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AAi Seminars

AAi is building an alliance of Jewish, Christian and Muslim scholars to teach peacebuilding seminars to their respective faith communities in order build lasting bridges of peace, understanding and cooperation. These seminars are designed to move participants from ignorance, insecurity, suspicion, and even fear to understanding, confidence, respect and a willingness to humbly unite side-by-side with members of the other religious community for cooperative service to the poor, suffering and marginalized. AAi seeks qualified Jewish, Christian, and Muslim instructors of these seminars, and will assist them in the development, promotion, scheduling, and teaching of their seminar to congregations of their own faith community both domestically and internationally.

Philosophy of Peacebuilding Education

AAi seminars are designed not to replace but compliment a wide variety of faith-based, peacebuilding initiatives. Some excel in the science of conflict transformation, but exclude thorough studies about the culture and faith of other religious communities. Others focus on the common ground shared between religions, while avoiding deeper issues of difference which often prove divisive. However, these deeper issues often lie at the root of social division, disrespect, dehumanization, and even demonization. Many conclude the other community is terribly mistaken about their interpretation of sacred texts or acceptance of prophets. Such conclusions are a powerful force to keep people ignorant of that community, especially when people fear that a sympathetic presentation of their faith may seduce coreligionists into heresy, syncretism, or even conversion. This fear often hinders participation in many faith-based, peacebuilding efforts which require one to listen and learn from the very people they believe are terribly deceived, from strangers not trusted even to speak honestly about their own faith. AAi offers an alternative approach.

Inter-religious learning works best when participants are secure enough in their own faith to not fear it will be jeopardized by the encounter. Effective inter-religious learning also requires a level of openness and humility often frowned upon by conservative religious communities. We therefore need an approach that will first help ground participants in their own religious traditions while preparing them to respond with both confidence and humility to the challenges they will face when dialoging with faithful members of another religion. Furthermore, we must inculcate a level of security that enables participants to safely listen to members of the other religion without feeling threatened. This is necessary not only to learn from the exchange effectively, but also to experience the paradox of actually being inspired by members of another religion to be more faithful members of our own, what some call "holy envy" (i.e., admiring elements in another religious tradition that you wish could, in some way, be more reflected in your own).

AAi seminars are designed to begin this process by providing a safe environment where participants can learn about the faith and culture of Abrahamic neighbors from respected members of their own religious community, skilled at teaching their own sacred text, and able to speak the same faith-vernacular as their students. Because seminar leaders are insiders of the faith community they teach, participants can freely ask any question without inhibition or fear of sounding politically incorrect in interfaith environments. In addition to grounding participants in their own religious tradition while preparing them for inter-religious dialog, seminar leaders build respect for the faith and culture of the other community by exposing unjust stereotypes and vast areas of common ground through helpful parallels with participants' own faith traditions and history.

Outsiders of a religion can at best only present a helpful introduction to that religion, preparing students to continue learning through personal interaction and friendship with members of the other religion. Nonetheless, this respectful introduction through a paradigm of peacebuilding often results in students gaining both the confidence and sensitivity to finally participate in inter-religious peacebuilding, without the fear and apprehension that once inhibited such engagement.


For example, when AAi teaches "Loving Muslim Neighbors" seminars to conservative Christians in the United States, Islamophobia is often replaced by an openness to serve the poor alongside the Muslim community. This in turn results in the formation of friendships between members of both communities. Once Christians begin to learn about the Muslim community in a context of compassion and genuine friendship, they are better able to see how Islamophobic stereotypes have hindered their obedience to prophetic commands to love neighbors. Significant religious differences will remain, but proper understanding of the other community can prevent perceptions of these differences from degenerating into disrespect and contempt. Personal experience with virtuous Muslim friends helps Christians refute disrespectful stereotypes that they will probably continue to hear in their church community.

Clearly, the same approach is equally effective to refute anti-Semitism and anti-Christian hostilities. It's easy to disrespect those we do not know. Many need assistance crossing the social barriers that separate faith communities, especially when navigating through divisive complexities in theology and culture. AAi seminars provide this assistance in the safe environment of one's own faith community.

