Tuesday, October 06, 2009

2009 Zabriskie Lectures: Part 1


The first of our convocation lectures was given today by Dr. Eboo Patel - perhaps the first Muslim scholar to give these lectures. Patel is Founder and Executive Director of the Interfaith Youth Core, a Chicago-based institution building the global interfaith youth movement. He was recently appointed by President Obama to the Advisory Council of the White House Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Initiatives. The presentation was an eloquent and engaging "pep talk" on living together in a diverse world, finding a way to build bridges in a pluralistic society. The audience loved the lecture, although I found its main thrust rather obvious, viz., that in a pluralistic world it is better to build "bridges" than to live in "bubbles" or throw "bombs" (the talk was based on "b" words). Patel believes that the real issue and challenge in bridge-building is not at the intellectual-theological level but turns on skill-building at praxis--getting youth from diverse backgrounds together to work improving this world, accepting each others full humanity and dignity. Unfortunately, this left the talk rather devoid of theological reflection. Things started to get more interesting in the discussion period following the lecture. Prof. Elizabeth Kimball, tomorrow's lecturer, pressed Patel on the question of ultimate truth in a world of diversity. At this point it became clear that Patel is not advocating a strong pluralism that believes all religions are equally true, but a weaker sort of pluralism that celebrates diverse ethnic, racial, and religious groups each maintaining and deepening their claims to have the best insights while committing to improve together this present, concrete world.

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