by Dr. Munjed M. Murad

While every tradition offers its own answers to questions about being human—doing so holistically and without the need to turn to other religions—the world’s religions offer a diversity of answers and vantage points that, when contemplated, can widen one’s vision into humanity, the world, and even one’s own religion without being syncretic. This has been the case historically for numerous spiritual sojourners who widened their spiritual vocabulary while being rooted in their own tradition, such as St. John of the Cross who studied Sufi literature, the Muslim prince Dara Shikoh who translated Hindu scripture, and many others. The examples of such luminaries speak to the profundity and fruitfulness of learning from the religious other while rooted in one’s own spiritual path.

Moreover, most human beings outside of the largely secular modern West live according to religious values and teachings. As we try to know our global neighbors, a diverse religious literacy becomes all the more important. In a Christian seminary, this need is compounded by an emphasis on loving the neighbor, which understanding the neighbor would only support. Furthermore, despite a global history of religious conflicts that are rooted often in human nature rather than in religion in and of itself, religion is the richest resource for ethical teachings on peaceful interaction with other human beings. An age of diversity thus compels religious actors to reach out to each other for the sake of interreligious dialogue and peace, which requires the study of the world’s cultures and religions.

The study of other religions not only helps one to grow while learning of other ways of living, but it also supports the effort at spreading the good news of one’s own tradition. Each of the world’s great religions has an inexhaustible wealth of wisdom that could benefit those outside of it. Developing a diverse religious literacy helps one to teach the wisdom of one’s own tradition in methods intelligible and relatable to those outside of it. It also helps one to better connect with and understand members of one’s own religious community who live in cultures shaped by other religions; for example, Western Christians could learn more about Arab Christians by studying Islam, more about Nigerian Christians by studying Ifá, and so on. Moreover, in light of Christianity’s rich cultural diversity, intercultural studies can show how Christianity takes form in different contexts, bringing to light the diversity of ways of living a Christian life. The study of other cultures would also be useful to those who wish to know better one’s global neighbors in an increasingly interconnected world, even in the religiously diverse environments of the US. Our service to our immediate neighbors would be improved by a greater understanding of our neighbors’ religions and cultures.

The study of other cultures and their interactions with each other shows us the wide range of ways of human living that take on unique forms in each environment. It helps us to become more knowledgeable of the variety of human experiences, if only vicariously through the genuine and close study of other ways of living. Moreover, intercultural studies necessitates the study of world religions. That religion is deeply formative of culture and deeply intertwined with the quotidian of most human beings in the world makes the study of world religions necessary for a holistic education that is conscious of its global context.

Studying the world’s religious ways of living offers us a diversity of repositories and methods for answering questions about being human that, in illuminative comparison, can bring to light resources even within one’s own tradition. Such study can provide the necessary support for being in mutually beneficial conversation and relationship with neighbors of other religions or with fellow members of a religion who come from other cultures. It also reinforces better service of others of different backgrounds, and it can help seminarians appreciate the human experience as it plays out in a great diversity of ways.

Dr. Munjed M. Murad is United’s Assistant Professor World Religions and Intercultural Studies Supported by the Johnson-Fry Endowment; Program Director for Eco-Justice

Learn More about this MA Program.

The MA in Interreligious Studies degree program will prepare you to be able to examine contemporary issues through critical yet appreciative engagement with the texts and theological/philosophical perspectives of multiple religious traditions. Graduates of this program can pursue doctorates in religious studies with a focus on interreligious issues.

This program may be a good fit for you if you are interested in pursuing a career as a:

  • Professor in a seminary, divinity school, or college
  • Religion or theology teacher in a private school or church
  • Public theologian (i.e., a theologian whose primary audience is the society or wider culture)
  • Leader of an interreligious-oriented ministry or organization

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