Nonetheless, the purpose of AAi seminars is not merely to inform people about the faith and culture of other Abrahamic communities, but also to sensitize them to matters of intense importance to the other religious community in order to avoid offensive behavior and faux pas so easily committed by majority populations who are ignorant of minority sensitivities. Minimizing offense helps maximize peacebuilding opportunities. AAi seminars therefore function to orient and prepare Abrahamic faith communities to unite side-by-side with each other to pursue common goals together, for as Muqtedar Khan well stated:

"... most advocates of dialogue assume that conflict is a consequence of misunderstandings and therefore, dialogues can foster understanding and eliminate conflict. Perhaps just understanding the other might not be enough. Even inculcating respect for the other may not douse the fires of conflict. At the core of all conflicts are competing and incompatible interests that may have material as well as moral basis. Conflicts will dissipate when understanding is followed by the replacement of competing interests with common interest. In simple terms, it is not enough that we talk. We must find common goals to pursue together."

AAi seminars then are designed to provide a helpful introduction for Jews, Christians and Muslims to better understand each other so they can collaborate in the pursuit of two common goals: active peacebuilding and compassionate service to the poor, suffering, and marginalized. In order to unite Abraham's children to collaborate toward these goals, AAi will promote the development of six different seminars:

  1. Understanding Jewish Neighbors (taught by a Muslim to Muslims)
  2. Loving Jewish Neighbors (taught by a Christian to Christians)
  3. Understanding Christian Neighbors (taught by a Muslim to Muslims)
  4. Understanding Christian Neighbors (taught by a Jew to Jews)
  5. Understanding Muslim Neighbors (taught by a Jew to Jews)
  6. Loving Muslim Neighbors (taught by a Christian to Christians)

AAi encourages instructors to name these seminars according to what is most suitable for their own religious community.

Seminar Objectives

AAi understands that all seminar content will be determined by instructors, those most familiar with the unique needs of their own religious community. Seminar objectives may therefore differ accordingly. For example, unlike Christianity and Islam, most Jewish communities do not actively proselytize others. Jewish seminars, therefore, may not need to address peacemaking and peacebreaking ways for Jews to discuss their faith. Nonetheless, the following objectives should be used for content development of all seminars, illustrated and illuminated with personal anecdotes and stories, and grounded in the authority of the instructor's own sacred Scriptures through numerous quotations so that students are not just informed about the other, but inspired to love their Abrahamic neighbors in obedience to divine commands.

I. Understanding the Other

  • In the first 90 minutes of your seminar, provide students with the minimum they need to know about the faith, culture and sensitivities of the other Abrahamic faith community in order to successfully collaborate with them in compassionate service to the poor. In other words, educate your community about the awkward things they might say or do that could cause the discomfort of or conflict with members of the other community.
  • Introduce students to the basic tenets and values of the other Abrahamic faith community with respectful parallels to our own sacred text, traditions, and history.
  • Describe the best of the other faith community both with personal anecdotes and historical examples, exposing the shortsightedness and myopia of common but unfair stereotypes of them at their worst.
  • Gently help students see that disrespectful stereotypes about our Abrahamic neighbors are equally true of our own religious community at our worst throughout our own sordid history. Introduce students to the stories and historical narratives of our Abrahamic neighbors who have often suffered injustice and tragedy perpetrated by people who share (or shared) the students' own religious identity.
  • Sensitively help students see their own faith and religious community through the eyes of their Abrahamic neighbors. Include critical opinions of both present and historical belief and practice, then show how our own sacred text can be cited to support these criticisms.
  • Survey vast areas of common ground shared by both faith communities and rooted in our sacred texts.
  • Share numerous stories to illustrate that true virtue exists among faithful members of the other Abrahamic faith community, who often demonstrate greater obedience to the teachings of our prophets than many active members of our own faith community.

