Experts on religious fundamentalism gather for dialogue

Scholars define this global phenomenon, identify its political importance and discuss its impact on the future | October 27, 2004

Since Sept. 11, 2001, Islamic fundamentalism and extremism have come under focus, but religious fundamentalism is a global phenomenon that crosses national, ethnic, socio-economic and religious boundaries. Some of the world’s leading experts on the subject of religious fundamentalism are gathering at Xavier to engage in dialogue on some of the most critical issues shaping the world. The symposium took place on Sunday, Oct. 31, at the Schiff Family Conference Center.

“I can think of no topic that is more relevant or more critical to think about and discuss,” says James Buchanan, director for the Brueggeman center for dialogue. “Religious fundamentalism is impacting everything from the upcoming election to global politics. We have managed to bring together a remarkable collection of experts to help Xavier and the Cincinnati communities engage in reflection on religious fundamentalism and its implications for the future of our nation and the world.”

Symposium participants defined fundamentalism, identified its political importance and discussed its impact on the future.

“This year's Brueggeman symposium is on a topic of great importance because in our world of ever increasing conflicts, we must examine the connections between religion, extremism and violence,” says Paul Knitter, world-renowned expert on interreligious dialogue and professor emeritus of theology at Xavier. “History shows that religions have as great a potential for 'evil' as they do for 'good.' Therefore, if religions are not part of the solution for global conflicts, they will continue to be part of the problem.”

This year’s symposium panel included:

  • Amos Yong is an associate professor of theology at Bethel University in St. Paul, Minn., and the 2004 visiting Brueggeman chair in theology at Xavier. A Pentecostal Christian, Yong’s research interests include Chinese religious traditions (including Daoism and Confucianism), Hinduism, Islam and Judaism.

  • Scott Appleby is a professor of history at the University of Notre Dame, where he also serves as the director of the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. Appleby is the general editor of the Cornell University Press series, Catholicism in Twentieth Century America, and co-editor of the landmark five-volume Fundamentalism Project for the University of Chicago Press.

  • Mark Juergensmeyer is director of global and international studies and a professor of sociology and religious studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is an expert on religious violence, conflict resolution and South Asian religion and politics.

  • Mohammed Arkoun is emeritus professor of the history of Islamic thought at the Sorbonne in Paris, as well as senior research fellow and member of the board of governors of the Institute of Ismaili Studies in London. A modernist, he is associated with several European initiatives to rethink and reshape the relationship between Europe, Islam and the Mediterranean world.

  • William Dinges is an associate professor of religious studies and a member of the Life Cycle Institute at the Catholic University of America. He has conducted a variety of graduate seminars on such topics as fundamentalism, religion and social change, Catholic identity and spiritual questing in American society.

  • Susannah Heschel is the Eli Black chair in Jewish studies and an associate professor in the department of religion at Dartmouth College. Heschel is a former Martin Buber visiting professor of Jewish religious philosophy at the University of Frankfurt, and has lectured frequently on topics related to Jewish-Christian relations and feminism and religion.

  • Arvind Sharma is a renowned scholar of Hinduism and of issues concerning women and religion. He is the Birks Professor of Comparative Religion at McGill University in Canada, and is co-editor of The Annual Review of Women in the World Religions.