INDIANAPOLIS (3/20/09) — A conference beginning Sunday at Christian Theological Seminary (CTS) will examine the three Abrahamic faiths from two perspectives — scholarly and musical.
The 28th Annual Jewish-Christian Relations Conference at the Disciples-related seminary in Indianapolis continues through Tuesday, March 24.
“Peace Among Nations: Abraham in Judaism, Christianity and Islam” will be the topic of dialogue marking the 50th anniversary of the seminary’s commitment to interfaith relations. Harvard Divinity School’s Jon Levenson, one of the nation’s foremost authorities on Abraham, will lead events complemented by the internationally recognized music group, The Rose Ensemble.
The conference provides a chance to think about the shared traditions that inform Christianity and Judaism, as well as their differences, according to Holly Hearon, associate professor of New Testament at the seminary and an event committee member.
It also affords a timely opportunity to reflect on the ethical consequences of preaching, teaching and interpretation of scripture, which is the event’s long-term goal, Hearon said.
“It is our hope that the Jewish-Christian dialogue will help Christian pastors and laypeople recognize that we share a common root with Judaism, and that Christian pastors will become more alert to how they characterize the Jews as we move through the Easter season,” she said.
The Rose Ensemble concert, featuring late medieval and early Renaissance music from Spain, will open the conference on Sunday. Musicians will employ vocal and instrumental music to explore Abraham through the eyes of Mediterranean Jews, Christian and Muslims. The concert will be followed by a guided discussion with Frank Burch Brown, professor of religion and the arts at the seminary.
Brown said he hopes to encourage questions about how in medieval Iberian musicians listened to and learned from each other.
“When one faith practiced music in a way that borrowed elements from the music of another tradition, is there evidence that was sometimes done in gratitude and respect?” he said. “Does that sense of mutual enterprise carry over to making such music today?”
On Monday, Levenson will lead the interfaith conference from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Levenson, a specialist in the literary and theological dimensions of the Hebrew Bible, also works in rabbinic midrash, medieval Jewish Bible commentary, Jewish-Christian relations, and the philosophical issues raised by biblical studies.
Three scholars — Jewish, Christian and Muslim — will engage Levenson and participants in dialogue after his presentation. These include Zaineb Istrabadi, associate director of the Middle Eastern and Islamic studies program at Indiana University; Gerald Janzen, CTS emeritus professor of Old Testament; and Rabbi Dennis Sasso of Congregation Beth-El Zedeck in Indianapolis.
In Christianity, Abraham serves as a model of faith, said Sasso. In Islam, he is considered a model of submission. In Judaism, however, Abraham “is a counter-culturalist, a model of chutzpah!”
Clark Williamson, CTS professor emeritus of Christian thought and a nationally renowned scholar in Jewish-Christian relations, will moderate. Hearon anticipates about 90-100 people will attend.
About 40 people regularly attend the annual conference, said Hearon. “We have an equal number of people who come to the event on an occasional basis,” she said. “Over the years, we have had a chance to make an impression on a large number of people.”
On Monday afternoon, The Rose Ensemble will hold a master class on Singing Early Music at Butler University in Indianapolis. Ensemble members will work with participants on vocal style, performance practice and ensemble techniques.
Capping off the conference, the ensemble will provide the music at CTS’s weekly chapel service on Tuesday. Hearon and some of the students are planning a creative worship experience.
The Rose Ensemble program “Abraham” was conceived through the musicians’ collective interest in Medieval Spain, when Muslims, Christians and Jews lived in relative peace, said Jordan Sramek, founder and artistic director for the ensemble.
The ensemble researches music from periods dating from Medieval times to the present, and performs it using traditional instruments and techniques.
The upcoming program at CTS is made possible through a matching grant from the Indiana Humanities Council in cooperation with the National Endowment for the Humanities.