The University of Chicago News Office
Oct. 3, 2003 Press Contact: Josh Schonwald
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Can Jews, Muslims and Christians Agree on Human Rights?

If we have learned one thing in the past two years, it is how religious beliefs can tear us apart. But if the three monotheistic faiths share beliefs about human dignity, do any religious consequences follow from this? On October 21-23, the University of Chicago Divinity School will bring together a group of Jewish, Christian and Islamic scholars to explore the ethical meaning of what these faiths believe about human dignity.

The conference will bring together an unusual group of philosophers, theologians, ethicists and legal thinkers for the 2003 D.R. Sharpe Lectures, “Humanity before God: Contemporary Faces of Jewish, Christian, and Islamic Ethics.” (Details and registration are at William Schweiker, Professor in the Divinity School and the College, said that “there’s been a lot of talk since 9/11 about ‘what Jews believe,’ ‘what Muslims believe,’ and ‘what Christians believe,’ but what can they agree on together? Having thinkers from these traditions reflect on the dignity of human beings in their own traditions, and to do so collaboratively, is a unique opportunity for the public and for intellectuals as well. I think what we’re seeing is the emergence of new forms of religious humanism, and this conference is part of it.”

Events begin on the afternoon of Tuesday, Oct. 21 with an opening keynote lecture at 4 p.m. by Hilary Putnam of Harvard University on “Monotheism and Humanism.” The conference concludes on Thursday afternoon with a keynote address at 2 p.m. by Seyyed Hossein Nasr of George Washington University, the first Muslim thinker to give the famous Gifford lectures, entitled “Standing Before God: Human Responsibilities and Human Rights.”

Chicago speakers include Michael Fishbane, the Nathan Cummings Professor in the Divinity School and the College, on “The Image of God and the Human Ideal: Reflections from the Varieties of Judaism;” William Schweiker, Professor in the Divinity School and the College, discussing “Distinctive Loves: Christian Resources for Theological Humanism;” Divinity School Professor Tikva Frymer-Kensky on “Image, Glory, Holiness: The Nature & Responsibilities of Humanity in Biblical Faith;” and Divinity School Professor Paul Mendes-Flohr on “Humanistic Ethos: A Jewish Reflection.”

The conference will feature a public roundtable over lunch on the last day (Thursday, Oct. 23, at 12:30 p.m.) in which several conference speakers will discuss the results of the conference, asking how the different faiths might revise their self-understandings in light of the others. Questions include: “How can self-understanding through the ideas of other religions transform one’s own view of human dignity?” and “Does the increased awareness of and interdependence with other cultures call for new ways of conceiving the ethical visions of each religion?” Professor W. Clark Gilpin, the Director of Martin Marty Center, will act as moderator. Those who register in advance will receive a free boxed lunch.

These lectures are co-sponsored by the William Henry Hoover Lectures of the Disciples Divinity House of the University of Chicago. The conference is also made possible through grants from the Norman Wait Harris Memorial Fund of the Center for International Studies and from the Franke Institute for the Humanities.
Last modified at 12:39 PM CST on Friday, October 17, 2003.

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