June 19, 2000Dear Professor:
I am the Interreligious Dialogue Coordinator for the Jesuits of the United States. This letter is to introduce myself to you and to invite your input for a new conversation on the significance of our research and teaching in the area of religious pluralism and the encounter with religious traditions.
During its 34th General Congregation in 1995, which gathered Jesuits from all parts of the world, the Society of Jesus committed itself to interreligious dialogue as an essential part of its ministry in today's world. Those present agreed that our traditional and recent commitments would be deepened and enhanced by attention to religious pluralism and our engagement in dialogue with people of different faiths. The Congregation document on "Mission and Interreligious Dialogue" can be found, along with the other documents of the Congregation, at http://www.jesuit.org/resources/documents.html).
While the Congregation saw interreligious encounter as a dimension of almost all Jesuit ministries, it also stressed the importance of an intellectual and expert encounter fostered by scholars. This dimension draws on contemporary understandings of religion and culture, the expertise of in-depth study of religious traditions, and the ways in which this learning does or can affect Christian theology and the way theology and religion are taught in Jesuit colleges and universities. In 1998 I was asked by the Jesuit Conference and ten provincial superiors of the Jesuits in the United States to coordinate an American response to the Congregation1s directives on interreligious dialogue. This new responsibility, though added to my primary work at Boston College, offers exciting possibilities, as I explore the possibilities and begin to make new acquaintances around the country. This work also fits my personal interests, since for many years I have researched the religions of India and on occasion studied and taught in Nepal and India. You may have read my essay on religious pluralism in the fall 1999 issue of Conversations in Jesuit Higher Education, "Goddess in the Classroom."
From the start it has been my conviction that those of us engaged in the various activities connected with the Society of Jesus are already engaged in interreligious encounter, as a part of this regular work. My task is simply to highlight and bring attention to this already present dimension, and to see if there are ways in which we might help one another to enhance our interreligious awareness.
I am therefore writing now to invite you along with other professors of
religious traditions to begin discussing with me and one another our
work and its implications for our thinking about religions and theology.
I would be particularly interested in learning about:
* your own current teaching and research such as would be related to religious traditions other than the Christian;
* our perceptions of the dynamics of teaching and researching religious traditions in Jesuit theology and religious studies departments;
* whether a meeting of professors teaching religions or engaged in research related to interreligious conversation would be of some value.
Please direct your response directly to me at my Boston College address, and not at the Jesuit Conference. If you prefer to answer by e-mail (to firstname.lastname@example.org), that is fine with me.
I would appreciate too the names of colleagues of yours whom I should also contact.
Thanks very much.Sincerely,