An Interfaith Dialogue on Extremism in All Faiths

As part of its Summer Speaker Series, the Aspen Institute held a panel discussion on the role of religious extremism in the modern world. The panel comprised Rabbi Brad Hirschfeld, vice president of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership (right); The Reverend Peter Gomes, Plummer Professor of Christian Morals at Harvard University; Dr. Elaine Pagels, professor of Religion at Princeton University and best-selling author of The Gnostic Gospels; and Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, founder and CEO of the American Sufi Muslim Association Society.

The conversation was held in the Paepcke Building on the Institute's Aspen Meadows campus and moderated by Aspen Institute president and CEO Walter Isaacson. Much of the conversation focused on the meaning and practice of religious fundamentalism in modernity, more specifically the question of how the three major Western traditions, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism should address the growth of extremist, exclusionary sects within each. This prompted the panelists to examine the difference between the practice of violent extremism, and the fundamental tenets of the faiths in whose name acts of violence are committed. In the case of Christianity, Rev. Gomes described the inconsistency in the following way. "One of the great paradoxes of Christianity is that it would appear that Christian culture cannot afford to live by Christian teachings, if it hopes to exist in the modern world."  On a more optimistic note, the panelists concluded the conversation by reiterating the fundamental role that the concept of unity plays in all three traditions. As Rabbi Hirschfeld reminded the audience in his closing remarks, “My God will be the God of all nations.”