Fostering dialogue with Islam is one of the apostolic priorities of the Society of Jesus in the world, and particularly in Europe. Notwithstanding many different initiatives already taking place in the context of the Society of Jesus, particularly at an academic level, the reality that dialogue with Islam is a major concern in many forums has pushed Jesuit academic institutions in Europe to look beyond themselves and become open to wider collaboration.
Indeed, the first European initiative with respect to networking in the field of scholarly approaches to the Islamic tradition came from the European Federation of Catholic Universities. With the support of this association of universities, and under the leadership of Prof. Michel Younès from Lyon Catholic University, the network Pluriel was founded in 2013 in order to foster research on the Muslim tradition and its relationship with Christianity in Europe. Pluriel’s goal is to put researchers in contact with each other, assist them in establishing priority areas of research, and share their insights. Pluriel’s website has a main role in this task.
A good number of Jesuit higher education institutions in Europe and Lebanon were present in Pluriel from the beginning through different research groups, namely Innsbruk Faculty of Theology, Sankt Georgen Faculty of Theology and Philosophy, Université Saint Joseph, Granada Faculty of Theology, and Comillas Universtiy. The first fruit of Pluriel has been the major conference “Islam in Plural: Thought, Faith and Society” that took place in Lyon in September 2016.
Recently, the Conference of European Provincials, led by John Dardis, has also started an initiative of networking among Jesuit higher education and social institutions in Europe. The name of this initiative is HEST, Higher Education for Social Transformation. It is a programme that aims to mobilize the resources of Jesuit Universities and Faculties across Europe, and to link them with Jesuit Social Centres. The basic idea is that those engaged in academic research can be challenged by realities in the ground while those advocating for change on the ground can benefit from high quality research. HEST is focusing on seven main topics of research, and one of them is precisely Christian Muslim Relations.
When reflecting on how to organize the HEST cluster on Christian-Muslim Relations, we realized that the majority of interested institutions were already part of Pluriel. In dialogue with the Pluriel coordination committee, we finally opted for coordinating our efforts for the HEST project within Pluriel’s network. Therefore, we are moving in the direction of creating a subgroup of institutions inside Pluriel, working among themselves, but also sharing the same common goals of the entire network
The evolution of our networking efforts in the academic approach to Islamic-Christian relationships is a good example of how networking dynamics not only reinforce Jesuit efforts at the service of mission, but also opens up other apostolic partners and to wider collaboration.
About the authors:
Gonzalo Villagrán SJ is professor of Christian social ethics in Granada Theology Faculty and member of the Coordination Committee of Pluriel Network.
José Carlos Romero is HEST project coordinator and Researcher Assistant at Comillas Pontifical University.