Monday, September 19, 2011

The Luce Grant and New Opportunities

By Kwok Pui Lan

The changing religious landscape in the U.S. and the important role that religion plays in contemporary politics require leaders of faith communities to work with religious neighbors, learn to form interfaith coalitions, and foster relations with civic groups for social change.

Episcopal Divinity School (EDS) has received a grant of $350,000 from Luce Foundation to support faculty development, curricular revision, and online continuing educational programs on religious pluralism. 
Islamic Society in Boston
This is a major initiative to help the faculty, alumni/ae, and students of the school to become leaders and facilitators of interfaith dialogue and solidarity. As the religious landscape of the United States and Canada has become more pluralistic, theological education must prepare students to be conversant with different religious traditions.

The proposal to build a mosque in Lower Manhattan near Ground Zero, where the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center were destroyed, created a huge controversy. But many people do not know that Muslims have lived in the U.S. for a long time. The earliest Muslims arrived on slave ships from Africa. Today, there are six million Muslims in the U.S., approximately the same number as Jews. In New York, the number of mosques has grown from 10 in 1970 to 100. Los Angeles is the most religiously diverse city of the world. There are 131 Buddhist temples and 58 mosques in Los Angeles County.

Since the Immigrant Act of 1965, many immigrants have brought with them different religious traditions. The Pew Forum Religious Landscape Study conducted in 2008 estimated that the United States is about 78 percent Christian. About 16 percent of American people do not affiliate with religious institutions and 4.7 percent practice a religion other than Christianity.

At EDS, students are introduced to religious pluralism through course work, spiritual practices, and travel study seminars. Members of the faculty engage in interfaith dialogue in their academic guilds and civic coalitions. Study seminars to Mexico, India, Lesotho and South Africa, Cuba have introduced students to religious diversity and various forms of indigenous healing practices. Buddhist meditation has been introduced to members of the EDS community.

The Luce Grant will enable EDS to offer courses on Islam. The Grant will also enable us to share what we are learning at EDS with the wider Episcopal Church and other faith communities. EDS offers online courses, intensive weekend courses, simulcast classes, and webcast live events to educate lay and ordained leaders for God’s mission. The school has established partnerships with several dioceses for life-long education and formation.

In developing this initiative, EDS can draw upon the expertise and support of our alumni/ae. Some of our alumni/ae belong to the Unitarian Universalist Church, which celebrates diversity of belief. Alumnus Anthony Stultz is the founder and director of Blue Mountain Lotus Society, a non-profit organization devoted to sharing the teachings of the Buddha within the context of contemporary life.

EDS works with other schools within the Boston Theological Institute in promoting interreligious dialogue and understanding. For example, I will attend and speak at a weekend seminar on “Interreligious Dialogue and the Cultural Shaping of Religions” sponsored by Boston College in September. During the summer, I completed a book on Globalization, Gender, and Peacebuilding: The Future of Interfaith Dialogue to be published by Paulist Press. 

Nestorian Stele in Xian, China (781 CE)
On March 3, 2012, Professors Lawrence Wills and Patrick S. Cheng will convene a one-day conference on “What Would it Take to Move the Map? Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Others in the Ancient East.” This conference will focus on the interactions of Jews, Christians, and Muslims in the early East, especially along the Silk Road. Professor Bruce B. Lawrence of Duke University, an expert on Islam and an alumnus of the EDS, will be the keynote speaker. 

EDS is planning a travel seminar to China led by Professor Patrick S. Cheng and I in May-June 2012. The travel seminar is supported by a generous grant from the DeFreitas Foundation. In addition to visiting churches, seminaries, and Christian organizations, the seminar will introduce students to the culture and religions of China. Participants will be able to visit Buddhist temples, a mosque, and a Confucian temple to learn about the popular religions of China. We look forward to a new academic year with exciting learning opportunities.

*Professor Kwok Pui Lan is William F. Cole Professor of Christian Theology and Spirituality and her most recent book is Hope Abundant: Third World and Indigenous Women’s Theology.

1 comment:

  1. If you are interested in some new ideas on religious pluralism and the Trinity, please check out my website at It previews my book, which has not been published yet and is still a “work-in-progress.” Your constructive criticism would be very much appreciated.

    My thesis is that an abstract version of the Trinity could be Christianity’s answer to the world need for a framework of pluralistic theology.

    In a constructive worldview: east, west, and far-east religions present a threefold understanding of One God manifest primarily in Muslim and Hebrew intuition of the Deity Absolute, Christian and Krishnan Hindu conception of the Universe Absolute Supreme Being; and Shaivite Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist apprehension of the Destroyer (meaning also Consummator), Unconditioned Absolute, or Spirit of All That Is and is not. Together with their variations and combinations in other major religions, these religious ideas reflect and express our collective understanding of God, in an expanded concept of the Holy Trinity.

    The Trinity Absolute is portrayed in the logic of world religions, as follows:

    1. Muslims and Jews may be said to worship only the first person of the Trinity, i.e. the existential Deity Absolute Creator, known as Allah or Yhwh, Abba or Father (as Jesus called him), Brahma, and other names; represented by Gabriel (Executive Archangel), Muhammad and Moses (mighty messenger prophets), and others.

    2. Christians and Krishnan Hindus may be said to worship the first person through a second person, i.e. the experiential Universe or "Universal” Absolute Supreme Being (Allsoul or Supersoul), called Son/Christ or Vishnu/Krishna; represented by Michael (Supreme Archangel), Jesus (teacher and savior of souls), and others. The Allsoul is that gestalt of personal human consciousness, which we expect will be the "body of Christ" (Mahdi, Messiah, Kalki or Maitreya) in the second coming – personified in history by Muhammad, Jesus Christ, Buddha (9th incarnation of Vishnu), and others.

    3. Shaivite Hindus, Buddhists, and Confucian-Taoists seem to venerate the synthesis of the first and second persons in a third person or appearance, ie. the Destiny Consummator of ultimate reality – unqualified Nirvana consciousness – associative Tao of All That Is – the absonite* Unconditioned Absolute Spirit “Synthesis of Source and Synthesis,”** who/which is logically expected to be Allah/Abba/Brahma glorified in and by union with the Supreme Being – represented in religions by Gabriel, Michael, and other Archangels, Mahadevas, Spiritpersons, etc., who may be included within the mysterious Holy Ghost.

    Other strains of religion seem to be psychological variations on the third person, or possibly combinations and permutations of the members of the Trinity – all just different personality perspectives on the Same God. Taken together, the world’s major religions give us at least two insights into the first person of this thrice-personal One God, two perceptions of the second person, and at least three glimpses of the third.

    * The ever-mysterious Holy Ghost or Unconditioned Spirit is neither absolutely infinite, nor absolutely finite, but absonite; meaning neither existential nor experiential, but their ultimate consummation; neither fully ideal nor totally real, but a middle path and grand synthesis of the superconscious and the conscious, in consciousness of the unconscious.

    ** This conception is so strong because somewhat as the Absonite Spirit is a synthesis of the spirit of the Absolute and the spirit of the Supreme, so it would seem that the evolving Supreme Being may himself also be a synthesis or “gestalt” of humanity with itself, in an Almighty Universe Allperson or Supersoul. Thus ultimately, the Absonite is their Unconditioned Absolute Coordinate Identity – the Spirit Synthesis of Source and Synthesis – the metaphysical Destiny Consummator of All That Is.

    For more details, please see:

    Samuel Stuart Maynes