A Unique Definition of “Interfaith”

Today in the mail appears an interesting program from the Wallage Stegner Center of the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law: this coming Friday and Saturday, the Center will host “Religion, Faith, and the Environment” with lots of important guest speakers.  Good on them.

What are we?  Chopped liver?

What are we? Chopped liver?

But then when I looked at the program, something strange popped out at me.  The initial panel of the program goes from 8:15 to 11:45 (with a break), and concerns “Ecological Protection, Environmental Degradation — Perspectives of Faith”.  It comprises representatives of:

Christianity

Buddhism

Hinduism

Islam

Mormonism

Common Q & A

…and topped off by a Native American Blessing.  Well, that’s just terrific, nicely ecumenical, and — hey, wait a minute! Someone’s missing here!

Conferences always have to make choices, and three and a half hours for one topic is a long time.  But it’s a two-day conference: they’ve got time.  And yes, Rabbi Jamie Korngold is on one of the other panels, but presumably we don’t want one person representing the entirety of a faith.

Of course, maybe you do.  I suppose you could argue that if you are trying to do develop a political movement, other religions are more important than the original People of the Book.  There aren’t many of us, after all, as revealed in an exchange I had with my wife (who is not Jewish) a couple of years ago.  I mentioned that the Holocaust wiped out one-third of world Jewry.  She quickly did the numbers.

She:  Wait, so how many Jews are there worldwide?

Me: About 13 million.

She:  (Pauses).  That’s not very many at all!

Me: No.

She: So how come everyone I know is Jewish?

And one could answer the question by saying, because: 1) you live in an urban area in the United States; and 2) you have spent a lot of time at universities.  But of course the second answer makes it even stranger: lots of Jewish academics around, and the study of Jewish law has become something of a cottage industry in American law schools, especially since Robert Cover’s celebrated 1982 Harvard Law Review Foreword.

So it’s still something of a mystery to me why the Stegner Center decided to keep Judaism’s role in the discussion so muted.  I don’t think it’s prejudice.  It just seems strange: you have a religion conference at a law school, and the Jews are in the background.  Who knew?

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