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Department of Religious Studies

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Georg Dürr, the Principal of Talita Kumi School in Beit Jala, commented, "We are grateful that a serious Department of Religious Studies exists in the Holy Land, especially in Bethlehem. Su'ad [Kattan] (BU '02), who graduated from Bethlehem University's Religious Studies Department has been a great addition to our faculty here." He went on to say that it would be helpful for all academic institutions teaching religion and theology in the Holy Land to cooperate more with those outside the region to learn about their methods and approaches.

George Sa'adeh, the Principal of the Shepherds' School in Beit Sahour and the Deputy Mayor of Bethlehem, said that the Department of Religious Studies has had a very positive impact on the quality of religion teachers we have here in Bethlehem. He went on to say that there is a significant difference between knowing your religion and knowing how to teach it. "The Religious Department at Bethlehem University has helped significantly in producing quality teachers who can teach the Christian religion well."

Afaf Samawi, Supervisor of St. Dimitri's High School in Jerusalem, said that the teachers coming out of the Department of Religious Studies at Bethlehem University clearly have experience in their respective fields. "Being a student in the Department of Religious Studies is a special honor, because they have an opportunity to learn from some of the most active academics in the Holy Land," Ms. Samawi said. Tony Hanna (BU '03) and Lina Sara (BU '06), graduates of the Religious Studies Department, both teach religion at St. Dimitri's High School.

Fr. Maroun Lahham, the Archbishop of Tunisia, said, "The impact of the Religious Studies Department is very strong. Bethlehem is a Christian Muslim city where it is important to show that we can live together, especially in an academic context." He feels that the more we learn about one another's religion the easier it is to love those who are different from us. Fr. Maroun believes that "the ultimate goal of this Department should be to go deep down in one's faith, to live it in full respect of others and to give others the opportunity to know the Christian faith without any spirit of proselytism." Fr. Maroun was a part-time teacher for the Department, a consultant to Fr. Peter Du Brul, and one of several members of an unofficial committee which was consulted in all decisions regarding the Department since its beginning.

The International Religious Conference entitled "Exploring Christian-Muslim Relations in the Middle East and the West" organized by the Religious Studies Department in September 2007 was well received. Participants expressed their hope that the Conference could become annual, whereby a goal is set to produce research and perhaps even a Bethlehem University Peace Initiative, upon the suggestion of Dr. Sami Al-Deeb, Legal Advisor for Arab and Islamic Law, Swiss Institute of Comparative Law. Below are some of the many comments made by Bethlehem University faculty, Conference participants and the audience. They are inspiring and encouraging for all of us at Bethlehem University and for all of us affiliated with the international community of our friends and benefactors.

Fr. Vincent Hanssens, former general secretary of the International Federation of Catholic Universities (IFCU), said that he hoped the conference would stimulate other universities to act more. "Bethlehem University is at the crossroads," he said. "It offers an important and very real contextual aspect for Christian-Muslim dialogue to take place." He particularly noted the importance of dialogue and Bethlehem University's role in promoting it. "We gained the know-how and the knowledge to proceed. Bethlehem University must continue with initiatives such as these," Fr. Hanssens said.

Christian Van Nispen, SJ, Professor of Philosophy and Islamic Studies at the Coptic Catholic Faculty of Human Sciences and Theology, said, "Meeting the other is always a challenge, as Fr. George Qanawati, O.P. from Cairo once said. We have a hope for the future. We must come to an objective and deep analysis of the fears and then decide how to overcome them."

Dr. Eduardo Domingo, Associate Professor in the Theology and Religious Education Department at De La Salle University in the Philippines, spoke of Bethlehem University's responsibility as an educational institution " clarify the challenges that exist between people of different faiths and address them." He also said that "because Bethlehem is a holy place, it has a unique position to act as initiator and mediator between all of us." He particularly noted student participation in the Conference. "I loved having the students because I saw the sincerity of these young people. It gives us hope and the impetus to work for them and for the future."

Fr. Henri de La Hogue, Vice Director of the Institut de Science et de Theologie des Religions (ISTR) at the Institut Catholique de Paris, said, "Here in the Holy Land the culture and history is the same. Because of this you have the opportunity to build a model for the whole world. Bethlehem University can show the world that dialogue is possible and fruitful."

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