A New Beginning: U.S. - Muslim Relations
Yale Divinity School Conference
New Haven, Connecticut - February 21-23, 2010
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If U.S. - Muslim relations are to improve, one of the most critical elements will be to engage Muslim and American youth.”
US President Barak Obama
That is one of the key points to emerge from a series of intense workshops and speeches at a Feb. 21-23 gathering hosted by Yale Divinity School, partly in response to President Barack Obama’s.
One year ago this June, during a speech in Cairo, President Obama called for a “new beginning” in relationships between the United States and Muslims the world over. Yale Divinity School is playing a direct role as influential leaders press ahead to explore ways to turn vision into reality.
The three-day workshop gathering held at Yale’s Greenberg Conference Center included prominent scholars, policy makers, activists, and public figures from throughout the U.S. and Middle East. The goal of the workshop was to develop a common format and agenda for a major international conference at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Alexandria in Egypt, June 16-18.
Over two days of keynote speeches, plenary sessions and break-out working groups, the workshop at Yale went a long way towards meeting its mandate. Harold Attridge, the Rev. Henry L. Slack Dean of Yale Divinity School, described the gathering as two days of “fruitful discussion” about how the Alexandria conference should proceed, as well as how “institutions in the US, such as Yale, might collaborate with their counterparts in the Middle East, such as the Bibliotheca Alexandrina.”
One highlight of the workshop was the opening keynote address by Ismail Serageldin, executive director of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, who spoke of the need for greater understanding between Islam and the West.
“The question is: can we build networks of goodwill that transcend the divisions which exist today?” Serageldin asked. He went on to outline numerous ways in which those divisions might be overcome, from translation projects to media reforms to the online dissemination of historical, religious, and scientific knowledge.
Another highlight was a plenary session on “The Use and Abuse of Religion in Conflict, Dialogue and Alliance.” The session explored both the origins of religious conflict and the possibilities for religious peacemaking. Dr. Ali Elsamman moderated this session and in his introductory speech emphasized, “After 20 years of dealing with interfaith dialogue I have come to the conclusion that we must not separate culture from religion. Cultural understanding, which includes knowledge of the history and values of a people, can provide enormous support to religious understanding.”