Comparative Theology Research Group

Following Professor Francis Clooney's recent inspiring visit to ACU, several ACU members formed the Comparative Theology Research Group and met for the first time on Monday 25 August 2014. The specific purpose of the gathering was to discuss the particular comparative theology research projects upon which researchers are currently working, or intend to work. A wide-ranging and energetic exchange of ideas ensued, demonstrating a significant interest in collaborative and individual comparative exchange. The group coordinated by Dr Anita Ray continues to meet on a monthly basis.

Professor Francis X Clooney SJ, Public Lecture, National Gallery of Victoria

Professor Francis X Clooney SJ, affectionately dubbed the “godfather” of comparative theology, is an American, a Roman Catholic priest, member of the Society of Jesus, and Parkman Professor of Divinity and Professor of Comparative Theology at Harvard Divinity School. He also directs the Centre for the Study of World Religions at Harvard. At the first-ever jointly organised program involving Australian Catholic University and the National Gallery of Victoria, on 26 June 2014, Prof Clooney delivered an evening public lecture, “Learning Inter-religiously from Art.” His focus was a particular album from South India, once owned by the missionary scholar H.R. Hoisington (1801-1858) but now in the possession of the National Gallery of Victoria.

International Theological Conference: Interfaith Dialogue

The International Theological Conference on Interfaith Dialogue focusing on 'Paths to Dialogue in our Age' was held at ACU from Monday 26 - Thursday 29 May, 2014. An occasion for Australasian and international scholars to come together for the actual praxis of dialogue. It included a series of plenary presentations, concurrent sessions and social functions, providing a rich atmosphere for participants to encounter peoples from different faith traditions, disciplines, institutions, nations and continents. The occasion provided an opportunity to share current research and interact with global experts in the field.

Shiva Symposium

In August 2013, Dr Anita Ray addressed a large crowd that had gathered for the Shiva Symposium. Her topic, ‘Seeing the Footprints of the Lord’, stressed the importance of hospitality and relationality in inter-religious encounters.

Professional Development Program on “The Qur'an – Bible Relationship According to Islam”

On Wednesday 31 July, Fatih Erol Tuncer, Project Officer at the Centre for Inter-religious Dialogue (CID) and Hakan Coruh, PhD candidate at ACU, was invited by Emmanuel College, St Paul’s campus, to conduct a professional development program on the ‘Qur’an – Bible relationship according to Islam’.

Ramadan Iftar Dinner

Australian Catholic University hosted an Iftar (breaking of the fast) dinner during the month of Ramadan this year on 22 July 2013. This was done in collaboration with the members of the Australian Intercultural Society who assisted with the invitations and the dinner program. Invitees included distinguished public officials, religious leaders and academics from around Melbourne.

Symposium with Catherine Cornille

A symposium entitled “Possibilities and Limits of Interreligious Dialogue and Comparative Theology” was held on 19 June 2013 with Professor Catherine Cornille as keynote speaker. This was a roundtable conversation with scholars from the various universities and seminaries around Melbourne. The symposium was followed by a public lecture on the topic of “Commitment and Openness in Interreligious Dialogue.” A similar symposium will also be held at the Strathfield campus for faculty and HDR students in Sydney. Cornille is the Chair of the Department of Theology at Boston College, USA.

Jihad and Terror from Gülen's Perspective

A lunchtime video conference seminar was held for staff and HDR students of six campuses in ACU with Professor Ismail Albayrak as speaker. The topic was “The notion of Jihad and terror from the perspective of Fethullah Gülen.” Albayrak discussed the authentic Islamic teaching of jihad and what Islam says about war in the modern world. He presented this from the perspective of the distinguished and eminent Turkish Muslim scholar and thinker Fethullah Gülen who is also a great proponent of dialogue.

Conversations on Rig Veda

On 16 May 2013 members of the Centre for Inter-religious Dialogue came together to explore a short, famous, enigmatic hymn from the oldest strand of Hindu literature, the Rig Veda (c. 1200 BCE). This was led by scholar of Indian studies Dr Anita Ray. Rig Veda 10.129 is generally classified as a cosmogony, yet in a sense it reads like an anti-cosmogony. It starts and finishes on a tantalizingly obscure note. Is the ancient poet-seer simply questioning the origins of the universe in a rather playful fashion, or does he have some other intention?

