The Boniuk Center Inaugural Conference

The Boniuk Center for the Study and Advancement of Religious Tolerance will hold its Inaugural Conference on the theme of “Tolerance and Its Limits” September 19 through September 21, 2005, on the Rice University campus. Featured among the events are a presentation by Rev. Prof. Peter J. Gomes, a world renowned theologian, of Harvard University’s School of Divinity, on Monday evening, September 19th. Details about the conference are available at 2005 Inaugural Conference with an on-line registration process. Registration for the conference session is free.

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Among the other speakers during the conference are Prof. John Esposito, University Professor and Founding Director Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, Georgetown University; Mark Juergensmeyer, Director, Global & International Studies, University of California Santa Barbara; Prof. Joseph Montville, Senior Fellow, Center for World Religions, Diplomacy, and Conflict Resolution, George Mason University; Prof. William C. Martin, the Chavanne Professor of Religion and Public Policy and Senior Scholar in the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy, Rice University; Prof. Elora Shehabuddin, Assistant Professor of Humanities, Rice University; Prof. Adam Seligman, Professor of Religion, Boston University, and representatives of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, Chair of the Commission Michael Cromartie, and Commissioner Dr. Richard D. Land, who is President, Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

The presentations by the Dalai Lama on September 22 will provide the capstone. At 10 a.m. the religioius leaders of Tibetan Buddhists will speak on “The Meaning of Compassion in Everday Life,” and at the 2 p.m. event he will be speaking on “Tolerance and Universal Understanding.”

Boniuk Center Offices Now in Herring Hall

The Boniuk Center has relocated to new offices in recently renovated Herring Hall on the Rice University campus. Center Assistant Director, B. Jill Carroll, and Center Coordinator, Calvin Preece, have moved into the new space. Near the West end of the building, the Center has two offices, Rooms 120 and 122. The new offices provide additional space for the Center and will offer an opportunity for some growth in the next year.

U.S. Fiqh Council Issues Fatwa Against Terrorism

U.S. Muslim scholars released a fatwa, or judicial ruling, in Washington, D.C., on July 28th, saying that Islam condems terrorism, religious extremism and any violence against civilians, including suicide bombings. They are hoping that the message of the ruling will reach both non-Mulsims and Muslims in North America and in other locations. A pdf version of the fatwah is now available on our Tolerance Resources page on this website.

The Center’s Background
Established in July of 2004, the Center supports research on a wide range of topics related to religious tolerance and promulgates this knowledge with the aims of understanding and promoting conditions conducive to sustainable, peaceful co-existence among people of different religions.

Some arguments for tolerance are well developed. However, these usually rely on historically contingent ways of thinking that emerged comparatively recently, in societies where an idea of inalienable human rights together with a conceptual distinction between ?public? and ?private? produced a putatively secular public sphere. Such arguments have, not surprisingly, proven most persuasive in communities that accept both a clear public/private distinction and the relegation of religion to the private sphere. The Boniuk Center exists to deepen and enrich these ideas of tolerance while simultaneously seeking others that have emerged or that might emerge in different contexts and from different assumptions.

Our underlying principle is simple: just as religious conflict cannot be analyzed independently of political, cultural, economic, and social contexts, so a meaningful international commitment to religious tolerance requires that we understand religious identities, traditions, and histories in light of other spheres of human life. The Center fulfills its mission by supporting scholarly projects that study religious difference from this broad perspective and thus lay the groundwork for pluralism and tolerance in many modern societies. Because it seeks not only to understand but also to promote conditions conducive to religious tolerance, the Boniuk Center makes its research findings available with the eventual aim of supporting, in collaboration with political and religious leaders, a set of principles conducive to tolerance that could command respect and allegiance among diverse religious communities.

Rice University’s faculty provides a strong foundation on which to build this Center. The School of Humanities and the allied departments of Sociology, Anthropology, and Political Science now house leading scholars of religion and history whose work is directly concerned with issues of persecution, religious extremism, and the impact of religion on contemporary political processes around the globe. At this moment individual Rice Faculty are examining the meanings of jihad and martyrdom within Muslim communities over time; the persecutions of Jewish populations in medieval Europe; the role of African American churches in the nineteenth-century battle against slavery; the political and ethical implications of the critical study of gender and sexuality in the world religions; and the relationship between religion and freedom of expression in Arab and Israeli media.

Rice is also home to the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy now under the leadership of Edward Djerejian, who has served as Ambassador to Syria and Israel and as Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs. Through the Baker Institute, Rice attracts leading policy makers and governmental officials from around the world, many of whom deal with various aspects of religious conflict. The Baker Institute can, among other functions, provide a forum for the findings of the Center and a venue for conferences and other gatherings on religious tolerance. By building on these formidable strengths at Rice, the Boniuk Center will develop new perspectives from which to study and promote tolerance across religious communities and within many different political and social contexts.