Milleret Lecture at Assumption College

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Dr. Sandra T. Keating, adjunct assistant professor of Theology at Providence College, presented the Marie Eugenie Milleret Lecture entitled, "Exploring the Spiritual Bonds that Unite Us: Reflections on the Church's Mission to Dialogue with Muslims" on Monday, April 3 at 7:30 p.m. in the La Maison Francaise Auditorium, Assumption College, Worcester, MA.

Keating was recently appointed by Pope Benedict XVI to the Vatican's Commission for Religious Relations with the Muslims. The only American to be chosen to the commission, Keating was appointed to a five-year term. In the fall of 2005, she participated in her first commission meeting, joining scholars from around the world in Rome to discuss pressing Christian and Islamic issues. A member of the Providence College faculty since the fall of 2003, she has studied Catholic and Muslim theology for approximately 20 years.

Following is an excerpt from The Catholic Free Press article on the lecture.

Catholic-Muslim Specialist Offers Perspective
By Tanya Connor
Catholic Free Press, April 7, 2006

Relations between Christians and Muslims and members of other religions will be important politically, sociologically and theologically for the next several decades, a Vatican consultor said in a talk at Assumption College Monday.

Sandra T. Keating, one of six new consultors Pope Benedict XVI named to the Vatican's Commission for Religious Relations With the Muslims last September, told The Catholic Free Press a bit about this work before giving the fifth annual Blessed Marie Eugenie Milleret Lecture.

The lecture is named for the foundress of the Religious of the Assumption. Many of the sisters serve in countries with growing Muslim populations, said Sister Nuala Cotter, R.A., who teaches in Assumptions theology and English departments, as she introduced the lecture.

Sister Cotter said she thought their foundress would pray that all will be one in whatever ways they can and that Christians would reach out to Muslims.

Ms. Keating, who has a doctorate in theology with a specialization in Muslim-Christian relations from The Catholic University of America, said that Christain-Muslim relations today are colored by history, including the Crusades, European colonization, and the conquering of Christian countries by Muslims.

Pope Benedict has said dialogue must not be abandoned, Pope John Paul II emphasized the spiritual bonds that unite all believers and Pope John XXIII called for dialogue and witness, Ms. Keating said.

Christians give witness to their faith by dialogue, but dialogue is not evangelization, although the two are intrinsically bound together, she said. One of the obstacles to dialogue is fear that the other party will try to evangelize ones own people, she said.

True dialogue includes an openness to change ones pre-conceived ideas, but does not demand that one leave ones religion, she said. Dialogue does not aim to create a new all-encompassing religion. It aims to help each party listen to the other, find mutual understanding and strengthen the bonds that unite all who believe in God.

Progress is being made, Ms. Keating said: there are many formal and informal dialogues throughout the world and there is cooperation in works of charity, such as collecting donations for tsunami victims.

In answering listeners' questions, Ms. Keating said one of the biggest difficulties in dialoguing with Muslims is their lack of a central authority to speak for their religion.

But one of their strengths is that, over time, theologians and legal scholars arrive at a consensus about how to incorporate new interpretations of Scripture and the law, she said. By conversing one-on-one they can experience the best of what Christians have to offer and that influences their thinking about Islam, she indicated. "So," she said, "It's very important we take seriously individual witness."

"Islam is a religion of peace in the sense that it says there will be peace where everyone submits to God's law," she said. "Islam is a religion of orthopraxy, uniting people by their obedience to its laws, while Christianity is a religion of orthodoxy, uniting people by creed," she said.

"Jihad has historically been thought to mean effort for God to expand Dar al Islam, or area under Islamic law," Ms. Keating said. "This is done externally by waging war on non-Muslims and internally by waging war on ones own sinfulness," she said.

"Historically, Muslims have re-asserted their identity, waging external war, when they feel under attack," Ms. Keating said. "Currently," she said, "they feel under physical attack because of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but primarily they feel a cultural attack on their religion." "So," she said, "they are very hesitant to enter a conversation where they feel their beliefs are being questioned."