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Interfaith conference to explore authority for women in Muslim, Jewish, and Christian contexts

by Louisville Seminary | Aug 31, 2010
By Toya Richards

Dovetailing with other efforts at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary to dialogue about issues from a global and interfaith context, the Women’s Center at the Seminary is hosting a conference designed to do that from a woman’s perspective.

“A Woman’s Voice,” the Fifth-Annual Katie Geneva Cannon Lecture and Interfaith Conference, will take place for the first time in the fall, September 12-13, on the campus. The 2010 event combines the ongoing lectureship, presented by a woman scholar from a racial-ethnic minority in the United States who raises a critical voice against oppressive structure, with a conference centered on interfaith learning and worship.

The expectation is that participants will come away filled with hope about the contributions of women in religion, said Dr. Johanna Bos, faculty liaison to the Women’s Center and the Dora Pierce Professor of Bible and Professor of Old Testament.

“We want to create a holy ferment among us,” she said. “We hope to inspire.”

Among the vehicles for inspiration during the event will be the Cannon lecture, named for the first African American woman to enter ordained office in the Presbyterian denomination.

This year’s lecture will be presented by Dr. Gay Byron, the Baptist Missionary Training School Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins at Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School in Rochester, N.Y. Byron’s lecture is titled “Teaching Empires, Interpreting Texts, Redefining Authority.”

Workshops, a panel discussion, shared meals, and various rituals will round out the two-day event. “It’s a participatory conference,” said Bos.

Conference presenters, along with Byron, are Suendam Birinci, a doctoral candidate at Hartford (Conn.) Seminary; and Dr. Nancy Fuchs Kreimer, director of the Department of Multifaith Studies and Initiatives and Professor of Religious Studies at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Philadelphia.

Birinci, who has taught graduate courses on different aspects of Islam and interfaith dialogue, will address “Places of Authority for Women in the Muslim Context.”

“I will be exploring and sharing … particularly the Koran, its place and women’s position to it,” she said. The discussion will address how women read the Koran, their position to interpret it, and also their roles as individuals and leaders in the community, said Birinci.

“Women do have the position and the role as the creation of God to handle the scripture – to read it, to handle it and to interpret it,” she said.

Kreimer, who is experienced in interfaith dialogue and is the author of Parenting as a Spiritual Journey, will address “Places of Authority for Women in the Jewish Context.”

“This is the first generation really in all of Jewish history where there are a significant number of women who are really learned in the texts,” she said. These are women who are able to talk about and interpret those texts in terms of their lives and their experiences as women, Kreimer said.

Among other things, she said, there is an “outpouring” of innovative commentaries of very old texts from a new perspective. Kreimer said she will show a series of examples to illustrate how Jewish women are finding their voices by revisiting their past and revising it with women’s eyes.

“We are finding our own voice in the 21st century by gathering to us the ancestors … in a variety of ways,” Kreimer said. It is thrilling to be able to share that excitement with women from other faiths, she added.

The Women’s Center’s idea to host an interfaith conference has been bubbling up for some time, and merges with other efforts of the Louisville Seminary to spotlight global issues. Among other things, the Seminary participated through the Women’s Center in a consultation on diversity issues in a global context in partnership with St. Andrews College in South Carolina.

Louisville Seminary also recently launched its Doors to Dialogue project, which is a curriculum-wide effort to prepare students for ministry and leadership in contexts of religious difference.

The hope for this year’s Katie Geneva Cannon lecture and the interfaith conference is that people will take with them a keen sense that they have glimpsed something they thought was unimaginable, said Heather Thiessen (MDiv ’00; ThM ’02), director of the Women’s Center.

The desire is for them to see beyond the conference and realize “more is possible,” she said.

Conference registration is available online.

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