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11 February, 2011

Bethlehem University Religious Studies Department Holds Third Religious Conference

Religious educationFrom February 9th – 11th, Bethlehem University was host to a large group of visiting and local academics, clergy and practitioners in the fields of non - violence, religious studies, and political science. The opening session was led by Br. Peter Bray – Vice Chancellor of Bethlehem University, H.B. Msgr. Fuad Twal – Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, H.E. Dr. Mahmoud El-Habash – Minister of Religious Affairs – Palestinian Authority, H.E. Bishop Munib Younan – Evangelical Lutheran Church – Jerusalem, and Father Jamal Khader – Chairperosn of the Department of Religious Studies – Bethlehem University. Many attendants travelled especially for the conference, coming from the United States, England, Bosnia, Germany, Brussels and New Zealand. The conference, sponsored by the Pontifical Mission for Palestine, International Federation of Catholic University, Friends of Bethlehem University in England and Wales and The Living Stones of the Holy Land Trust.

Religious educationFather Jamal, Dean of the Department of Religious Studies, was pleased with the attendance and great show of interest. Guests came from many well known academic institutions, the list including St. Mary’s College – London, Georgetown University, Wadham College – Oxford, U.K., California State University and Princeton, in addition to many influential religious leaders and academics from the Bethlehem and Jerusalem community. Rosemary, a graduate student of inter-religious dialogue, who travelled from University of Leuven – Brussels, felt particularly moved by the Bosnian professor, who spoke of “knowing the other in pluralistic societies” considering the difficult background in that part of the world. She thinks that it is important for people of faith to consider more carefully internalizing the spirit of their faiths in order to become carriers of peace.

Religious educationThe object of the conference, according to Fr. Jamal, is not to focus on hammering out theological issues of religious dialogue but to focus on Christian – Muslim relations. The series of lectures reflected this theme and offered different points of view. He feels that there is a great need for Christians and Muslims to study and discuss the issues that influence how they interact with each other, for example the use of holy texts to inform opinions on relations. Rosemary holds a similar opinion to Fr. Jamal, saying that she sees a tendency of people to follow religious codes without living the spirit of the faith which bids us to interact peaceably with one another.

Religious educationBrother Peter Bray pointed out that in view of the unrest in Egypt and Middle East in general, “There is an important need to deal adequately with non violence and a need to be honest…and commitment to deep respect for each other…as each person is precious and unique, being created by God.” Archbishop Twal also pointed the need for people of faith to renew calls for non violence and emphasized the need for parents and educators to educate children for peace, saying that a child is like a seed that grows into a young plant. As the seed needs sun and water to grow well, a child needs love and peace in order to grow well. He behooves “parents as well as all those who are in charge of educational and cultural institutions must live up to their responsibilities and not to relegate the education of their children to the streets and the mass media, otherwise they would be the ones who would have to pay the price for the violence in the midst of which our youth grow up.”

The conference consisted of a series of lectures and talks given by experts in their fields some of which can be viewed by clicking here, each of which were followed by question and answer periods and open discussion. Bethlehem University has always encouraged interreligious dialogue and peaceful relations, in order to promote understanding and respect in Palestine and beyond. Speakers emphasized the need for people to engage in non violent activities to achieve goals, as H.E. El Habash stated, “Violence and mercy cannot exist together.” He stated that it is important that Christians and Muslims continue to adhere to the code of brotherhood and respect for all believers as one who hurts a believer harms God. One of the required courses in the Department of Religious Studies teaches aspects of the three monotheistic religions in order to give students a well rounded understanding of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam to all Bethlehem University students.

Great supportive staff and faculty ensured the conference went smoothly and all needs were tended to, such as note taking materials and translation devices for guests. Thanks to all staff, faculty members and department students who worked so hard to make this conference happen.

For more information on the program of the conference and the Bethlehem University Department of Religious Education, click here.

For the photo collection from the event, click here.

To see the text of His Beatititude Bishop Twal’s speech, click here.


Bethlehem University Foundation
Phone: +1-240-241-4381
Fax: +1-240-553-7691
Beltsville, MD USA
Bethlehem University in the Holy Land
Phone: +972-2-274-1241
Fax: +972-2-274-4440
Bethlehem, Palestine