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2019-2020, News

Introducing the Inaugural Cohort of Interreligious Research Fellows

The Newsroom | November 7, 2019 Academic News, Faith, Front Page, News

Congratulations to students Grant Pederson, Rabia Sheikh and Dominique Stewart, who make up the 2019-20 cohort of Interreligious Research Fellows (IRF). Sponsored by the Jay Phillips Center for Interfaith Learning, and in collaboration with the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, the IRF program is a yearlong opportunity for St. Thomas students to receive funding to design and implement an academically rigorous, closely mentored research project that examines and engages the encounter between, among, and/or within religious communities and people with various religious identities, including secular, nonreligious, and spiritual worldviews and ways of life. Read more about this cohort’s interreligious research projects and read more about the program. Consider applying for next year’s cohort!

2019-2020, News

“What do Americans know about religion?,”

Jean Hopfensperger, published 02 August 2019, Star Tribune:

What is Ramadan? What religion is most associated with yoga? What is one of Buddhism’s Four Noble Truths? If you can’t answer these questions correctly, you’re not alone. Most Americans have some knowledge of Christianity but a limited grasp of other faiths, according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center. Read More…

2018-2019, Statement

Statement on Tragic Events at Tree of Life Synagogue

October 29, 2018

We are deeply saddened by the horrendously violent tragedy at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh that took place on October 27th and claimed the lives of eleven people and harmed several others, including law enforcement and first responders. Our thoughts and condolences go out to all the families of the victims.

With the Parliament of the World’s Religions, the Jay Phillips Center acknowledges that “The Jewish people, alongside other peoples who faced genocide, know deeply the experience of historical rupture; today is one of those days when the memory of hate is too present once more.” We echo the sentiment of Steve Hunegs, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, who sagely reminds us “an attack on a synagogue is an attack on a mosque, is an attack on a church, is an attack on a temple.”

We at the Jay Phillips Centers will continue to strive towards cultivating understanding and friendship across lines of religious difference and to foster constructive relations between and among people of various religious identities, with an eye to doing whatever we can to help prevent future tragedies such as these.

With the JCRC, the Parliament of the World’s Religions, and the many organizations and people who work hard every day to build understanding across religious divides, we want our local Jewish communities and the community of Squirrel Hill to know that we stand with you, your families, and loved ones. “You are never alone.”

  • Hans Gustafson, Director of the Jay Phillips Center for Interfaith Learning at the University of St. Thomas
  • John Merkle, Director of the Jay Phillips Center for Interfaith Learning at Saint John’s University

Click here to read “Statement on the Shabbat Murders at the Tree of Life –Or Simchat Synagogue in Pittsburgh” issued by the Council of Centers on Jewish-Christian Relations on Oct. 31, 2018.

2017-2018, News

Five Observations – Encountering the Dakota Worldview

Brittany Stojsavljevic March 5, 2018

“We stand together and bring that hope, that together we can bring beautiful diversity to the rest of the sick world and give them a model of standing together and working cooperation.”

“We relied on oral tradition, and that brings me here today,” Bob Klanderud said to the standing-room-only crowd on the St. Thomas campus as he shared stories of culture, belief and modern-day realities of Dakota and Lakota people, particularly in Minnesota. To an audience that included undergraduates, community members and seminarians, Klanderud made what can seem to be a simple request: to listen.


2017-2018, News

St. Thomas to Host Undergraduate Conference on Interfaith Storytelling

Jordan Osterman ’11 | January 26, 2018 | Current Students, Faith, For Students, Notices, Our Community

Undergraduate students from around the Midwest will gather at St. Thomas Feb. 23-24 for an interfaith conference, “Interfaith Storytelling for a Vibrant Democracy: Engaging the Diverse, the Devout, and the ‘Nones.’”

St. Thomas’ Jay Phillips Center for Interfaith Learning, Muslim-Christian Dialogue Center, and Office for Spirituality have teamed up with Augsburg University and Bethel University to establish the event.

“The idea is to promote interfaith leadership,” said Hans Gustafson, Jay Phillips Center director. “Another part of the goal is for students to reflect on their own stories and to be able to begin to think about their own story, where they’ve been, where they are now and where they’re going to go.”

A full slate on Saturday will feature several breakout sessions and a keynote from Chris Stedman, a noted atheist, about how interfaith stories can change the world. Friday includes a Dakota sacred sites tour with Healing Minnesota Stories.

