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.
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