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Interreligious Perspectives at GTU

From the President

As the Graduate Theological Union moves to include representatives of more of the world’s great religious traditions, the framing of issues from an interreligious perspective is already common in the research and writing of students in the masters and doctorate degree programs. Students today, while fixed often in particular religious traditions, also desire to explore how some of the same theological, ethical, historical, and cultural issues are dealt with by other religious traditions and movements. Here are just a few examples of recent master’s level students who engaged in interreligious research and comparative analysis. Miriam Attia’s MA dissertation was entitled “Ethical Concerns in Jewish and Christian Theologies of Suffering” and tackled a subject that tests and challenges all theological and wisdom traditions with the question: “How does one explain the existence of evil in a world influenced or controlled by the Sacred (theodicy)?”

GTU Commencement Ceremony on May 7, 2015 held at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary. Pictured from the left are: Hal Leach, Chair of the Board of Trustees; Ashley Bacchi, Ph.D. student and winner of the Outstanding Dissertation Proposal in 2014; Riess Potterveld, GTU President.

Cogen Bohanec wrote a MA dissertation entitled “A Comparison between Selfhood in the Upanişads and the Pāli Canon,” a study of selfhood as it has developed within two religions. The list of recent dissertations that fit into this category are manifold and indicate that contemporary students’ education and thinking have arisen in a global societal context where curiosity is apt to lead them into explorations across geographical and intellectual boundaries. 

The Core Doctoral Faculty of the GTU has in the past year completed a significant reduction of the curriculum design for doctoral degrees – a redesign that was unanimously approved recently by the Council of Deans and the Core Doctoral Faculty.  The ten traditional Areas of Discipline (Biblical Studies, Christian Spirituality, Ethics and Social Theory, etcetera) have dissolved into four clusters or concentrations. 

Now one will be able to choose concentrations like Comparative Scripture Studies, Hindu Sacred Texts, Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, New Testament, Qur’anic Studies, Rabbinic Literature, or Biblical Archeology, all gathered in a cluster described under the general rubric “Sacred Texts and Their Interpretation.”  Students will be expected not only to focus on a concentration but to find ways to engage in interdisciplinary and interreligious study, often moving (through courses and independent study) into other clusters to expand and broaden their inquiries. This new curriculum will be available to students entering in the Fall of 2016 but, as indicated above, many students already demonstrate an intense interest in interdisciplinary and interreligious studies.

The Graduate Theological Union provides a rich offering of public programs each year for the public with thousands of people taking advantage of these programs at little or no cost. Many of the public programs are interreligious in nature including the Madrassa/ Midrasha Day of Learning which combines Muslim and Jewish insights into a substantive issue or cultural tradition.  The GTU website is an excellent source of information on these programs or one can sign up to receive GTU publications (Currents) or online information (Insights).