"A Common Word"
Yale hosts conference "Loving God and Neigbor in Word and Deed"
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"A Common Word" - Looking back and looking ahead

As guests began to arrive at JFK in New York, it became increasingly clear that something uncommon was afoot. Muftis from Bosnia, Protestant clergy from Lebanon, Orthodox rabbis from the U.S. Air Force chaplaincy corps, and about 150 other Muslim, Christian, and Jewish clergy and scholars were gathering in New Haven during the last week of July for a workshop and conference titled "Loving God and Neighbor in Word and Deed: Implications for Christians and Muslims"-"The Common Word Conference" for short. But it would be a truly uncommon event.
Looking back . . .
I was honored to co-host the two-part initiative, organized by the Center for Faith and Culture's Reconciliation Program, with H.R.H. Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal of Jordan, Personal Envoy and Special Advisor of H.M. King Abdullah II. Prince Ghazi, also Chairman of the Board of the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought, was one of the principle drafters and signatories of "A Common Word Between Us and You," an open letter signed by 138 leading Muslim scholars and clerics and sent to "leaders of Christian churches everywhere" in October 2007.
Along with other leading scholars here at Yale Divinity School, members of the Center drafted a reply to "A Common Word" titled "Loving God and Neighbor Together: A Christian Response to 'A Common Word Between Us and You,'" published in the New York Times in November 2007. In the response, leading Christian signatories at Yale and beyond, and representing broad ecclesiastical and theological commitments, embraced the love of God and neighbor as the foundation for Muslim-Christian dialogue, as had been proposed in the initial "Common Word" letter. This dual-sided theme provided the basis for convening the historic July gathering at Yale.
With a deep underlying commitment to discuss pressing areas of difference between Muslims and Christians worldwide, yet a similarly deep commitment to do so in a culturally and religiously welcoming atmosphere, presenters spoke on topics ranging from the theological ("Loving God," "God Is Loving," etc.) to the profoundly practical ("Love and World Poverty," etc.). Ensuing dialogue squarely addressed areas of sensitive concern, such as religious freedom, economic and military dimensions of Muslim-Christian relations, and the Israeli-Palestinian issue, in an atmosphere of cordial frankness. The uncommon scope of the "Common Word" event was exemplified in the seating together at table of Sheikh Habib Al-Jifri, one of today's most influential Muslim preachers, and Rev. Dr. Leith Anderson, President of the National Association of Evangelicals, which represents tens of millions of American Christians.
At the close of the four-day scholarly workshop followed by the larger conference with some 160 participants, one attendee wrote that it was "one of the most inspiring events I have ever participated in." Another conferee, experienced in interfaith dialogue, marveled at the uniqueness of the Yale event and at its "exquisite spirit, high intellectual quality, candor and warm atmosphere." It is these very features of the July 2008 conference that we intend will characterize a number of forthcoming follow-up events.

...and looking ahead

At the invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury, I will travel to Cambridge, UK, for the next round of conversations generated by the "Common Word." Some of the world's most prominent Muslim and Christian leaders will be present, including the Grand Mufti of Egypt, Ali Gomma. There I will offer reflections on "The Impact of A Common Word-A Year On." Further follow-up consultations over the next months are scheduled to take place in the Vatican and other venues.

May the face of our infintely good God shine on each of you.

Miroslav Volf
Founding Director, Yale Center for Faith & Culture
Henry B. Wright Professor of Theology, Yale University Divinity School

P.S. Much of the "Common Word" conference can be viewed as webcast here.
The mission of the Yale Center for Faith & Culture is to promote the practice of faith in all spheres of life through theological research and leadership development.