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ViewPoints: Interreligious Dialogue

ViewPoints: Interreligious Dialogue

Interfaith Colleagues Find Keys to Meaningful Interreligious Dialogue

By Jessica Leving

When you hear the words “Interreligious Dialogue,” what do you think of? Do you picture intense negotiations addressing foreign conflicts, like those between religious groups in the Middle East, or the interreligious and interethnic wars that plague parts of India and Africa?

Or do you think of the lack of understanding between those with differing beliefs right here in our own backyard, in the increasingly polarized United States?

Though some interreligious conflicts involve whole countries and some just a few individuals, ultimately, they aren’t that different. In fact, the same keys that could unlock potential solutions on a global scale might also increase harmony at your neighborhood’s school board meeting, with colleagues from the other side of the political spectrum, or around your family’s dinner table.

According to interfaith team Dr. Dean P. Bell (pictured right above) and Dr. Michael Hogue (left), those keys are the twin concepts of vulnerability and resilience—both learning to identify and expose our own core areas of vulnerability, and then building the capacity to resiliently move forward through difficult conversations even if they strike painful cords.

“We all have views, principles, and practices that we believe ought to be upheld. Dialogue is about understanding where your own vulnerabilities are, and where they are for others. You have to get people to open up to themselves and to others in that place of true vulnerability—resilience is learned through the shared experience of vulnerability,” says Hogue, who will join Bell on April 21, 2020, for an online ViewPoints program about vulnerability and resilience in interreligious dialogue. ViewPoints is a new Spertus Institute program series in which community members are invited to join topic experts and passionate fellow participants to discuss issues that make a difference in today’s world.

Bell and Hogue themselves hail from very different backgrounds—Bell an observant Jew who heads up Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership, and Hogue, who teaches theology at Meadville Lombard Theological School, a Unitarian Universalist seminary with headquarters in the Spertus Institute building. Yet both believe so fervently in the power of vulnerability and resilience as leadership tools that they are working on a book together on the subject. The two were introduced by a colleague, which led to their discovery that they were separately pursuing work on related topics. They agreed to get coffee, and, like the best of interfaith dialogue, that meeting of minds sparked a cooperative project with shared goals and the opportunity for lasting results.

Dozens of coffee meetings later, the pair of academics have received grant funding from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundation to dually investigate the Religion, Vulnerability, and Resilience Project, which explores—via case studies, copious research, and public programs—how these principles can be applied to improving outcomes in interreligious work.

With an extensive background in Medieval European History and Jewish Studies, Bell brings perspective about how these ideas have played out over the course of centuries, from the times when disparate cultures first began coming into contact. Bell cites the time of the bubonic plague as a key example: “How do we rethink the communities that were engaged with responding to the plague, and managed to develop resilience in the midst of great vulnerability?” he asks. “These ideas have not only theoretical value, they are historical with contemporary applications.”

Bell and Hogue were also interviewed about the project in The College Commons Podcast, moderated by Joshua Holo, Dean of HUC's Jack H. Skirball campus in Los Angeles.

Want to be part of the conversation yourself? Tune in online to hear from Bell and Hogue firsthand at ViewPoints: Interreligious Dialogue Today, on Tuesday, April 21, 2020 at 7:00 pm. Tickets are $18 for general public, $10 for Spertus members, $8 for students and Spertus alumni. Purchase tickets at

Dr. Mike Hogue is Professor of Theology, Ethics, and Philosophy of Religion at Meadville Lombard Theological School. He is the author of several books, most recently, American Immanence: Democracy for an Uncertain World, and editor of the American Journal of Theology and Philosophy.

Dr. Dean P. Bell is Spertus Institute’s President and CEO. He also holds a Spertus Institute faculty appointment as Professor of History and is a widely published author and editor. He has served on the faculty at DePaul University, Northwestern University, Hebrew Theological College, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the University of California, Berkeley.

Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership offers dynamic learning opportunities, rooted in Jewish wisdom and culture and open to all. Graduate programs and workshops train future leaders and engage individuals in exploration of Jewish life. Public programs—including films, exhibitions, speakers, seminars, workshops, and concerts—take place at the Institute's Michigan Avenue facility, in the Chicago suburbs, and online. Spertus Institute is a partner with the Jewish United Fund in serving our community.

Meadville Lombard Theological School, rooted in Unitarian Universalist values, educates students from diverse religious traditions to become socially engaged global religious leaders. Graduate degrees and courses are offered through a learning model that integrates intensive on campus residencies with online and praxis learning.


Tuesday, March 24, 2020