When students – Muslim, Christian or Jewish – come to his classes on Islam, professor Munir Jiwa expects tough questions.

“They are not apologetic,” he said. “But when bringing up divisive issues in class, it is in the spirit of learning to work with people different from themselves.”

California’s largest seminary has long nurtured such a spirit in its nine schools and two study centers.

Ten years ago, directors of the Graduate Theological Union began planning a Center for Islamic Studies, Today, they have achieved their dream of establishing a home to each of the world’s major religions.

Today, Bay Area scholars, attorneys, spiritual leaders and journalists will help the Union celebrate its new center at a day-long conference called “Pluralism in Practice.”

Speakers include the head of the Center for Jewish Studies and an imam. A panel of Persian, Palestinian and Arabic leaders will discuss media images with representatives of print and broadcast media.

“A lot of institutions have departments of Islamic study, but none are engaging communities of faith about the theology — the academic piece and the practical piece,” said James Donahue, president of the Graduate Theological Union.

A place of study, research, and bridge-building, the center will also be a resource for the diverse Bay Area Muslim community: “We want to be a place where different perspectives within Islam can find a safe space,” Donahue said.


Jiwa, a Canadian scholar who holds a master’s degree in religion from Harvard and a doctorate in anthropology from Columbia University, began work as director July 1. (MORE)


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