II. Responding to the Other

  • After significant respect is built for both the faith and culture of our Abrahamic neighbors, describe several major differences between our two religions, taking care to explain the reasonableness of their disagreement according to principles in our own Scriptures. Review related theological controversies in our own history. We can't disagree well until we understand the controversy in our own history.
  • Demonstrate how many (though certainly not all) areas of significant disagreement between our Abrahamic faith communities can ironically prove to be areas of significant agreement after carefully comparing our sacred texts in their original linguistic, cultural, and historical context of meaning. By contrast, comparing translations of our texts often makes reconciling these differences extremely difficult. Comparing popular commentaries of our texts makes reconciling our differences impossible. In other words, challenge participants to see these areas of disagreement more closely to the way earliest readers of our Scriptures would have understood them before centuries of tradition contributed to today's practice and understanding.
  • Explain the reasonableness of our faith traditions, why they developed as they did, and why they are worthy of continued affirmation despite their strident rejection by the other Abrahamic faith community.
  • Equip students with respectful ways to explain their faith traditions to the other Abrahamic faith community when asked or challenged. Encourage humble dialog. Discourage debate.

III. Studying Scripture with the Other

  • Explain the immense difference between helping people with the wisdom of our prophets and proselytising through conversion. Gently help students rethink scriptural verses commonly presumed to mandate proselytism. Expose students to the teaching of respected scholars in their faith community who neither advocate proselytism, nor see it supported in Scripture.
  • Show students helpful ways to study Scripture with members of the other Abrahamic community, which portions of our own sacred texts require special care, and how to avoid common misunderstandings that often occur. 
  • Challenge students to see that the kind of religion that pleases God most according to our Scriptures is not only our best effort at correct beliefs, but also our complete submission and obedience to divine commands to love neighbors and strangers, to care for orphans and widows, to serve the poor and suffering, and to show kindness and grace even to those who are rude and offensive. Show students this same truth is also wholly affirmed in the Scriptures of the other Abrahamic faith community.
  • Given that our own theologians can not agree on all matters of theology, challenge students to be faithful by focusing on obedience to the clear commands of all prophets: practicing justice and righteousness with love and compassion, feeding the hungry, and serving the poor.
 

Post-Seminar Opportunities

Seminar graduates will be invited to:

  • Collaborate with Abrahamic neighbors in local community service events sponsored by their own congregation, not only to obey divine commands to serve the poor, suffering, and marginalized, but also to demonstrate to ourselves and a watching world that we can not only peacefully coexist, but we can unite to serve the common good.
  • Become a peacemaker between their own faith community and another Abrahamic faith community.
  • Engage in ongoing community service with a peacemaking apprentice from the other Abrahamic community.

 

Qualifications of Seminar Instructors

Seminar instructors must be:

  • Scholars of Jewish-Christian, Muslim-Jewish, or Christian-Muslim relations.
  • Peacemakers not polemicists, proselytizers, or quarrelsome debaters.
  • Experienced at teaching their own sacred text to their own religious community.
  • Comfortable using exegetical tools to interpret their own sacred Scripture in its original language.
  • Deeply committed to serving God and their own faith community.
  • Respectful of the great diversity and different opinions among other communities in their own religious tradition.
  • Close friends with numerous members of the other Abrahamic faith community.
  • Familiar with and deeply respectful of the sacred texts of the other faith community.
  • Able to affirm that their faith has personally been deepened by meaningful encounters with members of the other Abrahamic faith community.
  • Committed to AAi Values.

Interested?

Would you like to develop and teach such a peacebuilding seminar to your own faith community nationally and internationally so they can better understand and love their Abrahamic neighbors, then successfully unite with them in collaborative service for the common good? AAi stands ready to assist you in this process, promote your seminar widely, and provide a grassroots vehicle for you to transform hearts and minds as your seminar graduates unite with other children of Abraham to serve the poor, suffering and marginalized for the glory of God. Email us at seminardev@abrahamicalliance.org for more info.

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