Humanitas Visiting Professorship in Interfaith Studies
The Humanitas Visiting Professorship in Interfaith Studies brings eminent leaders and thinkers from the world’s major religions to the University of Oxford to reflect on the place of faith in society.
The Visiting Professorship in Interfaith Studies has been made possible by the generous support of Gil Shiva and Xavier Guerrand-Hermes and is hosted by Trinity College, Oxford.
Rowan Williams 2013-2014
Rowan Williams is the former Archbishop of Canterbury.
Rowan Williams’ Humanitas Visiting Professorship centred on the relationship between Faith and Power.
Beginning with a lecture on Faith, Force, and Authority: does religious belief change our understanding of how power works in society?, Williams made a firm argument against using religion to validate the exertion of force and violence. He gave a critical dismantling of contemporary uses of religion to justify control, showing how such action profoundly misunderstands the nature of divine power in all three Abrahamic faiths.
Williams was then joined ‘In Conversation’ with Channel 4’s Jon Snow, talking about how Williams’ reflections on faith and power might inform discussions around faith-based schools, the relationship between faith and the law, the impact of faith on politics, the place of faith in war, and what role within our society public religious leaders might offer.
In his final lecture, Faith and Human Flourishing: religious belief and ideals of maturity, Williams asserted that the way in which we talk about God clarifies how we talk about ourselves. In his concluding remarks, he asked ‘what does our humanity look like?’ – a question he believes people of faith do not ask themselves often enough.
Abdou Filali Ansary 2012-2013
Abdou Filali Ansary is the founding director of the Aga Khan University Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations.
Abdou Filali Ansary’s series focused on the theme Beyond Apologetics – Approaching Religious Traditions through Modern Disciplines.
He opened his series with a study of the 12th Century Islamic philosopher Ibn Rushd, a great defender of Aristotelian philosophy, who believed in the compatibility of philosophy and Islam and the importance of analytical thinking as a prerequisite to interpreting the Qur’an.
In his second lecture, Filali Ansary built on his previous discourse by exploring the birth and development of Liberal Islam and the intrinsic challenge it posed to the ‘master narrative’ of traditional, conservative Islamic thought.
The question of Sharia law, which he mentioned alongside Salafism, then formed the basis for his third lecture, Two Concepts of Sharia?
Jonathan Sacks 2011-2012
Jonathan Sacks is a rabbi, philosopher, scholar of Judaism and former Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth.
Lord Sacks spoke on ‘A Jewish Theology of the Other’, particularly focusing on religious identity in the context of networks of relationships, and the necessity of recognising the ‘other’ before recognising one’s self.
In the first lecture ‘After Babel: A Jewish Theology of Interfaith’ Lord Sacks stated that there is Biblical evidence for God’s love of diversity. He argued that only by realising that we are fighting friends, not enemies, can we ‘pull religions back from violence’. He further asserted that religion should be separated from political power, thus allowing it to be more open to the ‘other’.
In the second lecture ‘Truth and Translatability’ Lord Sacks focused on religious diversity as a given positive reality and about the challenge of embracing different truths and translating key cultural themes, in particular the concept of faith, into different languages.
His third lecture ‘The Face of the Other: The Curious Nature of Biblical Narrative’ focused on Biblical narrative structure, claiming that beneath every narrative there is another narrative often going in the opposite direction, and that the Bible is designed to be looked at on these different levels.
Jan Assmann 2010-2011
Jan Assmann is a German Egyptologist.