Drew’s ﬁrst Summer Institute on Religion sowed the seeds for tempering religious conﬂict around the globe.
By Cara Townsend ’05
Sarel Rosenblatt had never met a Muslim when he arrived at Drew from the West Bank in early June. A participant in Drew’s Summer Institute on Religion, Culture and Conﬂict, Rosenblatt, a 28-year-old rabbi, and 23 fellow emerging religious leaders from across the globe came to campus, living and studying together to learn what he called “a new language for peace building.” In just three weeks, Rosenblatt grew to better understand a Muslim from Egypt and a Christian from Nigeria—people he now calls friends.
Funded by a $300,000 grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the institute, led by the Center on Religion, Culture and Conﬂict directors Christopher Taylor and Jonathan Golden, welcomed renowned religious leaders who emphasized the importance of interfaith dialogue. Ali Gomaa, the recently retired Grand Mufti of Egypt, encouraged participants to embrace similarities and break down barriers. Michael Melchior, chief rabbi of Norway and a former member of Knesset, said religion can overcome extremism, building bridges instead of igniting wars.
The advice hit close to home for Nigerian Baptist minister Ezekiel Babagario, whose younger brother, Ezra, was slaughtered during the 2004 crisis between Christians and Muslims. As a member of the country’s air force, but also as a Christian, Babagario was called upon to exact revenge. He instead sought peace after receiving counsel from his Muslim grandfather and went on to seminary. At Drew he gained insight into how sacred texts serve as a lens to view the world and how that can translate to violence—or peacebuilding.
Likewise, Amira Abohussein, a 27-year-old Egyptian community activist, honed a new set of skills to take home. Abohussein believes her work will be critical to the unﬁnished revolution in Egypt. Instead of responding with hatred or suspicion of other faiths, Abohussein says she will be better equipped to help others act from a place of respect and understanding.