in Rochester are sponsoring this conference including the Jewish Federation, with a grant from the Farash Foundation, the Episcopal Diocese of Rochester, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester, the Faith in Action Network, the Sikh Gurdwara of Rochester, the Islamic Center of Rochester, and the Latter Day Saints Community, Rochester and Palmyra Stakes.  If you are in the Rochester area come join us this Sunday afternoon for an exciting interfaith encounter!

Then, from June 23-25, 2013 at the Hickey Center for Interfaith Studies and Dialogue, an academic interfaith conference “Sacred Texts in Human Contexts: A Symposium on the Role of Sacred Texts of Judaism, Christianity and Islam in Uniting and Dividing Humanity” will take place at Nazareth College.  Scholars from all over the country and internationally will present papers on a broad variety of subjects with the focus on how the sacred texts of the three Abrahamic traditions have served to unite and to divide humankind throughout history and in the contemporary context.   Prof. Elaine Pagels, of Princeton University is scheduled to be the keynote speaker at this conference.    Many local colleges and universities are co-sponsoring this conference, including the Department of Religion and Classics here at the University of Rochester.   Registration for this conference can be done online at

Rochester has long been a center for interfaith encounter and dialogue, with a rich and vibrant interfaith community that is constantly engaged in dialogue and community action together on a variety of issues and topics. These two conferences are examples of the energy and the commitment to interfaith dialogue of the many faith communities that make up this city.  As a community we know that we are stronger and better able to work together for the common good when we forge and maintain interfaith relationships.  People in all of our diverse faith communities are privileged to be able to practice their particular religious tradition in the pluralistic context of this city where they can grow and deepen their own faith as they learn about the faiths of others.  Interfaith dialogue is absolutely essential in the global community in which we all now live.  The great religions of the world can be sources of wisdom and agents of peacemaking when their adherents take the time to learn about their own religious tradition and the other traditions that make up their community and neighborhood.   I invite all of you in the Rochester area to take advantage of these unique opportunities for religious and spiritual growth.  Come make some new friends and join a worldwide movement for interfaith understanding and cooperation!