Div School Dean Signs Letter from Christians

In reply to an unprecedented statement from Muslim clerics and scholars about the common ground between Christianity and Islam, Christian intellectuals, including nine Harvard professors, issued a letter this month responding to what many of them saw as a deeply significant gesture from the Muslim community.

With 138 Muslim signatories, the September letter, “A Common Word Between Us and You,” outlines the shared belief of the love of God and the neighbor between the two faiths, and discusses the need for peace between the two religions.

It draws comparisons between the Koran and the New Testament, emphasizing that common commandments supersede interfaith conflict. The letter was signed by leaders from all denominations of Islam.

Miroslav Volf, director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture and the principal drafter of the Christian response, said the letter is the most significant document on interfaith relations in the past 50 years.

The letter from Christian scholars, “Loving God and Neighbor Together,” began circulating among professors at Yale and, as of this weekend, included endorsements from the leaders of the divinity schools at Princeton and Harvard. Dean of the Divinity School William A. Graham signed onto the response, but said that Yale’s statement was “symbolic more than anything.”

Student response has been overwhelmingly positive, according to President of the Harvard Islamic Society Shaheer A. Rizvi ’08 and Chair of the Harvard College Interfaith Council Zeba A. Syed ’09.

“The fact that both sides are willing to extend their hands is very promising for future relations between adherents of the two traditions,” Syed said. “Graham, by signing this document, has really placed the Harvard community in a new light, as his act symbolizes that Harvard encourages understanding and cooperation between different faith traditions.”

According to Harold W. Attridge, dean of the Yale Divinity School, there have been conversations about a possible conference of religious leaders and educators to follow up on the Muslim statement and the response. At Harvard, Stillman Professor of Roman Catholic Theological Studies Francis S. Fiorenza—who signed the statement—said that there has been a discussion about the need to make the offerings in Islamic studies stronger.

Although the response statement does recognize the common ground with Judaism as an Abrahamic faith, neither document mentions other faiths such as Buddhism or Hinduism. As of last night, only one professor of Jewish studies had written on this dialogue’s impact to Judaism, according to The Web site for “A Common Word.”

“There is a place for broader interfaith dialogue, but there is also a place for bilateral conciliation,” Volf said.

—Staff writer Marie C. Kodama can be reached at mckodama@fas.harvard.edu.