Islam, Innovation & Creativity

On 23 April 2013 the Gülen Luncheon Forum series welcomed Mr Ezieddin Elmahjub as keynote speaker for a presentation entitled “Promoting Innovation and Creativity: An Islamic Perspective.” Elmahjub, who is a Lawyer and Lecturer at the Faculty of Law of Tripoli University in Libya, is a founding member and the head of political planning in the office of Al-Adalla and Al-Benna, the second largest political party in Libya. The luncheon was co-hosted by the School of Law at ACU.

Conversations on Prologue of John

On Wednesday 17 April 2013, members of the Centre for Inter-religious Dialogue came together for the monthly CID conversation meetings. The conversation, around the text of John 1:1-18, was led by Dr Fr John Dupuche who began by offering an exegesis of the first few verses from the Prologue of the Gospel of John.

Conversations on Sura Al-Fatiha

Members of the CID in Melbourne got together to study the first chapter of the Holy Qur'an on 20 March 2013. Professor Ismail Albayrak led the group through the background and interpretation of Sura al-Fatiha, which is sometimes referred to as the Lord's Prayer of Islam.

Catholic Identity in Multireligious Contexts

The Centre for Inter-religious Dialogue hosted a lunchtime video conference seminar on 13 March 2013 on the topic of “Identity of Catholic Schools in Multireligious Contexts” which was led by Dr. Edmund Chia. He began by outlining the challenges to the identity and mission of Catholic schools in contexts which are becoming secularized or religiously pluralistic. What does being Catholic mean if the majority of the schools’ staff and students are no longer Catholic?

CID Annual Gathering

The Centre for Inter-religious Dialogue gathered its members together for a study-cum-planning meeting on 14 February 2013. They studied together the topics of Comparative Theology (led by Anita Ray), Panikkar's Diatopical Hermeneutics &/or Imparative Method (led by Gerard Hall) and Confucian-Christian dialogue (led by Jonathan Tan). Some members also talked about their research in the areas of Indigenous Australians, Jewish Biblical interpretations, Levinas' navigational principles, dual belonging, time in relation to history, and Catholic identity.

ISRA Students Visit CID

On Friday 23 December 2012, a group of 12 Theology students from the Islamic Sciences and Research Academy (ISRA) at Charles Sturt University in Sydney travelled to Melbourne to visit the Fethullah Gülen Chair in the Study of Islam and Muslim-Catholic Relations at the Centre for Inter-religious Dialogue. Dr. Edmund Chia spoke to them on the Catholic Church and dialogue.

Yogi Matsyendranath on Kanpatha Tradition

On 29 October 2012 we welcomed Yogi Matsyendranath for a luncheon gathering where he presented insights on the Kanpatha ('pierced ear') Yogic tradition. Yogi Mat is originally from Russia and spent a number of years studying Hinduism in India before recently moving to Australia where he resides in Sydney. He is very active on the international scene and has students around the world. He took us on a virtual tour through pictures of his associates and yogic ceremonies taken in various parts of the globe.

Doing Theology Inter-Religiously

The Centre led in the Victorian Faculty of Theology and Philosophy faculty seminar which was held on 26 October 2012. The main topic explored was "Doing Theology Inter-religiously" and this was addressed by four speakers. Anita Ray began by presenting a paper on "Comparative Theology under the Microscope," followed by John Dupuche who gave an example of this from the perspective of "Hindu-Christian Dialogue". Ismail Albayrak then spoke on "Reading the Bible in light of Christian Sources" while the final speaker, John D'Arcy May, discussed "Buddhist-Christian Theology?"

Forum on the Fear of Shari’a

A luncheon was organized by the Gülen Chair of Islam on 13 September 2012 to discuss the topic of “The fear of Shari'a.” Ms. Haybatullah Abouzeid led in the discussion and examined this in light of the works of the orientalist scholar Bernard Lewis. She went into great detail to explore Lewis' influence in the West and especially the impact of this on understandings of Islam and Islamic history. She then offered a glimpse into the divergent interpretations of what constitutes shari’a and how this has led to ambiguity in the understanding of Islam, some of which resulting in fearful reactions amongst Westerners.

