Mission & Program Overview

Abrahamic Family Reunion

A Project of the Esalen Institute Center for Theory and Research And

TRACK TWO: An Institute for Citizen Diplomacy

Joseph V. Montville, Project Director

The Abrahamic Family Reunion (AFR) project offers ways to use psychological and spiritual approaches in reconciling conflicts among Jews, Christians, and Muslims in the United States. AFR emphasizes our shared values of compassion and justice, explores positive historical precedents, and acknowledges collective traumas. By providing resources for organizations in its network, AFR seeks to enhance the possibility of contrition and reconciliation among civil and religious representatives of the three Abrahamic traditions. AFR is a network of organizations bound together by the notion that all peoples seek and deserve dignity.

The Abrahamic Family Reunion (AFR) Project helps foster understanding and healing between and among followers of the three Abrahamic faiths. Unlike traditional interfaith dialogue programs, the focus of the AFR Project is on the historical roots of Jewish-Christian-Muslim animosities from psychological and spiritual perspectives. That is, it asks which historical clashes from the very beginnings of the Abrahamic relationships set the stage for the resentments, fears, and hatreds that have endured to the 21st century. On the positive side, the approach also studies periods in history that can be recovered as precedents for mutual respect and creative coexistence.

The first task towards achieving the Project’s goals is to establish a network of authentic representatives of religious and civil communities, synagogues, churches, mosques, and organizations that are willing to participate in discussions within their respective communities. The Project’s current focus is in the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, Washington, DC, New York and Boston. Using a variety of resources to stimulate discussion (research papers, DVDs, and study guides) facilitators encourage participants to share candidly their feelings,….. ….Painting: Sarah, Abraham, Isaac, Ishmael and Hagar.

beliefs, and preconceptions about the other two faith traditions based on a challenging history. ………………….By Tom Block …………………………… Participants are then asked to¬†discuss what they need to hear from the two other faiths to believe that the Abrahamic family reunion is possible.¬† The next step will be to build relationships between and among local interfaith communities and extend the discussion between the faith groups.

The Esalen/TRACK II project is guided by the Project Director’s study of the political psychology of ethnic and religious violence and more than twenty-five years of practical experience in intensive workshops with representatives of groups in conflicts, but primarily with Israelis and Arabs. This study and experience was begun during his career as a diplomat in the Middle East and North Africa and in the Department of State. It continued and intensified after he left government service. (Please see staff bios here>>)

The AFR Project does not presume to enter into or resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict; however, this work is undertaken with an acknowledgement of the special and painful history that exists between Jews, Muslims and Christians in the Middle East. The complex history of the relationship starts with the political conflicts between the Prophet Muhammad in the 620’s CE and certain Jewish clans in Medina that the Muslims ultimately put down with violence. After building an empire that extended from the Atlantic to China, losses to Christian armies starting with the Battle of Vienna in 1683, began a long decline in Muslim power that accelerated with the surge of European Christian imperialism in the late 18th century. The creation of Israel in 1948 was experienced by Arabs and Muslims as a humiliating defeat by Christian powers.

Of the three dyadic relationships, the longest problematic historical relationship is that of Christians and European Jews (as opposed to Jews from Muslim countries). Contemporary research indicates that Christian-Jewish enmity got its start in the wording of the Gospels of John and Matthew that laid the basis for a Church dogma of permanent condemnation and punishment of Jews for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. This dogma, however, was formally abrogated by the Catholic Church in the document Nostra Aetate (In Our Time) issued by Pope Paul VI at the Vatican II Council in 1965 in the wake of the Holocaust.

Christian persecution of European Jews throughout history has inevitably seeded deep distrust among Jews in Israel and the Diaspora of Christian motives and, indeed, the ability of Christians to understand fully Jewish fears for survival. To build working trust in the Jewish-Christian relationship requires a separate healing effort that is necessary for reconciliation and a meaningful role for Christian support of Jewish-Muslim reconciliation process. There are Christian-Muslim issues that need resolution, but they seem to be the least complicated in the triad.

The Abrahamic Family Reunion project has already begun research and writing of papers on the origins and difficult histories of the relationships based on the best scholarship available that will be presented in language accessible to the Muslim, Christian, and Jewish lay publics. The research and production of the materials will continue throughout the project as questions arise that need answers, until a “handbook” for Abrahamic reconciliation emerges. The project is currently funded to December 1, 2009. If it succeeds to this point, its funders are prepared to consider extending the project through November 30, 2012. We anticipate the steady expansion of the Abrahamic network beyond the Five Cities throughout the United States. Our experience and research to promote healing in Abrahamic history and reconciliation will be available to Europe, the Middle East, Asia and wherever help is needed and requested.

This is a big, ambitious project inspired by the enormity of its task and the hope it offers to a fearful world.