Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Canterbury Archbishop Calls for Dialogue

Charles Nailen/The Hoya Dr. Rowan Douglas Williams spoke to promote dialogue between faiths in Gaston Hall yesterday.

Dr. Rowan Douglas Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury, called for dialogue and unity between religious faiths during a speech in Gaston Hall yesterday.

Speaking as the opening address of the Building Bridges seminar, a three-day meeting of Christian and Muslim scholars being held at Georgetown this week, the archbishop’s address focused on how differences in perceptions of religion can help foster dialogue between faiths.

The seminar is the third in a series and the first in the United States. The other two were in London and Doha, Qatar.

“We may be able to learn from each other’s disbeliefs,” Williams said. Although the Building Bridges seminar strives to stimulate dialogue between Christianity and Islam, the archbishop’s speech discussed an array of beliefs, including Buddhism and atheism, and what they can all learn from each other.

He discussed varying concepts of atheism and degrees of disbelief, including the one found in the Buddhist tradition, and how they can be used as a constructive critique of the assumptions of theistic faiths.

“We need to know which gods are being rejected and why,” he said.

He said that, when defined in a broader sense, the concept of atheism can be used to examine the disagreements in ideology and foster understanding between Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

“All three traditions agree to disbelieve in a god who is one of the items inside a finite universe,” Williams said. Despite this shared view, he said, the three faiths often clash over their points of variation. A dialogue is needed, he said, in order to “explore where the points of strain are being felt, so that convictions can be tested and perhaps reinforced.”

“One important part of a dialogue is the discovery of how your own religious commitments work under question,” he continued.

He cautioned that the examination of religious differences must not lead to a mentality that one faith is right.

“Binary oppositions simply do not serve us at all here,” he said.

Instead, he said, different faiths could come together through understanding their differences. With dialogue, he said, Christianity could better understand the Islamic union of theology and governance, while the Jewish concept of covenants could be better understood by both Islam and Christianity.

The archbishop also addressed interfaith dialogue concerning the historic split between the Anglican and Roman Catholic Church, using humor in his account.

“I hope and pray for reintegration someday,” he said, adding that “it would be a very grim prospect if you had to put the spiritual sharing on hold until we had the paperwork signed.”

University President John J. DeGioia presented Williams with the President’s Medal at the end of his speech.

“Dr. Rowan Williams’ life has been embodied by a commitment to fostering interreligious dialogue,” President DeGioia said in a press release prior to the event.

“We are grateful for the leadership and guidance of those who can speak to our dreams of truth,” Dean of Georgetown College Jane McAuliffe said upon introducing the archbishop.

At a reception following the speech, some students expressed confusion over the title of the speech, which was “Analyzing Atheism: Unbelief and the World of Faiths.”

“Overall, he took a different approach to the topic than I had expected,” said Chris Cairns (SFS ’07). He added, however, that he felt the speech was “impressive.”

The archbishop was speaking as a part of the Pacem in Terris lecture series.

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