On Thursday, May 3, 2012, Dr. Ingrid Mattson will deliver the Kellogg Lectures at Episcopal Divinity School. Dr. Mattson took a few minutes to answer our questions about the importance of thinking from an interfaith perspective.
Q: Why do you think interfaith work is so important in today’s world?
A: Traditional boundaries that separated adherents of different faiths are increasingly dissolving. This means that we are living not just in a multifaith world, but in multifaith neighborhoods, schools, and workplaces. Without interfaith engagement, our religious differences can lead us to hurt feelings and even social conflict. Interfaith work seeks to ensure that religious differences are not a cause of conflict but an opportunity to draw on the strengths of our individual faiths for the greater good.
Q: What is one of the key elements of successful interfaith dialogue?
A: Interfaith dialogue will only work if we are willing to let go of our misconceptions as we encounter people of other faiths. When we hear that the information we had about another faith group, or our assumptions about them, are wrong, we can become defensive and refuse to listen with an open mind and an open heart. Interfaith dialogue can only work when we are aware of these obstacles and seek to overcome them.
Q: What is the greatest obstacle to interfaith initiatives?
A: The greatest obstacle to interfaith initiatives is the trend of misinformation campaigns that are undertaken to spread hateful and incorrect information about another religion. Email boxes are flooded with this kind of information and the Internet is rife with it. These hateful campaigns serve to inoculate many people against interfaith engagement.
Learn more about the Kellogg Lectures and Alumni/ae Days. This article is excerpted from a longer version published in EDS Now, Spring 2012.
Dr. Ingrid Mattson is Professor of Islamic Studies, founder of the Islamic Chaplaincy Program, and current director of the Macdonald Center for Islamic Studies and Christian-Muslim Relations at Hartford Seminary in Hartford, CT. She earned her PhD in Islamic Studies from the University of Chicago and is the author of The Story of the Qur’an: Its History and Place in Muslim Societies (Wiley-Blackwell 2007). From 2006-2010 Dr. Mattson served as the first woman President of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA). In July 2012, Dr. Mattson will become the inaugural Chair of Islamic Studies at Huron University College at the University of Western Ontario, Canada.