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Religious leaders will read holy texts together

December  22, 2010

Dr. Peter Ochs

Dr. Peter Ochs, professor of modern Judaic studies at the University of Virginia and founder of a revolutionary approach to reading scripture, will speak at Augustana at 10:30 a.m. Jan. 13 in Centennial Hall, 3703 7th St.

His free public lecture is entitled "Abrahamic Peace and Fellowship in the Belly of the Whale."

Scriptural reasoning is a way of studying scripture with people from different faith traditions. Muslims, Christians and Jews meet together in small groups to read and discuss passages from their sacred texts that relate to a common issue. The approach allows participants to explore similarities and differences in an open and trusting environment.

In his lecture, Ochs will introduce the approach of scriptural reasoning and participate in a demonstration of scriptural reading with Imam Saad Baig, Islamic Center of the Quad Cities; Rabbi Tamar Grimm, Tri-City Jewish Center; and the Rev. Richard Priggie, Augustana college chaplain. They will read, question and comment on Qur'anic and Biblical verses about Jonah.

Scriptural reasoning is about more than just increasing understanding of sacred texts. Ochs values the "deep and generative friendship" between readers and the "endless joy" of reading scripture. "The words are renewed and opened and enlivened by the relationships among the people," he said. "Even the same words again and again never cease to surprise."

Ochs began studying ancient commentaries on scripture with a group of Jewish philosophers in the 1980s. A few years later, they discovered that their Christian and Muslim colleagues were doing similar work in their own traditions. They decided to enhance their understanding by studying together and formed the Society for Scriptural Reasoning in 1994.

Although some people fear that scriptural reasoning might "weaken" the faith or religious dedication of individual participants, Ochs and other readers have found the opposite to be true.

"I've learned from 15 years of this study that the scriptural word leaps across borders without losing the voice that is heard within each set of borders," he said.

Ochs' lecture will show students and community members the importance of scriptural reasoning for peace and understanding between traditions. "Divine voice(s) are not heard deeply without learning and effort -- and, we add, without listening to those who hear in ways that are slightly different," he said.

Scott Cason
Assistant vice president of communication and marketing
(309) 794-7323
scottcason@augustana.edu