April 20, 2011 | Myrna Anderson

Philosophy professor Kelly Clark is using an $189,000 Templeton grant to start a conversation about religious tolerance.

As he edited the essays for a new book on religious tolerance, Calvin professor of philosophy Kelly Clark faced challenges that went beyond punctuation transgressions. For one thing, two of the contributing authors were under fatwa.

“They defended moderate Islam, and radical Muslims don’t like that,” Clark said of Iranian philosopher Abdolkarim Soroush and Islamic scholar Fethullah Gulen. Souroush, he added, advocated for democracy, an ideological stand for which he was beaten, persecuted and stripped of his job.

Soroush and Gulen are two of the five Muslim, five Christian and five Jewish scholars whose essays make up Abraham’s Children: Liberty and Tolerance in an Age of Religious Conflict. The book, to be published by Yale University Press, is funded by a $189,000 grant from the John Templeton Foundation. The grant is administered through Calvin’s Nagel Institute for the Study of World Christianity,

Image bearers

“My idea of tolerance is based on respect,” Clark said. “You don’t tolerate people. You’re not putting up with people. You tolerate behavior and beliefs … Everyone is an image-bearer of the divine and, so, deserving of infinite respect.”

Among the 15 authors Clark recruited to preach that message were people such as President Jimmy Carter, Arik Ascherman, Miroslav Volf and Calvin and Yale emeritus professor Nicholas Wolterstorff. And he encouraged them to write in a non-academic style to make their ideas accessible to a wide reading audience.

The most surprising of the essays, Clark claims, was contributed by Abdurrahman Wahid, Indonesia’s former president—and the first that was democratically elected. “The title tells it all: 'Omnipotence needs no defense,'" said Clark. "He’s saying, ‘We don’t need to kill people for Allah. He’s just fine without our help.'”

Nagel director Joel Carpenter is looking forward to Abraham’s Children. “This is not a liberal, secular project, this is a deeply religious project, that’s what’s new and fresh about it,” he said. “My heart beats for this book too, especially after what I’ve seen in Christian and Muslim communities in Asia and Africa. In many of these countries there are Christians and Muslims ... all in the same extended family."

Conferences on tolerance

Along with the book, the Templeton grant will fund a conference on religious tolerance at Georgetown University in Washington D.C. on the 10th anniversary of 9/11. The two-day event, co-sponsored by Georgetown's Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, will feature nine of the contributors to Abraham’s Children: Clark, Wolterstorff, Ascherman, Hanna Sinioria, Nurit Peled-Elhanan, Lea Shakdiel, Ziya Meral, Hedieh Mirahmadi and Rana Husseini. Clark hopes to hold further conferences on the subject in Indonesia, Israel and Nigeria.

People of all faiths need to hear the message of tolerance, Clark said: “All around the world, we find religiously motivated hatred, violence and bigotry. We need to develop and then act from our own faith-based systems of peace, justice, compassion and respect.”

Kelly Clark at the Dome of the Rock

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