John Esposito speaks up for pluralism at U of T


Last Friday, Professor John Esposito, the founding director at the Centre for Muslim-Christian Relations at Georgetown University in the United States, addressed an audience of 500 professors, students, community members, leaders and academics at St. Michaels College at the St. George campus.

The Future of Islam and Muslim-West Relations lecture was a part of a special-lecture series organized by St. Michaels College. The Pluralism-Series lecture was open to any member of the community including UTM students and was advertised to the UTM student body through the faculty in the Department of Historical Studies.

Most of you would know that some of his prominent works have been featured by Oxford University Press and are standard texts for religious-studies courses on Islam such as the Oxford History of Islam, the Oxford Islamic Dictionary, and the Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World, said Professor Mark McGowan, St. Michaels Colleges principal, as he introduced Professor Esposito, who has published over forty books and numerous journal articles on the issue of topic of Muslim Christian relations.

In his address to the staff and students, Professor Esposito explored the political issues of the war in Afghanistan and Iraq and the fragile structure of North-American society in the aftermath of the 9/11. He advocated a robust religious pluralism between the Abrahamic faiths of Islam, Christianity and Judaism that challenges the older notion of co-existence that is merely tolerance or People of the Book.

I think one of the most crucial points in his lecture was that the traditional understanding of co-existence must change in the West. Instead of ignoring the other’s beliefs, people have to start exploring what their fellow students, professors, co-workers, or neighbors’ beliefs are and what influences their worldview, said Rumman Khalid, a student who attended the lecture. Jeremy Malinowski, another attendee, said that U of T should be at the fore-front of leading the discourse of religious pluralism, multiculturalism and equality due to its vast faculty and student body.

Over the course of the next couple of days, His Grace Thomas Collins, Arch-Bishop of Toronto and Chancellor of St. Michaels College will confer the U of T Doctorate of Sacred Letters to distinguished academics for their continued work in religious and pluralism studies at the Theology graduate convocation.

Professor Esposito is one of the two individuals receiving the honorary degree from the Centre for Jewish Christian Relations for his work on triggering an academic dialogue on understanding between Islam and Christianity. Professor Susannah Herschel will also receive a similar honorary doctorate for her work on the field of Jewish Studies and the Christian-Jewish engagement in Germany during the 19th and 20th centuries.