Although, sometimes, especially as a non-religious person, I wonder why I am studying at the Graduate Theological Union (GTU), every now and then it becomes clear. Yesterday was a perfect example of why I chose to pursue my doctorate there.
Sometimes I like to study at the Pacific School of Religion’s (PSR) D’Autremont Dining Hall. When I arrived yesterday for some coffee and to read, Michael Lerner’s Beyt Tikkun synagogue-without-walls along with Occupy Bay Area Jewish Contingent were finishing up their veggie potluck after Rosh Hashanah services. After eating they walked to downtown Berkeley to Occupy Wells Fargo.
So together in one hall, on this Protestant campus, we have Jews holding services and celebrating the High Holidays, and partaking in the local activist culture of Berkeley. It’s fascinating to see the coming together and vibrancy of such cultural flows.
Later that night, I attended the “Between Militarism and Extremism: The Excluded Middle” panel discussion held at Zaytuna College. The GTU’s Center for Islamic Studies and Zaytuna College (the first Muslim Liberal Arts College in America) held discussions on violence in the Middle-East in reaction to the “Innocence of Muslims” film. The meeting was held in Zaytuna’s new location, formerly a Christian church (University Christian Church), now the home of an Islamic institution of higher education. The panel consisted of Dr. Hatem Bazian, Zaid Shakir and Hamza Yusuf, (Zaytuna College Co-founders), President James A. Donahue (Graduate Theological Union), Dr. Munir Jiwa (Graduate Theological Union), and Sandy Tolan (University of Southern California, Annenberg School for Journalism).
The short presentations given by the panelists along with the question and answer moderated by Tolan was informative, inspiring, and even challenging. The discussion’s major topics centered on respect for multiple religions, free speech, hate speech, ethics and the internet, and the call for a civil rights-style coming together of multiple religions to advocate for respect across and between all religions.
It was an impressive meeting attended by a few hundred people with around 4,000 people watching online. Very impressive considering it was organized less than a week earlier.
Yesterday’s events–the interaction, overlap, and neighborly-ness of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism– showcased GTU’s approach to religion as exemplary. This all happened with GTU’s 50th anniversary (albeit some member colleges are much older) as a backdrop. In the last 50 years, GTU’s graduate program has grown into one of the largest religious studies programs (including theology, biblical studies, ethics, arts, social sciences, and more) in the U.S. Yesterday’s events showcased the importance and vibrancy of the GTU.