On Friday, November 1, 2013, Professor Mark Toulouse of Emmanuel College, Victoria University at the University of Toronto, visited the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT) in Herndon, VA. The visit’s objective was to enhance the cooperation between Emmanuel College and the IIIT, especially in the field of Muslim studies.
During the visit, Prof. Toulouse delivered a talk, “Why Muslim Studies at Emmanuel College?,” which was an exposition of his recent article, “Muslim Studies in a Christian Theological School: The Muslim Studies Program at Emmanuel College in Toronto,” published in Theological Education (Vol.47, No.2, 2013). In the talk, he examined current social and political realities of Canada, especially as these pertain to Muslim minority. He elaborated on the diversity of Muslim experiences in Canada, by highlighting the differences between Quebec and other provinces. With regard to Ontario and Toronto, Prof. Toulouse pointed out the multicultural nature of Toronto, as well as the growing Muslim population therein.
Making case for Muslim Studies at Emmanuel College, Prof. Toulouse stressed the need for Christians and Muslims to learn about each other, not just from theological point of view, but more importantly from the perspective of lived experiences of the two religions. He reiterated Hans Küng’s famous statement that there is “no peace between religions without dialogue between religions.” This affirms the need to have space where such dialogue could be conducted. Emmanuel College provides such space with its Muslim Studies program within the context of a Christian theological seminary. Having such a program of study goes a long way toward affirming Northrop Frye’s ‘double vision’ idea, i.e. escaping the limits of our own social conditioning and accepting the Other’s vision of God. Emmanuel College is a perfect place for such ‘double vision’ approach as it offers high quality academic work, takes God seriously, and offers a space for lived experience of religion.
Muslim Studies program at Emmanuel College offers continuing education opportunities, especially for Imams and Muslim chaplains, through Canadian Certificate in Islamic Studies. It also has a degree track, Master of Pastoral Studies in Muslim Studies. Emmanuel College also seeks to establish an endowed professorship in Islamic studies. Finally, it supports the prayer life by providing space for ablution facilities and Muslim prayer room – thus, stressing the importance of spiritual component in education.
A lively discussion followed Prof. Toulouse’s talk. Prof. Abdulaziz Sachedina, the IIIT Chair of Islamic Studies at George Mason University, emphasized the need for Canada to turn to pluralism – not a theological pluralism only, but one that is focused on ethical paradigm. Institutions of higher education, such as Emmanuel College, need to identify the moral terrain we share with one another, and explore issues such as secular ethics vs. religious ethics, concluded Prof. Sachedina.
The talk was followed by a business meeting where Prof. Toulouse discussed future academic cooperation between Emmanuel College and the IIIT with the Institute’s leadership. It was agreed that Emmanuel College and the IIIT should co-sponsor a roundtable on the study of Islam at either MESA or AAR Annual Meeting. The IIIT has also invited students of Emmanuel College to apply for the IIIT Summer Students Program. Finally, the Institute agreed to advise Emmanuel College with regard to establishing professorship in Islamic Studies.
Prof. Mark Toulouse is Principal of Emmanuel College and Professor of the History of Christianity at Emmanuel College and the Department for the Study of Religion at the University of Toronto. He joined the faculty of Emmanuel College in 2009 after spending 23 years at Brite Divinity School of Texas Christian University. Prof. Toulouse is an ordained minister of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). He is the author of several books and many scholarly articles. His most recent publications include Sources of Christian Theology in America (1999), and God in Public (2006).
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