Interfaith Council

Faiths in Conversation

A great number of spiritual and religious faiths are practiced in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, yet all too often, we know little about those outside our own. How can we escape our silos and find intersections of the diversity of faiths with which Dallas is so rich? This new ongoing series aims at doing just that – designed to offer people of all cultures, faiths, and traditions opportunities to learn about the religions of their neigh­bors. The monthly sessions will approach relevant topics of faith from academic – and accessible – perspectives, with ample audience participation encouraged. The series will launch by asking the question “What is Religion?” and in following Fall meetings take up the topic “The Role of Intellect from the Perspective of the Major Faith Tradi­tions.” The opening conversation on September 9th will feature panelists from five faith traditions-Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, and Muslim – and four universities – Rice University, Southern Methodist University, University of Dallas, and UNT Dallas.


September 9, October 14, November 11, December 9, 7:00pm – 8:30pm
Reception, 6:30


The Dallas Institute and Thanks-Giving Square Presented by Interfaith Council of Thanks-Giving Foundation, Perkins School of Theology, The Dallas Institute


Semester: $80 ($40 Educators & Faith Leaders)

Session: $20 ($10 Educators & Faith Leaders Students Free)


Session 1

September 9, 2019 | 7:00 p.m.  – 8:30 p.m. | Reception 6:30 p.m.

Venue: The Dallas Institute

Session 2

October 14, 2019 | 7:00 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. | Reception 6:30 p.m.

Venue: Thanks-Giving Square

Session 3

November 11, 2019 | 7:00 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. |  Reception 6:30 p.m.

Venue: The Dallas Institute

Session 4

December 9, 2019 | 7:00 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. | Reception 6:30 p.m.

Venue: Thanks-Giving Square


Dr. Johan Elverskog

Dr. Johan Elverskog is Dedman Family Distinguished Professor, Chair of Reli­gious Studies, and Professor of History
{by courtesy) at SMU. He is the author and editor of nine books, including Buddhism and Islam on the Silk Road and The Buddha's Footprint: An Environmental History of Asia.

Dr. Sura Rath

Dr. Sura Rath is Professor of American literature and Critical Thinking in the English Department at U NT, Dallas. Author and editor of a dozen books, he has published more than fifty papers in professional journals and presented more than a hundred papers around the globe.

Dr. Serge Frolov

Dr. Serge Frolov, a native of St. Peters­burg, Russia, is Professor of Religious Stud­ies and holds the Nate and Ann Levine Endowed Chair in Jewish Studies at SMU. With Ph.D.'s in Modern History and Reli­gious Studies, he is primarily a Hebrew Bible scholar and has published more than 200 articles and two books.

Dr. Zahra N. Jamal

Dr. Zahra N. Jamal is Associate Direc­tor at Rice University's Boniuk Institute for Religious Tolerance. She has published in academic and popular venues, includ­ing I Speak for Myself, a volume of autobi­ographical accounts of 40 American Mus­lim women leaders. She received a double B.A. from Rice and the M.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard.

Dr. Robert Hunt

Dr. Robert Hunt is Director of Global The­ological Education at the Perkins School of Theology, SMU. He is the author of nu­merous books and articles on Malaysian Church history and Islam including Islam in Southeast Asia, Muslim Faith and Val­ues: What Every Christian Should Know, and The Gospel Among the Na­tions, a Documentary History of lncultura­tion.

Dr. Joshua Parens

Dr. Joshua Parens is Professor of Philoso­phy, Director of the Institute of Philo­sophic Studies, and Dean of the Braniff Graduate School of Liberal Arts at the University of Dal las. His research focuses on medieval Jewish and Islamic political philosophy. He received his B.A. from St. John's and his M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Chicago.

About the Initiative

The “Faiths in Conversation” initiative began in 2012 and grew out of the desire of several individuals associated with the Thanks-Giving Square Interfaith Council, and the Memnosyn Foundation, along with Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger. The idea was to set up a regular set of interreligious dialogue sessions among mainstream leaders of the Christian, Muslim, and Jewish traditions. They were equally committed to having the dialogue sessions in different religious centers, rotating between a synagogue, mosque, and church. Finally, they were conceptually committed to having the same three leaders for all sessions, thus allowing a deeper and deeper exploration into particular religious ideas among leaders who would come to know and trust one another. The three initial leaders were Rabbi Schlesinger, Imam Zia (Irving Mosque), and Pastor Doug Skinner. Robert Hunt from SMU moderated. Other Muslim leaders participated after Imam Zia dropped out, with Dr. Mohammed Lazzuni becoming the regular participant from the Muslim community. The initiative effectively ended in 2018 when Rabbi Schlesinger’s travel schedule no longer allowed for his regular participation and leadership.

The new 2019 model of Faiths in Conversation was researched and initiated by Almas Muscatwalla, Chair of the Interfaith Council of The Thanks-Giving Foundation. She presented the new vision of Faiths in Conversation to Dr. Robert Hunt, SMU Perkin School of Theology and Dr. Larry Allums with Dallas Institute of Humanities and Cultures.

The three organizations agreed to collaborate to revive and present the Faith in Conversation series, designed as monthly sessions offering opportunities for people of all cultures, faiths, and traditions to learn about the religions of their neighbors. This initiative will engage scholars from throughout Texas in leading special discussions and analysis on faiths, from several academic perspectives, instead of practitioner’s interpretations.

To ensure excellence and equity in program content, an Advisory Group was formed that includes the following individuals:

  • Ruben L.F. Habito, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University
  • Dr. Ali Asgar Alibhai, Harvard University, Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations & UTD
  • Dr. Poras T. Balsara, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, Professor of Electrical Engineering, UTD
  • Dr. Sudeshna Baksi-Lahiri received her BSc in Anthropology, MA in Sociology from the University of Delhi
  • Nada Shabout, Director of Contemporary Arab and Muslim Cultural Studies Initiative (CAMCSI), University of North Texas
  • Dr. Joshua Parens, Dean, Braniff Graduate School of Liberal Arts & Professor of Philosophy and Politics, University of Dallas
  • Dr. Gail Thomas is a Founding Fellow of the Dallas Institute
  • Almas Muscatwalla, Director & Chair Interfaith Council of Thanks-Giving Foundation
  • Dr. Larry Allums, Executive Director of the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture.
  • Dr. Robert Hunt, Director of Global Theological Education, Perkins School of Theology, SMU
  • Kyle Ogden, President & CEO, Thanks-Giving Foundation