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Fall 2014 Presidents Column

from Currents Fall 2014

The founding documents of the Graduate Theological Union describe a mission that is both ecumenical and interfaith. For more than five decades, we have lived into that mission, but today our foot is definitely on the accelerator. We are currently offering our first courses on Hindu sacred texts and Hindu comparative ethics; we hope to offer our first courses in Sikh Studies as soon as next year. The purpose of these new initiatives is to increase the representation at the GTU table of all of the major religious traditions of the world, so that scholar-practitioners within these great traditions of wisdom and faith can engage one another and together address challenging issues that grip our planet.

I have found no better rationale for this than the words of Northrop Frye, quoted by Mark Toulouse in a recent issue of Theological Education. Frye spoke of how all human beings are defined by social conditioning. “But,” he wrote, “while our conditioning defines us, it also limits, even imprisons us, and awareness of the limitations built into who and what we are, is one of the central elements in education, particularly religious education.”

This insight underscores the importance of the interreligious scholarship that takes place here at the GTU. Interreligious education can be liberating, enabling each of us to gain perspective on other viewpoints and cultural wisdom that is at odds with our settled and habituated world. It is not just tolerance of the other, but true enrichment and growth that are the sought-for fruits of our educational enterprise.

Even as we seek the continuing expansion of courses and religious centers at the GTU, we are celebrating the receipt this summer of a gift of 189 works of sacred art from all over the world. These works, collected by the Lanier Graham family, are a graphic representation of the sacred sensibilities and artistic expression that have flourished in tribes and countries all over the world. We are seeking the necessary funding for display cases so these works can be shown throughout our buildings to fulfill their function—stimulating devotion and a life of the spirit.

We are planning a significant number of educational programs for wider constituencies (lectures, forums, conferences, online resources) this year. Already this past summer, our Center for Islamic Studies co-sponsored a conference on Islamophobia that attracted 300 regular participants and over 6,000 viewers online. While the GTU continues to be centered on creating scholarship and new thought, we take seriously the issue of how spirituality can be applied to the real problems of the world. You will see this concern reflected in this issue of Currents, where we look with others at issues of climate change and economic inequality.

We hope you will give this issue a good read, and we encourage you to use the GTU website to keep yourself updated on our online programs available to you as part of our wider learning community.

 

Riess Potterveld