Interreligious Understanding on Campus:
Jesuit Institutions of Higher Education in an Age of Religious Diversity

A planning meeting for a project involving six Jesuit universities

November 5-7, 2004 Boston College

Thirteen administrators and faculty from six Jesuit universities — Creighton, Georgetown, Loyola Chicago, Loyola Marymount, University of San Francisco, and host Boston College — met at BC November 5-7 to explore the feasibility of a six-university conversation on religious diversity. The discussion focused on how Jesuit university communities — Jesuits, faculty, administrators and staff, students, alumnae and alumni — respond to religious diversity, the strengths and weaknesses of the conversation on campus, what we learn from one another religiously, and whether intensive on-site visits to the several campuses might be productive instruments of enhancing conversations about our engagement with religious diversity in the context of institutions of higher learning.

The interest motivating the conference was rooted in the 1995 commitment of the Society of Jesus to make interreligious dialogue integral to its varied ministries. It is also due to our experience of and prayerful reflection on the religiously diverse situation of the United States today. Decree 5 of the 34 th General Congregation of the Society of Jesus, “Our Mission and Interreligious Dialogue,” fittingly sets the scene for and urges the importance of dialogue as constitutive of Jesuit ministries today. As for the American scene: religious diversity is a defining feature of life today, and the work of scholarship and education within the context of this in this diversity.

Like other Catholic universities, Jesuit institutions seek to balance the engagement of diversity, the reaffirmation of traditional identity with a discovery of new identities in response to religious

diversity, finding God anew, and discovering God’s presence in the changing university setting. The rich Jesuit tradition — teaching, discernment, scholarship, social justice, a commitment to formation outside as well as inside the classroom, finding God in all things — promises that our universities are places where the Christian and Jesuit response to and engagement in religious diversity can flourish on multiple levels. Our multi-year project (see IV.) has been proposed to see how we can deepen and clarify that response, and the November 5-7 weekend at Boston College provided an opportunity to explore the possibilities.

During the weekend discussion, participants explored diversity and dialogue in relation to campus life both inside and outside the classroom, as related to social justice and to the campus cultural and liturgical life, and by way of first-hand accounts of what’s being done and works well on the six campuses with respect to engaging and appreciating religious diversity. The conversation ranged from basic principles to an analysis of the nature of diversity on campuses today, to the particular practical issues that would be faced in a conversation among the six universities in campus visits that would bring a core committee to all six campuses in order to interact locally with interested students, faculty, administrators and staff. The Saturday morning discussion was enriched by conversation with a panel of four experts from the BC community, which served as a prototype for one kind of local engagement.

At the end of the weekend meeting, the group decided to proceed to several campus visits currently being arranged at Creighton University (October, 2005) and Georgetown University (tentatively, Spring, 2006), as well as a meeting related to the International Buddhist-Christian Studies meeting to occur at Loyola Marymount University in June 2005. Should these events prove fruitful, the group will visit all six institutions, and other Jesuit universities and colleges will be invited to join the ongoing project.

Participants at the BC meeting: Joseph Appleyard, SJ (Boston College); John Borelli (Georgetown); James Bretzke, SJ (USF; unable to attend first meeting); Raymond Bucko, SJ (Creighton); Christopher Chapple (LMU); Francis Clooney, SJ (Boston College); (Rev.) James Fredericks (LMU); Chester Gillis (Georgetown); Daniel Hartnett, SJ (Loyola Chicago; unable to attend first meeting); David Haschka, SJ (Jesuit Conference); Tamara Buffalohead McGill (Creighton); Christopher Murphy (Loyola Chicago); John Nelson (USF); (Rev.) Peter Phan (Georgetown); Tracy Pintchman (Loyola Chicago; unable to attend first meeting); Peter Togni, SJ (USF).


Original Proposal (January 2004)

God’s Greater Glory: Religious Diversity — Thought, Taught, Lived, Conversed — at Six Jesuit Universities

Diversity, including religious diversity, is a defining feature of life today, and the worlds of scholarship and education are not exempt from having to acknowledge and deal with this diversity. In turn, Jesuit universities are, like all universities today, caught up in the diversification and complexification of American culture, and we are racing to keep up with religious and social change. Like other Catholic universities, Jesuit institutions seek to balance the reaffirmation of traditional identity with a discovery of new identity in response to religious diversity — finding God anew, and making God known, in the changing university setting. The rich Jesuit tradition — engaging diversity, teaching, discernment, scholarship, a commitment to formation outside as well as inside the classroom, finding God in all things — suggest that our universities are places where the Christian response to and engagement in religious diversity will be seen at its best.

Responses to religious diversity, practices deepening it, teaching with an awareness of it, ministering to the spiritual needs of Catholic and Christian students in an atmosphere of diversity, scholarship that in part grows out of the pluralism of the university — all of this adds up to a rich context for reflection in all aspects of the academic realm that is a university.

We can therefore pose some basic questions, such as: How have our universities changed due to the increase of religious diversity? What creative responses have worked particularly well, and changed the way we understand "Jesuit and Catholic"? How has our research affected and enrich our response to religious diversity — and vice versa? How has teaching and working with students, faculty, and staff of different religious traditions affected research connected with the Catholic tradition? How would we hope to define Catholic-Jesuit diversity at the Jesuit university 10 years from now, and how will new understanding affect the work of the university?

This project is an effort to capture some of the best of that practical and theoretical discourse — theological in its roots, about not about theology or limited to theologians — in a 3-year, around-the-country conversation, and in a book.


Time period: 2005 -2008

Two meetings each year, typically a Friday-Sunday meeting

Invited institutions: BC; Georgetown; Loyola Chicago; Creighton; LMU; USF

Place: one meeting at each participating institution

One planning meeting during the 2004-2005 academic year

Participants: a very small but diverse group from each university: e.g., 2 faculty, 1 campus minister, 1 person ‘responsible’ for Jesuit and Catholic identity, 1 Jesuit [obviously, there can be some overlap in these identities]; the total of continuing participants would therefore be only 25-30 maximum, all committed to the full three year process. But at its on-campus hosting of its meeting, the local university would also be expected to involve other members of its university community.

Funding (for travel, accommodation, modest stipends for participants): 50% paid by the Jesuit Assistancy (JC, Provinces), 50% by the participating institutions; possible funding from other sources. The planning meeting will be entirely funded by the Jesuit Conference.

Outcome: conversations at each institution raising awareness of issues related to religious diversity and its practice, and an edited book, of about 12 reasonably short essays, by the participants, to be published by the end of 2009; the book would both report on the conversations and what we found, but also serve as a basis for a wider conversation among a wider set of Jesuit colleges and universities.

Francis X. Clooney, SJ


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