On 8th – 9th December 2020, over twenty scholars from many different WCC member churches and ecumenical partners around the world met online for a webinar entitled ‘Christians Studying Other Religions: Surveying the Field, Encouraging the Vocation’. Organised by the team for Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation at the WCC working in partnership with the Cambridge Centre for Christianity Worldwide, this event grew out of the network of interfaith officers launched by the WCC in 2019.

The aim of the webinar was to resource the churches for their work in a range of activities such as theological education, dialogue, witness, and interreligious cooperation for justice and peace. Through six sessions on the two days, participants had the opportunity to:

·         discover more of what is already happening in this field through Christian study centres, seminaries and other church institutions, and to explore the participation by Christians as teachers and students in this field in secular universities and in institutions of other religious traditions;

·         develop networks, cooperation, reciprocal learning, and sharing of resources among those teaching in this field, especially in light of widespread new experience of online technologies;

·         make contact with Christians studying in this field, affirming their work as an important vocation of great value to the churches;

·         encourage more Christians to take up study in this field;

·         explore existing and potential sources of funding to enable more Christians to engage in higher level study in this field.

On the questions ‘What do seminaries and other institutions of Christian theological learning and vocational formation have to gain from including teaching about other religions?’ and ‘What can we do together? How could a network arising from this meeting help to promote and enrich the study of other religions by Christians?’, presentations were offered by:

·         Fr. Etienne Vetö CCN, Director, Cardinal Bea Centre for Judaic Studies, Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome

·         Rev. Dr. Michelle Voss Roberts, Principal and Professor of Theology, Emmanuel College of Victoria University in the University of Toronto

·         Dr. Angeliki Ziaka, Associate Professor of Religion, School of Theology, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki

·         Dr. Elizabeth Harris, Edward Cadbury Centre for the Public Understanding of Religion, University of Birmingham

·         Rt. Rev. Dr Joseph Wandera, Bishop of the Diocese of Mumias, Anglican Church of Kenya

Participants met in groups focused on the study of the world’s different major religious traditions. The importance of engaging with indigenous religious traditions was also emphasised by several participants.

The meeting noted the need both to deepen and to broaden the work of the churches in this sphere. The churches benefit from the expertise of specialists on the different religions, but there is also a need to widen awareness: church leaders and those working for Christian agencies all need basic literacy regarding other religions.

Reflecting on the webinar, Rev. Dr David Marshall, programme executive in Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation at the WCC, commented: “This meeting, in which we were excited to be working together with CCCW, was a very encouraging illustration of the capacity of the WCC to convene specialists from member churches around the world to engage in consultations much needed for the work of the churches in the interreligious field. Our conversations were lively and far-reaching, leaving us with many promising proposals to follow up.”

Rev. Dr Muthuraj Swamy, director of the CCCW, added: “We are delighted to be working in partnership with the WCC on this initiative in encouraging Christians to study other religions. The webinar has shown the huge enthusiasm for a Christian vocation in studying other religions, and it has highlighted the various opportunities and resources available to do this. For CCCW, the study of world Christianity is integrally connected with studying other religions, as Christianity exists and grows only as it engages and relates with other religions, traditions and cultures. We are very encouraged by the responses.”

The World Council of Churches (WCC) has announced an essay competition for youth who want to reflect on the theme “The Future of Interreligious Dialogue.” The contest marks the 50th anniversary of the WCC’s Office of Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation. Go to CCCW News for further information.