Monday, April 15, 2013

Miroslav Volf at Gordon: Understanding Religious Violence

Religious violence has been a major source of conflict for thousands of years. Is there a way to prevent it, or is it inherent in a pluralistic world? Acclaimed theologian Miroslav Volf visited Gordon recently as the keynote speaker for a Faith Seeking Understanding Lecture Series event hosted by the Center for Faith and Inquiry where he applied his personal experience and scholarly research to wrestle with this topic.

The German-educated Volf is the founding director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture and a Henry B. Wright professor of theology at Yale Divinity School. Born in war-ravaged Croatia and a witness to the violence there, at a young age Volf had to reconcile his Christian faith with this devastation.

Volf kicked off the lecture with a philosophical explanation of the three motivations for conflict as put forth by Hobbes: that people invade for gain, safety or reputation. Religion, according to Volf, follows right after because of its nature as a system of truth. Anything that stifles a group's practice of its religion will spark dissent, and perhaps violence. This extends even to traditionally peaceful religions and cultures; in Sri Lanka, Buddhist monks whose protests have been long been non-violent now are sometimes raising guns. And today we see Muslims in France facing threats to their religion over a potential ban of the hijab, the traditioanal veil worn by Muslim women.

What can people of faith do to prevent such conflict, and foster civility between religions? Volf believes that religious harmony can only be reached if each faith is granted freedom of expression, and if all the parties involved aspire to the golden rule of reciprocity. 

After the lecture, Volf offered insightful responses to questions such as how Christians should respond when religious expression becomes hostile.

Molly Connolly ’13, a linguistics and Spanish double major from Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, said after the event that “it was incredible to enjoy a lecture from a theologian whose work I have read and admired during my studies at Gordon. I appreciated Dr. Volf's honest approach to the potentially polarizing topic of religious violence. With clear points and examples from his own experiences he was able to make a case for the tolerance of other faiths without succumbing to the dangers of relativism.”

Nick White ’13, a history and secondary education double major from Glenside, Pennsylvania, shared that “Miroslav Volf's talk was definitely something we need to hear in this day and age. His challenge to us is about putting ourselves in the shoes of the “other” and seeing things from their perspective. Christians have to be willing to cling to nothing but the welcoming arms of Jesus spread out on the cross and make space for other religions.

This event was made possible by the Terrell B. Crum Lecture. For more photos, quotes and conversations, please visit the Center For Faith and Inquiry Twitter account.

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