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ND and BYU open interreligious dialogue

Catherine Owers | Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Notre Dame and Brigham Young University’s football teams squared off Nov. 23, but Thursday, major scholars from both schools will seek common ground between these religious institutions’ parent faiths.

The conference, titled “Catholic and Mormons: A New Dialogue,” is sponsored by the Rooney Center for American Democracy, the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism and the Center for the Study of Religion and Society at Notre Dame, and Religious Education and The Wheatley Institute at Brigham Young University.

David Campbell, director of the Rooney Center, said the idea for the conference originated when he was contacted by two professors at Brigham Young University.

“[They] asked whether or not Notre Dame might be interested in hosting a conference that would bring together scholars of Catholicism and scholars of Mormonism,” he said. “Their thinking was that this is a sort of propitious time to bring people who are experts in the two different religions together, partly because, as you may have encountered, some people have referred to this time as the ‘Mormon moment.’

“That’s a phrase that was used in Newsweek, and a lot of newspaper articles have referred to that because of Mitt Romney [a Mormon] running for the presidency, The Book of Mormon, the musical and just in general the rising prominence of Mormons in the country.”

The conference will bring together social scientists, theologians, historians and sociologists, Campbell said.

“What we’ve done is pull together scholars from different disciplines, which itself makes this an unusual conference,” he said. “I’m a political scientist, and I don’t normally go to conferences where I’m on a panel with theologians. We are fortunate in that the lineup of speakers we have is really phenomenal. When we were first putting the conference together, I never even dreamed we would be able to get as many people together as we could.”

Richard Bushman, professor emeritus at Columbia University and a well-known Mormon scholar, will give concluding remarks at the conference, Campbell said. Speakers from Notre Dame include professors Brad Gregory, Scott Appleby and Mark Noll, and the keynote speaker will be Terryl Givens of the University of Richmond, Campbell said.

Senior Eliza Nagle, who is writing a thesis examining Mormon marriage and Catholic marriage, said both faiths strongly emphasize the value of the family unit and evangelization.

“I think both faiths do appreciate learning about other faiths, as well,” she said. “I think that’s incredibly important in a religion, that you do have the capacity to open some kind of dialogue and communicate your faith well.”

Nagle said she is looking forward to witnessing the variety speakers the conference will bring together.

“I’ve been reading these professors’ books, so I’m excited to actually talk to them firsthand and ask them questions,” she said.
The conference offers the opportunity for students to think about diversity from a religious perspective, Nagle said.

“I think religious diversity should be an important part of what it means to be a student at Notre Dame,” she said. “Notre Dame is a very inclusive community, and we do appreciate and celebrate diversity of thought. I think this conference is a really great way to celebrate that we share a lot with other faiths.”

Campbell said the conference aims to increase dialogue and collaboration between scholars of Mormonism and Catholicism.

“I’m hoping the conversation will be wide-ranging, in all the many ways that Catholics and Mormons both have things in common, but also highlight differences because they are also worth discussing,” he said. “We’re hoping the scholars themselves will build bridges with one another, and perhaps there will be collaborations coming out of this conference among the participants.

“Beyond that, I hope that this is a step towards fostering better and deeper connections between Mormonism in general and Catholicism in general, beyond these particular speakers.”

Contact Catherine Owers at cowers@nd.edu