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A Dynamic, Pluralistic Community of Interreligious Innovation

Authored by: 
Rabbi Daniel Lehmann

During the next month, as the GTU anticipates the inauguration of Rabbi Daniel L. Lehmann on October 24, 2019, each week we will share a brief reflection from President Lehmann highlighting key aspects of his vision for the GTU. In the first of these reflections, he offers thoughts about his profound commitment to nurturing the GTU as a pluralistic community and a leading platform for interreligious learning, living, and innovation.

A Dynamic, Pluralistic Community of Interreligious Innovation

An Inauguration Reflection by President Lehmann

The Graduate Theological Union is a truly global, multireligious community of scholars, learners, and leaders. Our students, faculty, and larger campus community come together from many diverse cultures and faith traditions. We are people who share a commitment to both rigorous scholarship and deep religious engagement. For me, the opportunity to lead an institution that was already widely recognized as the foremost destination for interreligious dialogue and education was one of the most attractive aspects of becoming the GTU’s president.

But the GTU is much more than just a gathering place for people of different faiths and backgrounds. I see the GTU as the leading laboratory and platform for energetic participation in interreligious life and learning.

The religious and cultural diversity at the GTU is undeniable, and we celebrate that. Still, diversity is just a starting point. It takes work to build a pluralistic community that encourages respectful dialogue and creates opportunities both to celebrate commonalities and to engage in serious conversations about difference. True pluralism requires intentional exchange with others, and that’s what we foster at the GTU. It demands a commitment to particularity and an openness to listening, a willingness to share our own truth and a desire to learn from the perspectives of those with whom we may disagree.

"The GTU is much more than just a gathering place for people of different faiths and backgrounds. I see the GTU as the leading laboratory and platform for energetic participation in interreligious life and learning."

One of my top priorities as president is to continue to build a GTU culture in which every voice is valued and respected -- an environment where trust and open inquiry allows us to introduce differing points of view. In order to live out such a vision, the many people involved and invested in this multireligious community must continue to hold onto the unique identities and commitments that make each of us distinctive. We do not ask any member of our community to leave their beliefs at the door. The encounter of these deeply held commitments is what makes true interreligious dialogue fruitful.

My hope is that the GTU will serve as an incubator where interreligious scholar-innovators can find inspiration, start new projects, and launch groundbreaking ideas through participation in the GTU’s unique brand of pluralism in practice. Beyond scholarly projects, the work we do in building a community that is able to engage difference creatively can be a model for a deeply polarized world.

Across all strata of society and realms of civic engagement -- from politics, to religion, to race and beyond -- discourse has become increasingly factious. Many view religion as a primary cause of our cultural discourse of division. But I believe that religion, when shaped by a commitment to pluralism, can also be a powerful source of healing and hope. In this cultural climate, a new moment presents itself: a moment to innovate new democratic models that are strengthened through curious, courageous engagement with divergences in opinion, persuasion, or belief. As president, I hope to continue to build a GTU that will educate and empower scholars, leaders, and activists to apply deep and sophisticated interreligious learning to our contemporary challenges and opportunities.

Join the GTU as we celebrate the inauguration of Rabbi Daniel L. Lehmann as the Eighth President of the Graduate Theological Union on October 24, 2019.