After having served as dean at a rapidly growing university for 28 years (Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, Michigan), I took a faculty appointment as Professor of Mathematics and Philosophy. But my previous work in science and religion led to my being asked to be the founding director of the newly established Kaufman Interfaith Institute at the University. While the science and religion dialogue has been an important issue this past century, I believe it may well be that interfaith dialogue will be the defining issue for the 21st century. As Hans Küng put it, “How can we have peace among nations without peace among the religions?”
Our institute launched a year-long, community-wide, “Year of Interfaith Understanding” with an official declaration by the mayor and partnership with the local newspaper. Three councils were established in order to coordinate interfaith events. The Congregations Council brought ministers, priests, rabbis, imams, and lay people representing the various faith traditions to encourage interfaith events within and between various congregations. The Campuses Council initiated and publicized interfaith events on eight different college, university, and seminary campuses in the community. The Community Council brought a wide range of groups together from museums, theater groups, the Grand Rapids Symphony as well as the Economics Club and Habitat for Humanity. Each did something during the year which had an interfaith focus.
The year included nearly 300 events and culminated with an interfaith conference focusing on the Abrahamic faiths. The Jewish representative was Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartman, President of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. The Muslim representative was Dr. Omid Safi, Professor of Islamic Studies at the University of North Carolina. The Christian perspective was ably represented by McCormick’s own President Emerita, Rev. Dr. Cynthia Campbell. The day-long conference on the theme “Living with God in a Time of Suffering” was very well received by all who attended.
The project also received national attention by the PBS program Religion & Ethics News Weekly. Their video segment can be seen on their website at: Religion and Ethics.