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center for christian-jewish learning

Interreligious Learning

Many Center courses follow an educational format known as Interreligious Learning which brings Jews and Christians together to study their religious traditions and histories in the presence of one another. It moves beyond simply learning about the other to an active engagement with Judaism or Christianity as lived by informed and committed Jews and Christians. A goal of Interreligious Learning is the transformation of long-standing feelings and misconceptions that Jews and Christians have toward one another. 

Interreligious Learning involves four elements: 

  1. the ability to enter into another religious tradition without losing one's boundaries;
  2. the experience of investing in the health and welfare of another's religious tradition;
  3. movement beyond tolerance to a genuine pluralism; 
  4. keener awareness of both commonalties and differences among religious traditions. (See "The Transformative Power of Interreligious Dialogue" in SIDIC, 33/1:3-4.)

Inevitably, changes in one's perceptions of the religiously "other" produce changes in one's own religious self-understanding, but Jews and Christians experience such inner transformations differently. Christians typically discover that they must rework theologies that are founded upon deficient understandings of Judaism. Jews often seem to find that they do not so much have to change their theology as they do certain self-understandings based on interpretations of their own history. 

Paradoxically, while transformations in religious self-definition can be disorienting and even painful, participants in Interreligious Learning experiences almost always report a deepening commitment to their own faith tradition because of the depth of their engagement with the other tradition.

An important dimension of Interreligious Learning  reflected in Center courses is team-teaching by Christian and Jewish professors who trust and respect one another. In an Interreligious Learning environment, trust and openness must be established and maintained constantly. This atmosphere is most thoroughly sustained by instructors who are:

  1. deeply committed to their own faith traditions;
  2. willing to be critically reflective on their own tradition;
  3. knowledgeable about and respectful of the other tradition;
  4. aware of the importance of educational processes in promoting transformation; 
  5. available to serve as mentors and supporters of the participants from their own tradition as they grapple with the transformations engendered by Interreligious Learning.

A final goal of Interreligious Learning is that prospective or current educators, ministers, or theologians will bring new interreligious perspectives to their teaching, ministering, and theologizing. In addition to being promoters of positive relationships between Christians and Jews, they will hopefully be agents of a type of formation in the richness of their own faith tradition that is open to learning from the commitment and unique insights of members of other religious traditions.

For these reasons, a principle aim of the Center is that theology and seminary students in the Boston area will have at least one experience of  Interreligious Learning during their programs of study.

Student Reflections

Varghese M. Lopez, SJ

Jenni Justus