A multi-religious presence: the United States
Since returning from Indonesia in 1999, I have regularly attended the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion (AAR) .Since my experience at schools in the United States was limited to one semester as a guest lecturer at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, it seemed that this would be a good place to gain deeper understanding of the "ins and outs" of being a teacher and scholar of Islamic Studies in North America. On average 9,000 professors, students, religious leaders and interested laypersons, authors and publishers flock to the annual event that provides opportunities to learn about anything and everything to do with the study of religion. With so many scholars and presentations, the AAR conference is an exhausting event, where one can spend the day running between conference hotels from panel to panel and meeting to meeting.
It was during one of the AAR meetings held in Chicago that it struck me how change reveals itself in the most unexpected corners of life, and how fast change moves once a certain group of people agrees on its necessity. After one day worthy of a workout in the gym, I schlepped myself to a restaurant to join a group of Indonesian colleagues. Most of them were Muslims at various stages in their career, from an MA student to a full professor. Many of them were also active as religious leaders and regularly spoke or preached in mosques. Over the years, the number of Indonesian scholars, teachers, and students at the AAR has increased steadily. Their research findings presented in panels across the conference was of keen interest to colleagues in North America.
As we were discussing our current work in progress, all related to issues of interfaith dialogue and peacemaking, it dawned on me that in some indirect way, Mark Thomsens vision about the Lutheran-Muslim dialogue had contributed to the steady upswing of Indonesian speakers at AAR. It was during his tenure as Executive Director of the ELCA Division for Global Mission (DGM) that sometime in the early 1990s the idea had arisen to send teachers and other professionals to countries with substantial Muslim populations such as Madagascar, Tanzania, Senegal, Cameroon, and Indonesia. My husband Paul and I ended up teaching in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, the country with the largest Muslim population on earth. Part of my job there would be to help create a program for the study of religion at Duta Wacana Christian University (UKDW). Over the years, this program has become a feeder for the Center for Religious and Cross-cultural Studies (CRCS), and the Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies (ICRS) at Indonesia's most prestigious State University, Gadjah Mada. It was these two programs that had sent the Indonesian Muslim colleagues to the AAR meetings.
Interfaith service: Egypt
Before making the United...