Students of diverse faiths seek understanding at Bossey
World Council of Churches - Feature
STUDENTS OF DIVERSE FAITHS SEEK UNDERSTANDING AT BOSSEY
For immediate release: 14 July 2011
by Theodore Gill (*)
"Religions as instruments of peace" is the subtitle of a 2011 summer course
on "Building an interfaith community". Twenty-three students from more than
a dozen nations have assembled at the Ecumenical Institute in Bossey,
Switzerland for the course which runs from 4 to 29 July.
One of the early lecturers admitted that many observers today see religions
not as instruments of peace but as reasons for conflict. "Our hands as
religious leaders are not clean," said Rabbi Richard Marker of the
International Jewish Committee on Inter-religious Consultations.
The experience of too many nations and their governments, he added, "is that
religion is a cause of divisiveness that works against shared values."
Now in its fifth year, the institute's summer course on interfaith relations
brings together students of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions for
a time of study, shared experience of one another's sacred spaces and
reflection on their own cultures, spiritualities and worldviews.
The student body is made up of nine men and fourteen women. Ten are
Christian, seven are Muslim and six are Jewish.
They have come from Latin America, western and eastern Europe, the Middle
East, Asia and Australia. Three are sisters from religious orders in
Colombia, Guatemala and Romania. Three students have come from Israel, and
three are Palestinians.
Danielle Antebi of Israel, whose academic background is in criminology and
international politics, was eager to join the course after her brother's
positive experience as a student last summer. "He is an archaeologist who
gives presentations on Israel in various places," she says, "and he wanted
an opportunity to meet people from different countries and hear their
opinions of Israel and of the relationships between people of differing
She concluded that a month at Bossey, overlooking Lake Geneva, would provide
her "a great opportunity to meet and interact with people representing a
number of cultures."
Charlotte Lindhé heard of the course from her pastor in the Church of
Sweden. Following her graduation from secondary school, she began an
ambitious programme of travel and backpacking that has taken her to China,
Southeast Asia and the Middle East. Future destinations include Greece,
India and North America.
"I hope to learn more about my own religion in relation to the beliefs of
others," she explains, "and I hope to be able to share what I learn with my
own parish and others when I return to Sweden."
She says that her interest in inter-religious activity was awakened while
visiting Israel and Palestine where she saw "religions existing side by
side, yet not really living together."
Move beyond tolerance of differences to appreciation
Mohammed Azhari of Australia, who pursued studies in Islamic teaching and
inter-religious dialogue during his graduate work in Damascus, sees the
course at Bossey as "a brilliant opportunity to come and encounter people of
other faiths. Here, we will begin by building community among ourselves,
hoping that this will be a first step toward some greater achievement."
Azhari sees the students asking themselves, "How do people attain peace
through prayer, through their beliefs? In coming to know one another as
persons, we will learn to respect each other. In this way we can move beyond
mere tolerance to appreciation, to acceptance even of what makes us
different. And this is for the best, since it is ignorance that leads to
During the first week of classes, Rabbi Marker was joined in discussing
Judaism by Grand Rabbi Marc Raphaël Guedj, president of the Fondation
Racines et Sources (Roots and Sources Foundation).
Professor Fawzia Al-Ahmawi of the University of Geneva and Hafid Ouardiri,
president of the Ta'aruf (Interknowing) Foundation, are offering their
expertise on Islam, and Christianity is to be interpreted by several staff
members of the World Council of Churches (WCC) as well as by Professor S.
Wesley Ariarajah of Drew University in the United States of America.
Professor Odair Pedroso Mateus of the Ecumenical Institute, academic
coordinator for the 2011 summer course, champions this opportunity for
"promoting encounter, not provoking conflict", for asking hard questions and
exploring the possibility of "dialogue as a means of peaceful change" in the
world, for "encouraging community among civilizations, rather than a clash."
The Ecumenical Institute administration is sensitive to the variety of
dietary practices among the students, and spaces for worship have been
arranged appropriate to each of the religious traditions represented.
Founded in 1946, the Ecumenical Institute at Bossey is the international
centre for encounter, dialogue and formation of the WCC. It is related to
the University of Geneva through a covenant agreement with the university's
autonomous faculty of Protestant theology.
The summer course has been jointly organized by the Ecumenical Institute,
the WCC programme on Inter-religious Dialogue and Cooperation, the Ta'aruf
Foundation and the Fondation Racines et Sources.
(*) Theodore Gill is senior editor of WCC Publications in Geneva and a
minister ordained by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
WCC programme on Inter-religious Dialogue and Cooperation
Website of the Ecumenical Institute (Link:
More information on the interfaith course (Link:
High resolution photos to illustrate this article may be requested free of
charge via photos.oikoumene.org (Link:
The World Council of Churches promotes Christian unity in faith, witness and
service for a just and peaceful world. An ecumenical fellowship of churches
founded in 1948, today the WCC brings together 349 Protestant, Orthodox,
Anglican and other churches representing more than 560 million Christians in
over 110 countries, and works cooperatively with the Roman Catholic Church.
The WCC general secretary is Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, from the [Lutheran]
Church of Norway. Headquarters: Geneva, Switzerland.