Interfaith seminar to explore historical Jesus

Friday, Feb. 17, 2017
By Alex Harrington
Intermountain Catholic
SALT LAKE CITY — A series of seminars on faith and religion is being planned by a new interfaith group, Utahns for Religious Scholarship. 
The first seminar, “The Changing Story of Historical Jesus and Early Christianity,” will discuss historical Jesus and early Christianity on Feb. 24-25. This seminar will be presented by the Westar Institute, but the event was organized by Utahns for Religious Scholarship. They aim “to promote educational events covering faith and religion that go beyond an everyday approach in scope and scholarship,” according to the press release sent out by the Salt Lake Interfaith Roundtable.
The Salt Lake Interfaith Roundtable’s goals are to “facilitate interfaith respect, understanding and appreciation; [to] increase understanding through interfaith dialogue; [and to] explore ways to address issues of religiously motivated hate and conflict in our community,” according to their website. 
Because of these ideals, the Interfaith Roundtable is helping to spread the word about the seminars, said Josie Stone, Salt Lake Interfaith Roundtable chair.
“[This seminar] is a way of appreciating that everyone is the same,” Stone said. “That’s when people say, ‘Oh my goodness, these people are just like myself!’”
Seminars like “The Changing Story of Historical Jesus and Early Christianity” are important for people, regardless of their faith, Stone said. “We can sometimes end up in a bubble,” and gravitate only toward things they were brought up with, she said. “It takes a little effort to move away from that.”
Reverend Charles Robinson of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, founder of Utahns for Religious Scholarship, agreed. “For some, too often, religion becomes a cultural bubble,” which can lead to intolerance of the views and experiences of others who are of a different religion, he said. “Rather than bring you apart, discussing religion brings people closer. It increases understanding between people. There’s an old parable: ‘It’s really hard to hate someone once you’ve heard their story.’”
Robinson hopes the upcoming seminar will increase people’s understanding by presenting Jesus and the Gospels through a scholarly lens. “We’re trying to ask, ‘What are we really looking at, here?’” he said. The seminar “is meant to expose the general public to the kinds of questions and debates that are going on routinely in religious departments all across the spectrum. There’s a lot more interesting debates going on in academic religion than in the pews sometimes. I feel that’s a loss for the people. We want to try our best to provide opportunities for people … who are curious [about religion].”
Studying Christianity through a scholarly lens can be helpful, but also potentially poses problems, said Susan Northway, director of the Diocese of Salt Lake City Office of Religious Education. “There is value in studying Jesus in history as Jesus the Galilean Jew, studying the cultural history of the Hebrew people,” but separating the Jesus of history from Jesus as Christ and savior can lose some of what Christianity is about, Northway said.
But, “as strong believers, one of the things we want to do is promote our interfaith relations,” she said. “That’s done by listening and listening through study. As Christians, we can listen. That doesn’t mean we’re going to adopt their standpoint.”
The goal of the seminar is about improving interfaith relations, said Rev. Robinson, who hopes that people from many different religions attend the seminar. “That’s the power of this – if we can bring people from all walks of life together in the same room and focus on giving them information, we’ll start to break down barriers,” Rev. Robinson said.
WHAT: Seminar “The Changing Story of Historical Jesus and Early Christianity”
WHEN: Feb. 24-25; Friday, 7:30-9 p.m. Saturday, 9:30 a.m.-4 p.m.
WHERE: Westminster College’s Gore Auditorium, 1840 South 1300 East, SLC
COST: For all sessions: $75; students: $50; for single sessions: $20 for Feb. 24; $30 for either Feb. 25 session
To register, visit westarinstitute.org/upcoming-events-calendar. For information, email events@westarinstitute.org or call the Westar Institute, 651-200-2372. 

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