Thanks to the support of Undergraduate Student Government, the cost for the conference for St. Thomas students is $5, which covers meals throughout the day on Saturday. The cost for non-St. Thomas undergraduates is $10.

The three universities received a grant to create the event from the Interfaith Youth Core. Registration and more details on the event are available here.

2017-2018, News

Author of Faitheist to Speak on Interfaith and Secular Humanism

St. Thomas Newsroom | 10 November 2017 12:59 PM

Chris Stedman, author of Faitheist: How an Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religious, will speak on “Encountering Secular Humanism” on Nov. 16 at noon in the Anderson Student Center, Iversen Hearth Room.

The Star Tribune reports that Stedman’s story “calling for civil discourse between atheists and the religious couldn’t come at a better time,” and Christian Century magazine declares that Stedman’s “story needs to be heard and engaged.” Read more…

2017-2018, News

UST Receives Grant to Host Student Interfaith Leadership Conference

09 October 2017 2:52 PM

The University of St. Thomas, in collaboration with Augsburg University and Bethel University, received a grant from the Interfaith Youth Core to hold the upcoming conference Interfaith Storytelling for a Vibrant Democracy: Engaging the Diverse, the Devout, and the “Nones” on February 23-24 at UST.

The conference will provide training in, and a forum for, storytelling and story- listening across differences in core commitments. Students from all perspectives and institutions are invited to attend and to refine their skills in dialogue on their campuses and in their wider communities.

The grant was written and submitted by Tanden Brekke (Bethel), Sarah Farnes (St. Thomas), Hans Gustafson (St. Thomas), Marion Larson (Bethel) Dominic Longo (St. Thomas), Matt Maruggi (Augsburg), Marta Pereira Vindas (St. Thomas), Amy Poppinga (Bethel), Sara Shady (Bethel), and Martha Stortz (Augsburg).

UST sponsoring offices include the Jay Phillips Center for Interfaith Learning, the Muslim Christian Dialogue Center, and the Office for Spirituality

2017-2018, News

Dr. Harold Kasimow donates personal library in honor of Dr. John Merkle

27 September 2017 1:58 PM

Dr. Harold Kasimow, currently professor emeritus and formerly the George A. Drake Professor of Religious Studies at Grinnell College (Iowa) kindly donated over 500 books from his personal library to the Jay Phillips Center in honor of Dr. John Merkle. These magnificent books fit perfectly the work of the center and will be put to good use by students, professors, and friends of the center.

Dr. Harold Kasimow, a prominent scholar of world religions, friend to the Jay Phillips Center, and speaker at the Center’s events in past, has been a leading contributor to interfaith understanding for more than four decades. At Grinnell College, he taught courses on Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and interfaith dialogue. His scholarly articles have been published in Belgium, China, England, India, Japan, Poland and the United States. His books include The Search Will Make You Free: A Jewish Dialogue with World Religions; Beside Still Waters: Jews, Christians, and the Way of the Buddha; and John Paul II and Interreligious Dialogue.

Dr. John C. Merkle is the director of the Jay Phillips Center for Interfaith Learning at Saint John’s University. Dr. Merkle also served as the director of the Jay Phillips Center for Interfaith Learning at the University of St. Thomas from 2009-2017 when the two centers functioned as one joint entity between the two universities (in July of 2017, the center was split into two). Prior to serving as the director, he served as an associate director of the center for thirteen years. Dr. Merkle is also a professor in the department of theology at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University, where he has been teaching since 1977. He earned his Ph.D. in religious studies, specializing in philosophical theology, at the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium. Deeply involved in Christian-Jewish dialogue for more than three decades, he has been chair of the Christian Scholars Group on Christian-Jewish Relations, a national organization of Christian scholars engaged in the study of Judaism and of Christianity in relation to Judaism, and a co-editor of Studies in Christian-Jewish Relations, the electronic journal of the Council of Centers on Jewish-Christian Relations. A former resident scholar of the Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research, he has given hundreds of public lectures, especially having to do with Jewish theology and with Christian faith in relation to Judaism, and he received the 1994 Temple Israel [Minneapolis] Interreligious Award. He has written and edited four books, including Faith Transformed: Christian Encounters with Jews and Judaism (2003) and Approaching God: The Way of Abraham Joshua Heschel (2009), both published by Liturgical Press, and has contributed chapters to a number of other books. He also has dozens of articles and reviews published in journals and encyclopedias in Europe, Latin America, and North America.