The Haifa Laboratory for Religious Studies at the University of Haifa last week held its first international interfaith conference, hosting leading religious figures and academics from the world’s most prominent Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The conference honored the groundbreaking Abraham Accords, which normalized Israeli relations with the UAE, Bahrain, and Morocco.
The JCM (Jews, Christians, Muslims) Conference brought together more than 50 academics from Egypt, Bahrain, the UAE, Morocco, Turkey, Albania, Greece, England, Ireland, and Germany. It featured lectures by the AJC’s Director of International Interreligious Affairs Rabbi David Rosen; Founder and Director of Rethinking Conflict and Methodist Minister, Rev. Dr. Gary Mason; and professor of Arabic literature, Kamal Abdel-Malek.
The Laboratory for Religious Studies houses a community of researchers, visiting professors, and students dedicated to the scholarly study of religions, with an emphasis on interfaith dialogue and interdisciplinary collaborations. The Laboratory’s mission is to facilitate a community of scholars whose interdisciplinary research promotes dialogue between religious leaders and collaborations with local and international religious communities and institutions. The goal is for these ties to serve as a backbone for facilitating important conversations that impact our world.
Participants also discussed the possibility of launching an academic network that would connect like-minded scholars from the Middle East and the Mediterranean and connect with politicians and other figures of influence in their respective countries.
Dr. Uriel Simonsohn, Head of The Haifa Laboratory Haifa for Religious Studies (HLRS) and the University’s Department of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, said, “We live in a highly religious region, where religious leaders wield tremendous influence. We hope to leverage that influence to make them a force for social change in non-religious issues that affect daily lives for all. Members of the Abrahamic faiths share a belief in God and the commandments – this common denominator offers us a springboard to drive social change together.”
The initiative hopes to influence countries that have not yet signed the Abraham Accords. To that end, the HLRS is well connected with important political institutions and figures such as leading politicians in Bahrain; the President of Christian Leaders in the United States, reverend Johnnie Moore; the office of Prince Hassan bin Talal of Jordan; Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem Nourhan Manougian; Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Sheikh Mowafaq Tarif; head of the Druze community, Sheikh Mowafaq Tarif; and Secretary General of the Baha’i community, David Rutstein.
Simonsohn noted: “We are in the process of harnessing political and religious leaders through the Palestinian territories to create an axis of cooperation to bring the vision of peace manifested in the Abraham Accords to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. At Haifa, we pride ourselves on fostering religious harmony on campus, and we hope that holding these kinds of discussions can be the anchor to creating a more sustainable life.”