Notre Dame Invites Catholics and Muslims to Sift Secularism

Article excerpt

NEW YORK * The University of Notre Dame has launched a major new initiative called "Contending Modernities: Catholic, Muslim and Secular," described as a scholarly effort to bring the best minds in both traditions to bear on the collision between faith and reason in the contemporary world.

The initiative offers yet another confirmation that outreach to Islam has become the top interfaith priority of the Catholic church, both in its official structures and at the grass roots.

In the recent book Light of the World: The Pope, the Church, and the Signs of the Times, released a few days after the Notre Dame initiative was unveiled (see Page 18), Pope Benedict XVI argues that Christian-Muslim relations in the early 21st century should pivot on the common challenge of situating themselves vis-a-vis secular modernity.

As it turns out, the University of Notre Dame in Indiana is already fully on board with that bit of papal diagnosis.

Prominent Notre Dame historian Scott Appleby is the director of the "Contending Modernities" project. At a Nov. 18 launch, Appleby said that Catholics and Muslims share several traits that make them a natural focus for research.

"Both are global, mission-driven communities," Appleby said. "Both exhibit breathtaking diversity."

Holy Cross Fr. John Jenkins, president of Notre Dame, observed that Catholics and Muslims together encompass "nearly half the world's population," and said that they can contribute to addressing problems such as "poverty, disease, conflict and corruption."

Notre Dame unveiled the project in New York, taking advantage of a massive Notre Dame presence in the Big Apple in conjunction with the Fighting Irish's Nov. 20 football game against Army in Yankee Stadium.

Sheikh Ali Gomaa, the grand mufti of Egypt, told the New York launch that both Catholics and Muslims "must confront modernity with the intellectual resources of our traditions and heritage."

An aide delivered Gomaa's address in English, and Gomaa later spoke live via an Internet hookup. Gomaa heads Egypt's Dar Al-Ifta institute, billed as "the world's leading authority on Islamic legal interpretation." Its claim to fame is that it issues some 3,500 fatwas, or pieces of legal analysis, every day.

Gomaa said that too often, the experience of modernity is understood exclusively through a European prism. …