seeks to foster religious exchange and understanding
Sachedina, a religious studies professor and scholar of Islam,
talks to students at a gathering after the Sept. 11 terrorist
they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham
built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac
his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood.
Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his
Bible, King James Version
Sunday school child could forget this disturbing Old Testament
passage? Jewish and Christian children alike learn the story of
Abraham and Isaac, and struggle with the idea of a loving God
who ordered a father to kill his son in a test of faith.
children also learn the story of Abraham and his son, but they
learn a different version. As the Koran tells it, Abraham plans
to sacrifice not Isaac, his second son born of Abrahams
aged wife Sarah and founder of the 12 tribes of Israel, but Ishmael,
his first-born son, the child of Sarahs handmaid Hagar and
founder of the Arab tribes. In both versions, the son is saved
from the knife at the last minute by the word of God and the appearance
of a ram as a substitute sacrifice.
three religions Judaism, Christianity and Islam
share a belief in one God, are rooted in Old Testament stories
and consider Abraham their patriarch. But many of the low points
of human history, such as the Crusades, the Inquisition and the
Holocaust, derived from the religions differences. The Universitys
newly founded Children of Abraham Institute seeks to strengthen
understanding among the three monotheistic religions by exploring
their differences as well as their similarities, said Peter W.
Ochs, Edgar M. Bronfman Chair of Modern Judaic Studies and founder
of the institute.
institute doesnt seek to change peoples religious
beliefs, which we cherish, but will allow us to reach deeper levels
of religious sharing, Ochs said. To our surprise,
we have found that religious scholars can reach a place at the
center of their different traditions that gathers them deeply
and warmly together.
institute builds on discussions that Ochs and other scholars of
religion have conducted under the auspices of the Society for
Scriptural Reasoning, which Ochs co-founded in 1995 with Daniel
Hardy, an Anglican theologian in Cambridge, England. That loosely
bound, international group of academics has met to discuss religious
texts from Jewish, Muslim and Christian viewpoints at the American
Academy of Religions annual conventions for the past six
thinking through the scholarly discussions with colleagues at
U.Va. especially Charles Marsh, associate professor of
religious studies and director of the Universitys Project
on Lived Theology, and Abdulaziz Sachedina, a professor of religious
studies and scholar of Islam Ochs wanted to create something
with a practical bent that could reach beyond academe to practicing
clergy and help shape religious discussions and understanding
in churches, synagogues and mosques around the world.
want to invite religious leaders of each of the three communities
to sit with our scholarly group for a few weeks and taste this
deep and unexpected sharing that brings us together, he
said. We hope that eventually they will be able to take
that sense of deep sharing of other religions home with them.
Wed like to bring them into this atmosphere to taste the
possibility that enemies share the same God.
said the religious scholars realize they have much to learn from
the religious leaders as well. These meetings would also
enable ivory tower academics to learn about the terrible challenges
economic, political and social that clerical leaders
face on the ground.
institute is sponsoring its first outreach effort on Oct. 24 at
a small, private demonstration for about 50 local religious leaders
in the Rotunda. The text on Abraham and his sons
will be interpreted by U.Va. faculty members from Muslim, Christian
and Jewish points of view. Then the audience will be invited to
participate in the discussion. While not open to the public, the
session will be videotaped by C-SPAN and broadcast at a later
date. Other larger sessions are planned for the future.
in the demonstration, along with Ochs and Sachedina, will be Elizabeth
Alexander, assistant professor of religious studies and Jewish
scholar; Eugene Rogers, associate professor of religious studies
who teaches Christian theology; Alison Milbank, professor of English
and religious literature; Basit Koshul, a Sunni Muslim scholar
and doctoral candidate in religious studies working with Ochs;
and Brantley Craig, a doctoral candidate in religious studies
and active participant in the Society for Scriptural Reasoning.
meetings among people of different religious traditions and cultural
backgrounds should provide a way to dispel harmful and misleading
images transmitted by the world media, said Koshul. Television
overseas shows as distorted a view of American culture as the
American media portrayal is of Islam, he said. Before
I went to a meeting of the Society for Scriptural Reasoning four
years ago, I didnt know there were Jews and Christians like
the new institute, said Sachedina, We have made a commitment
to see that people of different traditions appreciate others and
learn to live in peace and harmony with each other. We want to
take this message to places where violence and conflict are and
tell them what it means to be children of Abraham.
Ochs: I hope to live long enough to experience the shared
presence of God by Christian, Muslim and Jewish religious leaders
from around the world.