AFR June Headlines

Spreading the Word in Paris and Caux, Switzerland in July

Joe Montville will be leaving for the annual scientific meeting of the International Society of Political Psychology in Paris on July 7th. The highlight will be the presentation of the Nevitt Sanford Award to him for “distinguished professional contribution to political psychology.” He was told the committee’s decision-which, he says, was a total shock and surprise to him–was based on his writings on Track II and particularly his practical work on the Middle East. He will be the sole presenter of papers on the following themes: Toward the Abrahamic Family Reunion: The Political Psychology of Muslim-Christian-Jewish Reconciliation; and Combating Genocide: Politics, Psychology and Ethics. Joe reports that he is very moved by ISPP’s recognition, which he never expected, and the two platforms he has been given. One of the exciting aspects of the Sanford Prize is an invitation to give a plenary address to three to five hundred people at the next ISPP annual meeting in July 2009 in Dublin.

In mid-July Joe heads to Caux, a tiny village high above Montreux, with a huge Belle Epoch hotel/conference center called Mountain House that was the site of critically important track II diplomacy – before it had such a name – between France and Germany after World War II. He has been asked to join a panel of senior politicians, diplomats, and civil servants on the subject of “healing wounded memories.” The week-long conference is on “Human Insecurity,” and it is organized by Mohamed Sahnoun, former special representative of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in Africa, former Algerian Ambassador to the U.S., France, Germany and the UN, and former Deputy Head of both the Arab League and the Organization of African Unity. It is not insignificant that Sahnoun was tortured by French security personnel during the Algerian Revolution.

Joe is working to get Prince Turki al-Faisal, former Saudi Ambassador to the UK and US and former chief of Saudi intelligence to come to Caux. This move reflects the enormous significance of the recently reported Abrahamic initiative of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia to convene Jewish, Christian and Muslim clerics to discuss moral challenges of the 21st century. Rabbi Michael Melchior, head of a religious pro-peace faction of the Labor Party in Israel, has reportedly agreed to come to the meeting also. This will be an important opportunity to share some of the insights of the AFR project with influential shapers of policy and public opinion in the Arab and Muslim worlds and in Israel.

Headlines from the Five AFR Cities

In the Greater Boston area, Joe has been helping to plan and will participate in the formal launch on October 28, of a new Center for the Study of Christianity, Judaism and Islam at Merrimack College, a Catholic institution in North Andover, Massachusetts. He met Padraic O’Hare, director of the center, through Larry Lowenthal, former executive director of the New England American Jewish Committee, who participated in the Esalen strategic planning session for AFR in March 2007. Joe has helped recruit Asma Afsaruddin, associate professor of Arabic & Islamic Studies at Notre Dame for the launch in October. Asma participated in the Esalen Islamic Fundamentalism workshop in September, 2005. She will be sole commentator on a paper by James Carroll called Islam: Threat or Gift: A Christian Perspective. We showed Carroll’s feature length documentary Constantine’s Sword at our all-California AFR meeting at Esalen in March. This is a good example of how the AFR project focuses on networking and supports institution-building across the country while avoiding the creation of a large organization of its own.

Boston College will launch its course called Toward the Abrahamic Family Reunion, in the spring of 2009. It will be open to all students in the Boston Theological Institute (BTI), a consortium of nine seminaries, divinity schools and theology departments, including Harvard Divinity School and Boston University. We are helping with the syllabus and research materials. Joe will be a guest lecturer.

In New York, Professor Mary Boys has, at Joe’s request, agreed to design a Toward the Abrahamic Family Reunion course to be co-offered by Union Theological Seminary and the Jewish Theological Seminary, which are across the street from each other on Broadway, next to Columbia University. Mary’s book on the history of Jewish-Christian conflict and promoting reconciliation, called Has God Only One Blessing?, will be a basic text for the course at Boston College and in New York.

In Washington DC, Evan Anderson of the Center for Global Justice and Reconciliation at Washington National Cathedral and Washington and New York AFR coordinator,  continues to plan for a high level interfaith meeting at the Cathedral in the fall. Joe helped the Cathedral get a $50K grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York to support this effort. Evan is also going to Tehran this summer at the invitation of an Iranian religious NGO to present a paper on the tensions between the concept of interfaith dialogue and the claims of both Christianity and Islam to be superior to all others. These activities flow directly from the Esalen co-sponsored initiative that brought former Iranian President Khatami to speak in the nave of the Cathedral in September 2006.

In the Bay Area on June 25th, Joe and Dulce Murphy, President of TRACK II and AFR coordinator for the Bay Area, will meet with James Donahue, president of the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley to discuss establishing a course in this consortium of divinity schools and theology departments on Toward the Abrahamic Family Reunion. Joe met with Donahue at the end of 2007 and has since provided the Boston College draft syllabus for the AFR course there and other research materials he has been generating for the AFR project. GTU is unique in the country among theological consortia in having separate centers for Jewish and Islamic studies.

Joe will also meet with Rabbi Stephen Pearce, head of Temple Emmanu-El in San Francisco, to seek his advice on how best to introduce the delicate and painful subject of the historic Jewish-Christian relationship into his congregation. The goal is to prepare for serious dialogue with Christian congregations at an appropriate date. The ultimate goal is to heal this relationship.

In Los Angeles, Joe has been invited to present on the AFR project to a monthly interfaith meeting on June 27th and then to an all Jewish seminar being hosted by Rabbi Haim Beliak, who participated in the March 2008 all-California AFR workshop at Esalen. Beliak is a supercharged networker in Abrahamic work across the country. Joe will also meet with Aziza Hasan of the Muslim Public Affairs Council. He hopes to close the deal soon with Aziza and her Jewish colleague Malka Fenyvesi of the Progressive Jewish Alliance, to become AFR co-coordinators for the Greater LA area. Together Aziza and Malka are co-founders of NewGround, an NGO that brings young Muslims and Jews together every two weeks and for weekend retreats twice yearly. Their focus is informed dialogue, including tough issues like Israel-Palestine, and community service to help build relationships. Aziza came to the March 2008 Esalen workshop. Malka could not make it. She is by happy coincidence a former student of Marc Gopin, Rabbi and Professor of World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution at George Mason University, where Joe has taught. Marc participated in the March 2007 AFR strategic planning meeting.

A final note. The AFR project has an integral approach involving cognitive, emotional and spiritual streams. Work with the theological institutes and senior clerics is primarily on the cognitive-teaching-side: the walks through painful history; explications of certain theological differences, but also emphasis on the connecting pro-social values in the three traditions that bind us as a community. This also has emotional potential-caring for the least among us-the widows and orphans and many more souls. The philosophy involves valuing all peoples of all creeds or none at all as precious by definition and deserving of dignity. The watchword is caring.

As noted above, AFR is getting well-connected with institutions and leaders for the cognitive work. Our co-coordinators in Boston, David Dolev, a Jew, and Aziz al-Madi, a Muslim, who are also co-directors of the Center for Jewish-Muslim Relations, parallel our LA co-coordinators-designate, Aziza Hasan and Malka Fenyvesi, who also co-direct NewGround.  Both NGO’s provide to the AFR project communities of young lay people, primarily but not exclusively American Jews and Muslims, with whom we can test the  healing and transformational power of various levels of the cognitive input–or knowledge and insight–being developed by the project with scholars and clerics. We are working on the spiritual component which we plan to integrate in the AFR national workshop at Fetzer Institute’s Seasons conference center in September in Kalamazoo.

June 17, 2008