‘Finding Common Ground’ symposium draws 400

A one-day conference at Pepperdine University featured presentations and panel discussions by local theologians and academics on the three monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

By Karen Portugal York / Special to The Malibu Times

“Finding Common Ground, Reconciliation Among the Children of Abraham,” the one-day conference convened at Pepperdine University last Thursday, was the “hot ticket” of the week with more than 400 from Malibu and the greater Los Angeles area attending.

The event was the second sponsored by the Diane and Guilford Glazer Institute of Jewish Studies, recently established at Pepperdine University, and featured presentations and panel discussions by local theologians and academics on the three monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Roger Alford, director of the Institute, framed the discussion by describing the religions as the branches of the same “faith family tree” with Abraham, their shared ancestor.

The first panel addressed each religion’s interpretation of its sacred texts-the Torah, the Christian Bible and the Koran- and highlighted the abundance of their shared content and concepts, especially as they pertain to respect for individual rights, the “stranger,” as well as ethics, social responsibility and law. This was followed by a panel that addressed how the various religions deal with the “Outsider in Our Midst” and focused on how each defines “the stranger,” and its relationship and responsibilities to those who do not share its belief system. Speakers also considered issues of diversity within the country, within their own religious groups and how religious ideology can be (and often is) subverted for political purposes.

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Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple in West Los Angeles presented the post-luncheon keynote address, “Why Faith Matters.” Wolpe suggested that interfaith discussion start with “stating our shames,” rather than simply “boasting about the riches we hoard.” Only in this way, he explained, can relationships of respect and true understanding be developed. Admitting the difficulty of this approach during the question and answer session that followed, he posed the idea that we start with small steps-for example, working together in a Christian-Jewish-Islamic soup kitchen, the proximity and common service facilitating the trust necessary for sincere dialogue and opportunities to learn from one another.

The final panel, entitled “National Identity and Religious Pluralism,” was presented by Israeli Consul General Jacob Dayan and Turkish Consul General Hakan Tekin, who spoke to the realities inherent in both “Reconciliation” and “Dealing with the Outsider in our Midst” as experienced in their counties. Dayan explained that although Israel is a “Jewish state,” secular Jews founded it and that its constitution assures complete equality of social, legal and political rights irrespective of religion, race or sex for all inhabitants. Tekin then spoke of Turkey’s long history of respect of its many diverse ethnic and religious groups, its establishment as a secular democracy after the fall of the Ottoman Empire and its commitment to freedom of religion as a basic constitutional right. However, both gentlemen acknowledged the historic and current challenges their countries face in assuring that these rights are respected, protected and enjoyed by the diverse religious and ethnic minorities residing within their borders, especially during times of economic stress, religious extremism and conflict.

The conference adjourned with acknowledgement of the generous underwriting of its sponsors, Diane and Guilford Glazer. Guilford Glazer is a retired real estate developer and philanthropist. Diane Glazer is a former talk show host who earned her Ph.D. and law degree from USC and is active in many philanthropic organizations and the World Affairs Council. At the conference, she expressed her gratitude to planners, participants and attendees and reiterated the goals of the institute: to pursue reconciliation of the Children of Abraham through understanding, dialogue and engagement and maintaining fidelity to one’s own religious tradition while honoring the rich heritage and deep insights of other religious traditions.

In addition to the Pepperdine program, the Glazers also sponsor the Diane and Guilford Glazer Institute for Jewish Studies in Nanjing, China.

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The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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