Women and Interreligious Dialogue

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Catherine Cornille
Boston College

Date: October 14, 2014

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Women are still largely absent from dialogues between official representatives of different religions, as well as bypassed for high-level appointments in dialogue organizations. Nevertheless, dialogue has played an important role in advancing critical feminist thought in various religious traditions. At this Boisi Center lunch event, BC comparative theology professor Catherine Cornille will present some examples of such advancements of critical feminist thought, as well as reflect on some of the continuing challenges and opportunities for women engaged in interreligious dialogue.

Speaker Bio

Catherine Cornille

Catherine Cornille is the Newton College Alumnae Chair of Western Culture and professor of comparative theology at Boston College. From 2008-2013, she organized the Boston College Symposia on Interreligious Dialogue, bringing together scholars from different religions and various parts of the world to focus on fundamental questions in Interreligious Dialogue. Her research interests include the Theology of Religions and concrete questions in the Hindu-Christian and Buddhist-Christian dialogues. She is the author of The Im-Possibility of Interreligious Dialogue, the founding and managing editor of the book series Christian Commentaries on Non-Christian Sacred Texts, and the editor of The Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Inter-Religious Dialogue. She holds a licentiate in theology, a B.A. in Philosophy, and a Ph.D in Religious Studies from the Catholic University of Leuven (Belgium), as well as an M.A. in Asian Religions from the University of Hawaii.

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Boisi event

Catherine Cornille speaking at a Boisi Center lunch colloquium on women and interreligious dialogue on October 14, 2014.

Boisi event
Boisi event

Photos by MTS photography

Event Recap

Catherine Cornille, professor and chair of the BC theology department, joined the Boisi Center on October 14 to discuss her scholarly work about women and interreligious dialogue. Her talk touched on two recent book projects, Women and Interreligious Dialogue and The Im-Possibility of Interreligious Dialogue.

Cornille noted that women have been generally been excluded in formal interreligious dialogue efforts, whether between faith authorities or among scholars in academic settings. At the same time, women have often participated informally in interreligious dialogue through neighborhood networks or discussion groups, to much success. Such examples of dialogue go beyond mere theological discussion, and treat religion in a holistic way by celebrating the aesthetic, social and cultural aspects of religions.

A central point of contention in the symposium that led to Women and Interreligious Dialogue was whether women bring anything unique to interreligious dialogue, or whether including women is beneficial simply because doing so makes dialogue less patriarchal. Including women in interreligious dialogue, Cornille argued, can help expose patriarchal aspects of tradition; for example, Muslim-Christian dialogue that includes women can reveal how Western feminists have been complicit in the denigration of Islam as misogynistic and backwards. On the other hand, there was some resistance among the symposium participants to agreeing that women make a distinct contribution to interreligious dialogue, based on the perception that to do so essentializes women, and thereby fails to appreciate the diversity that exists among women in different traditions. Nonetheless, Cornille noted the cooperative spirit that was present in the symposium itself, where participants tried to find points of agreement with each other rather than simply arguing for their own position.

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Publications by Professor Cornille

Catherine Cornille and Jillian Maxey, eds., Women and Interreligious Dialogue (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2013).

Catherine Cornille, The Im-Possibility of Interreligious Dialogue (New York, NY: Crossroad/Herder and Herder, 2007).

Catherine Cornille, ed., The Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Inter-religious Dialogue (Oxford, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013).

Catherine Cornille, “Double Religious Belonging: Aspects and Questions,” Buddhist-Christian Studies 23 (2003), p. 43-49.

Catherine Cornille, ed., Many Mansions?: Multiple Religious Belonging and Christian Identity (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2010).

Catherine Cornille, “The Confessional Nature of Comparative Theology,” Studies in Interreligious Dialogue 24 (2014) 1: 9-17.

Catherine Cornille, “Ramimon Panikkar: Between Comparative Theology and Imparative Philosophy,” Cirpit Review 5/2014, pp. 135-142.

Catherine Cornille, “Multiple Religious Belonging and Interreligious Dialogue” in David Thomas, David Cheetham and Douglas Pratt, eds, Understanding Inter-Religious Relations (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), pp. 324-340.

Catherine Cornille, “The Role of Witness in Interreligious Dialogue” in Concilium 1 (2011), pp. 61-70.

Catherine Cornille, “Interreligious Hospitality and its Limits” in Hosting the Stranger Between Religions, R.Kearney and J. Taylor, eds (New York, NY: Continuum, 2011), pp. 35-45

Catherine Cornille, “Mehrere Meister? Multiple Religionszugehörigkeit in Praxis und Theorie.” in Multiple religiöse Identität, Reinhod Bernhardt and Perry Schmidt-Leukel, eds. (Zurich: Theologischer Verlag Zurich, 2008), pp. 15-35

Vatican II & Other Religions: a Milestone?” Lecture delivered by Catherine Cornille to the Stanford Catholic Community on May 13th, 2013.

A Vacation with God: Living Your Journey," Agape Latte talk with Catherine Cornille and Jeff Bloechl delivered on November 13th, 2012.

Related Publications

William Bole,“There’s Something about Eve,” Boston College Magazine, Fall 2012.

David Bornstein, “A Better Way to Talk about Faith,” New York Times, June 12, 2012.

Diana Eck, “Becoming a More Complex ‘We,’” Tikkun (January 2009).

Chris Fici, “Why Being a Hindu Has Made Me a Better Catholic,” Huffington Post Religion, June 20, 2012.

Thomas C. Fox, “Double Belonging: Buddhism and Christian Faith,” National Catholic Reporter, June 23, 2010.

Paul Knitter, “A Buddhist Example of Interfaith Dialogue,” Huffington Post Religion, November 15, 2011. 

Joshua Stanton, “Inter-Religious Studies: A Field of Its Own,” Huffington Post Religion, April 24, 2014.