CID Staff Video Conference with Clooney

To conclude Professor Francis Clooney's visit to ACU as distinguished professor the CID hosted a video conference seminar on 31 July 2012 where Clooney spoke with about a dozen CID members from across the campuses. The thrust of the conversation was on what CID could do to enhance its role in the Faculty and University, as well as in society.

Inter-Religious Possibilities for the 21st Century

A public lecture by Professor Francis Clooney on "Engaging the Inter-religious Possibilities for the Twenty-first Century" was held on 25 July 2012 at the ACU Melbourne campus. Clooney offered thoughts regarding the role Catholic universities could play in dialogue with other religious traditions. He proposed deep learning of the other traditions and openness to being transformed by these learnings. Following the public lecture, an honorary doctorate was conferred on Professor Clooney in recognition of his outstanding contributions to scholarship in the area of comparative theology.

Interfaith Conversation with Clooney

An informal tea and conversation was organised with Professor Francis Clooney as guest speaker on the Strathfield campus of ACU on Monday 23 July 2012. This event was a resounding success with 25 attendees from Catholic, Anglican, Uniting, Hindu, and Buddhist backgrounds. Those present engaged in a fruitful conversation and dialogue with Clooney, and several persons have continued their conversations with him through email exchanges.

Inter-Religious Initiatives for the Third Millennium

The Centre for Inter-religious Dialogue organised a symposium entitled “Inter-religious Initiatives for the Third Millennium” on 10 July 2012 with keynote speakers Professor Francis X. Clooney of Harvard University and Professor Felix Wilfred of the University of Madras in India. Around 30 scholars from the Melbourne metropolitan area participated in this roundtable conversation. Clooney was in Australia as ACU Distinguished Visiting Research Fellow and Wilfred was guest speaker at the annual conference of the Australian Catholic Theological Association.

Ethics in the Modern World

The third in the Muslim-Catholic Symposia Series was held on Thursday 31 May 2012. Entitled "Ethics in the Modern World Symposium" it featured keynote addresses by Dr John Quilter and Dr Sven Schottmann. Quilter, of the School of Philosophy of ACU in Sydney, spoke on the debate surrounding the ethics of the transhumanist agenda. Schottmann, a German convert to Islam attached to La Trobe University’s Centre for Dialogue, spoke on the development of akhlak or Islamic ethics.

Sacred Texts and Textual Sources

On Wednesday 31 May 2012 staff and honorary members of the Centre for Inter-religious Dialogue in Melbourne gathered for a dialogue session amongst themselves with "Sacred Texts: The value of textual sources" as the topic for discussion. Its aim was to foster intellectual exchange and to practise the art of dialogue where each person came ready to share as well as to learn.

Islam in Italy with Lakhous & Gobbo

A Luncheon Forum was held on Tuesday 22 May 2012 in conjunction with the visit of award winning author Dr Amara Lakhous. Lakhous spoke on "How Islam has adapted in various contexts? Reflections on the Italian case." Algerian-born journalist Lakhous migrated to Rome where he wrote his PhD thesis on the topic of “Living Islam as a Minority”. Sir James Gobbo, the former Governor of Victoria who was born of Italian parents, offered a response. Noted for his role in immigration reform and the development of Australia's multicultural policies, Gobbo advised that the spotlight should shine on the great inter-contribution between the two cultures reminding everyone how Arab science and medicine influenced the developments in the West.

Women and Feminism in Islam

The Gülen Chair sponsored a luncheon forum on the topic of “Women and Feminism in Islam” on 29 March 2012. Mrs. Sherene Hassan, Secretary and Spokesperson of the Islamic Council of Victoria, presented the keynote speech. She has served as chairperson of the Jewish Christian Muslim Association Conference Committee and was once selected by the Age newspaper as one of Melbourne’s 100 Most Influential people. She talked about the myths and stereotypes of Muslim women and shed light on some cultural practices often mistaken as Islamic.

CID Annual Gathering of Members

The members of the Centre for Inter-religious Dialogue from across the nation gathered in Melbourne for a one-day getting-to-know-you session as well as for strategic planning. Each member shared something about her/his background, connection with inter-religious dialogue and research interests. The members then explored possible directions where CID could go in the coming years.