Inter-religious Dialogue in the United States – Some Recent Events

By Francis X. Clooney SJ

Inter-religious dialogue has for a long time been a dimension of Jesuit-related ministries in the United States. But only more recently, since taking up Assistancy work in this area, have I noticed the breadth and variety of this dialogical dimension. I share some impressions of a few recent events with which I was involved which came to my attention. I add Internet references for more information.

During the first national meeting of the JSEA Religious Education Conference (March 26-29, Menlo Park, Calif.), the staffs of religious education departments from across the country were challenged to engage the document “Mission and Inter-religious Dialogue” in a very real way regarding their Jesuit high school religion classrooms and campus ministry programs.

Sherman Elliott (Brophy College Prep, Phoenix), Tony Conti (Regis High, New York), and Peggy Crawford (Brebeuf Jesuit, Indianapolis) offered views of education’s inter-religious dimensions based on their own years of classroom experience. The conversation focused on how to address the need for inter-religious dialogue in the Jesuit high school. Since the three panelists represent the three national regions, it is hoped that they will encourage the planning committees to address this topic again at the regional meetings. Also in March I spoke to Chicago province Jesuits during their area days in both Cincinnati and Chicago March 15 and 29. It was an opportunity to emphasize how all of us are involved in dialogue. As we get to know our neighbors of other faith traditions, by collaborative ministries, or by our efforts to nurture spiritual possibilities in society today, we get involved. Fr. Joseph Bracken (CHG) in Cincinnati and Fr. John Haughey (MAR) in Chicago nicely put my comments in philosophical and theological contexts by their responses. The lively discussion and an array of great questions and insights from the experience of those gathered convinced me that dialogue is truly becoming an ordinary dimension of Jesuit life today.

On March 25 Boston College sponsored a panel titled, “Why Celibacy? A Comparative Perspective.” It was part of BC’s series of lectures and seminars “The Church in the 21st Century,” which respond to the sex abuse scandal. The series also looks to the larger picture and overall health of the Church in the years to come.

We were offered three perspectives on celibacy – Fr. Howard J. Gray (DET), rector of John Carroll University offered a Roman Catholic perspective; Swami Tyagananda of the Vedanta Society of Boston offered a Hindu perspective; and, Geshe Tsetan of Ladhak, India, and founder of the Siddhartha School Project offered a Buddhist perspective.

Discussing celibacy across religious lines illustrated similarities and differences in religious and philosophical frameworks. While Catholicism, Hinduism, and Buddhism all differ in structure, all have a tradition of celibacy whose aim is to allow male and female celibates to focus their energies on their chosen spiritual and meditative paths. Go to

A conference sponsored by the U.S. Society of Jesus and hosted by the Jesuit Community at Boston College broke new ground in the growing field of comparative theology. “Engaging Particularities: New Directions in Comparative Theology, Inter-religious Dialogue, Theology of Religions and Missiology” was held at Boston College April 4-6.

Graduate students from Jesuit universities across North America (Boston College, Loyola University Chicago, Marquette University, Regis College Toronto, St. Louis University, Weston Jesuit School of Theology) discussed a variety of topics concerning the current state of comparative theology, the theology of religions, missiology, and religious pluralism. The conference nicely illustrated how Jesuit institutions can facilitate theological reflection on religious pluralism. Refreshingly, the conference also showed us how the task is being taken up by some of the brightest grad students of the new generation.

On April 8 undergraduates at BC took part in “Jesus in a Comparative Perspective.” Presentations offered Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Hindu perspectives, which opened up the mystery of Jesus in fresh ways, while also highlighting the complexities of Christian relations with other traditions.

The general dialogue site, ably constructed and maintained by Fr. Raymond Bucko (NYK), gives information on other events and related writings. Active in Native American studies and related dialogue issues, Ray lectured at College of the Holy Cross on April 23 on “Teaching Black Elk: Promise and Pitfalls of Cross-cultural Education.” He stressed the importance of reading and contextualizing this literary work not to generate an image of the "untouched primitive" but as a model of inter-religious and intercultural dialogue for the present and the future.

On April 26 Ray spoke at the Annual Neihardt Spring Conference at the University of Nebraska. The major theme was “Neihardt and Black Elk: Reconciling Cross-Cultural Identities — Theology, Education and Society.”

In the fall a regular “Dialogue Corner” column will begin appearing in NJN, with members of the Mission and Inter-religious Dialogue Advisory Board and guest contributors taking turns offering their perspectives on local and national dialogue efforts.

(Clooney [NYK] was at the time of the writing of this article the U.S. Assistancy Coordinator for Mission and Inter-religious Dialogue)

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